We all know Burt Shavitz as the iconic face of Burt’s Bees, the large, Clorox-owned company that sells personal care products in tiny, expensive containers. I knew Burt’s life was riddled with conflict, but I hadn’t realized how sad it was until I watched the amateur documentary, Burt’s Buzz.
If you don’t know the story of Burt, he began his career as a photographer for Time and Life magazines on the streets of Manhattan. One day, longing to be outdoors and closer to nature, he packed up and left for the Maine woods. He did odd jobs and eventually, more or less by accident, became a beekeeper, selling honey by the side of the road.
One day he met Roxanne Quimby, a displaced mother of twins who was living in a tent. He befriended her and told her she could have his beeswax and make candles for some extra income. Quimby was ambitious, and soon turned the roadside pickup into a multimillion dollar enterprise.
Burt didn’t want to be a businessman and tensions between them grew. Eventually, in 1999, Quimby more-or-less forced Burt to sell his share of the business to her for $130 thousand.
Five years later, in 2004, AEA Investors purchased 80% of the company for $173 million and Quimby retained the remaining 20%. Three years later, the Clorox Corporation paid $925 million for the entire company and turned it into a behemoth.
According to Quimby, she later gave Burt an extra $4 million, but it’s not entirely clear if she did or not. In any case, it’s not a pretty story.
The documentary has mixed reviews. Some people like it, some find it boring and slow. As a beekeeper, I found it fascinating in a sort of sad and melancholy way. I could also identify with Burt on some level, the way he loves the land, the bees, and his alone time.
Not an action-packed thriller by any means, the film is by turns heart warming and heart wrenching. Although the film glosses over the beekeeping aspect of Burt’s life, I think most bee lovers would find the film compelling, or at least interesting. I recommend it for one of those low-key, pensive evenings.
The film is available on Amazon in a variety of formats: Burt’s Buzz
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