Marcia Campbell – Not a “Bettie” Page!
© by Michelle M. Yiatras – Timechanic ™
My name is Michelle from Las Vegas, NV. In assisting David with his myriad car projects over the years
(in this particular case an accurate Matranga ‘40 Merc rebuild with the assistance of Nick himself), I have enjoyed the rare gift of meeting and getting to know many of the still living legends of the hot rod, custom, and vintage car hobby.
I savor all their sage words and log them for upcoming articles and book chapters. I was an earnest kid who actually listened and heeded and cherished the historical memories and fascinating tales my Grandparents and Elders told. I grieve daily the loss of these heroes of the “Greatest Generation” as they pass on. (Original published April 26, 2015)
Requiring some of her original photographs for the details, we searched and sleuthed the reclusive
Marcia Campbell. Since re-discovering her a few years ago, we befriended and coaxed her back into some public recognition. I was grateful to have learned what a standup and standout woman she was. She was not a hermit. She just bowed out of the Hot Rod mainstream in the late 1950’s. She continued with her ardent passion for cars as a collector, restorer, and RACER. She trained for her private pilot’s license in Long Beach in the mid-1960’s just for kicks. She was an avid sail boater, skippering and racing those for most of her adult life, setting yachting records. She evolved her career as a professional photographer from cars to include architecture and to include natural wildlife, the arctic, the jungle, and California wilderness, becoming involved with the polar bears because of their majesty and wanted to see them before they slowly demised. Her collections will be donated to museums and schools. She belonged to several trade associations and clubs. In her later years she was a professional social worker for Orange County Social Services. She continued these avocations throughout. Her interests and talents were unlimited!
One of the photos Marcia took of Nick Matranga’s 1940 Mercury. It was photos like this one that made us go look for Marcia, to find out if she had more photos like this perhaps some never before published material.
Nick Matranga and his Barris-Kustoms-built 1940 Mercury from Marcia’s famous Line-Up photo.
A few of the many early 1950’s Custom Car photos Marcia took that were used in the early magazines and books which helped shape the history of the Custom Car.
She didn’t even bother with being sick, she was too busy having the best of times. She simply dropped from an aortic embolism at the age of 77 (born in the auspicious year of 1932). She was a sensitive, artistic, brilliant, and compassionate Pisces. She endured prejudices because she was treading on guys turf before it was popular for women to do so. However she was always welcomed, respected, and appreciated for her invaluable photographic contributions to the hot rod, kustom, and vintage car sport. When you see a picture of Marcia Campbell with one of her kustom roadsters she isn’t changing a tire by the side of the road naked and she really is utilizing the speed wrench not just jacking it. She was a clean-cut, trim, handsome, dignified lady, not a trollop. She was refreshing and I admired her immensely and wish there were more like her.
God Bless You, Marcia Campbell!
This is Marcia’s original copy of the HOT ROD Magazine picture, that she gifted to Michelle & David from her collection.
Marcia was born Mar. 15, 1932, in Huntington Park, CA, a So Cal gal. An only child, her parents owned a stationery store, “Industrial Stationery & Printing Co.”, with her father passing away when she was four and her mother continuing to President the business very successfully. When Marcia was of adult age she became Personnel Director of the family enterprise. Marcia enjoyed her childhood being raised in an idyllic place and time. She attended St. Matthias and St. Mary’s Catholic Girls High Schools and Compton Junior College.
She began studying photography in her teens, being entirely self-taught. She started taking photos for Barris at 17 or 18. Her first car at 15 was a new Buick sedanette. Her next car was a new powder blue and white ‘49 Chevy convertible she immediately brought to Barris Kustom to begin work on it. Her following car was “Baby Bluey”, a ‘42 Ford heavily but tastefully chopped with a hopped up Mercury flathead.
Marcia’s Barris-built 1942 Ford “Baby Bluey”, was her daily driver in 1950. At least four girls are inside the car when this snapshot was taken.
Her life-long dearest friend of 60+ years, Suzanne Irvin, of Westminster, CA, reminisces about “Baby Bluey” in their teens, “On a car trip to Vegas, we were doing over 100 mph. They were waiting for us, because we did it earlier along the 15, heading us off with a road block on the other side of Cajon Pass in Victorville. The police officer gave us a ticket and then wanted to know all about the car…We were in a hurry to see Nat King Cole at the Flamingo (still known as Bugsy Siegel’s place). On the way home we lost the exhaust pipes, lights, and when we stopped and she turned the engine off, the battery died and we were locked in the car because the doors and deck lid were electric. Her mother had to get us a step ladder and we wiggled out the slotted windows. It was after midnight.”
Marcia hung out at “The Clock” in Huntington Park, the place to go so you sat in your car and everyone walked around and admired or envied each other’s cars. She hung out frequently at Barris’ shop to chat, take pictures, and observe work being done. Marcia was about the only gal around into the cars. She was self-initiated and could talk the language. She was received well because she was mechanically minded and she knew what she was talking about with cars and wasn’t trying to invade or intimidate.
“Sam was a talented sweetheart. He put the cars together and made the pictures come to life.” The fellows liked the pictures, yet at the time I don’t think they realized the valuable contribution she was making to the hobby. She never sold her pictures, she always gave them away.
Suzanne tells me, “Marsh drove “Baby Bluey” to high school. She volunteered to drive the nuns on all their errands and got out of a lot of classes as a result. She also picked up many of her classmates to ride to school. She always had a carload.”
Marcia had money from the family business to buy great cars. The ‘49 Chevy was before the ‘42 Ford. She traded the Chevy for the ‘42 Ford. She had it in 1949 when she started at Compton College. She only had it for a year or so. After that it was a couple of Mercs, a ‘50 and a ‘51. Then suddenly she went from Mercs to Lincolns in the mid-50’s.
After Marcia traded here baby blue 1949 Chevy for Carl Abajian’s 1942 Ford Carl had Barris update the Chevy with a new deep blue paint job. Marcia took this photo of Carl’s version of the car.
Marcia on the fender of her 1951 Mercury convertible in 1952.
David met with Jesse Lopez at his rooster farm in Nuevo, CA, and Jesse recalls, “Marcia did indeed have the first ‘49 Chevrolet convertible in the area. I remember it being a real nice powder blue lacquer job. She then traded that car for the ‘42 club coupe that had originally belonged to Danny Abajian in stock form. When his brother Carl got a hold of it, he had Barris do the whole treatment. Of course it wasn’t as nice as mine (the green ‘41 Ford club coupe), but it was pretty slick. So by the time Marcia got Abajian’s car it had already been pretty much customized.” Marcia had Barris do additional work.
Jesse also mentioned that the photo of Marcia standing next to her ‘42 coupe in the “Sam Barris” pose was actually taken in front of the Lincoln-Mercury assembly plant at Eastern and Slauson Avenue. This interview with Jesse Lopez seems to clear up finally the ‘49 Chevy/‘42 Ford ownership-trade chronology. Jesse also very well remembers Marcia hanging out at Barris’ shops in the L.A. area very early on and always having a couple cameras slung around her neck.
Walter Wyss took a few color photos of Marcia with here 1929 Model A Roadster at the 1951 Hot Rod Show. Marcia and her Hot Rod were mentioned in the January 23, 1951 Hot Rod News newspaper.
From the Rodder’s Journal magazine.
Marcia kept up on the dry lakes and Bonneville by reading all the magazines. She and Suzanne went to the drags to watch other cars. She finished her Model A roadster (Hot Rod Magazine January 1951) and brought it to Oakland. Later she raced her Mercedes 300SL “gull wing” at Riverside starting in ’56 and continued well into the 60’s at the Los Angeles Mercedes-Benz Club races. Once she accomplished one car she went on to the next. All in all she had 52 cars she collected, restored, or raced, doing quite a bit of mechanical work herself at her house. She liked to take engines apart and put them back together. She was stuck under a car once when an engine slipped a little, but she was alright with some bruises.
Marcia took this photo of her almost completed 1936 Ford woody she was restoring. Marcia did most of the work on it herself.
Circa 1948-52, Marcia used a Rolleiflex twin lens reflex 2 ¼”2 camera, and a Speed Graphic 4” x 5”. Having her own darkroom in her house, she processed all her own stuff. She used lots of cameras later, Canons, Nikons, and lately a Canon PowerShot A620 digital. She succumbed in September, 2009, with a loaded memory card of final Alaskan gems.
This is Marcia’s very first camera. It belonged to Marcia’s mother and she gave it to Marcia when she was a girl. Marcia learned everything on this Kodak No.2 Folding Autographic Brownie from circa 1917. This camera was on display in the curio cabinet at Marcia’s house, and was given to Michelle after Marcia passed away.
Marcia restored this 1911 Model T-Ford with which she won a second pace award at the Horseless Carriage Club in 1953.
When I last spoke with Marcia, perhaps three months before she died, she was getting ready to go on another photographic expedition to the Arctic, as she was a professional Arctic wildlife photographer. She specialized in polar bears and camped out with them, as it were. She didn’t mention her illness; she didn’t give it that energy. We were planning to visit her soon in S. California. In October 2009, we called her house to check on how she liked The Rodder’s Journal “Dan Post” article. Suzanne, her best life-long friend told us she just died. Guess what? Marcia never even got to see it. She already passed. Suzanne said she was experiencing a series of seizures over the past year and ultimately succumbed to a pulmonary embolism, which is swift and merciful considering the threat of incapacitation.
Marcia was 77 years old.
A few of the photo proofs that were included in the envelope we received from Suzanne show Carl Abajian’s 1949 Chevy and Bill Taylor’s 1949 Chevy, but Barris Customs. Marcia always made sure the back of each photo she made was properly stamped with her name.
David spoke with Jesse Lopez for a couple hours on one of the visits to his farm, showing him photos of both versions of the ’49 Chevy and the ’42 Ford, and the information provided in the narrative is the most accurate to date, considering that both Marcia and Carl Abajian have recently passed. Jesse grew up with Carl and knew him since puberty. Jesse had nothing to offer concerning Anne DeValle. Also Suzanne said she didn’t think Marcia knew her either, since the car was sold by Marcia a few years before Anne got it. I also spoke with Suzanne regarding the ‘Jack Campbell’ mystery. She adamantly states that Marcia did NOT use a pseudonym for ANY reason; she LIKED full credit for her work. She said that Marcia would say, “I don’t even know who this ‘Jack Campbell’ is!” I remember actually asking Marcia that question a couple years ago and she DID say that. I hear her voice saying, “I don’t know who that Jack Campbell is.” Marcia had her full faculties with an acute memory. I wanted the article for Marcia’s surviving family and friends to enjoy and realize how appreciated Marcia was. Suzanne must have been grateful, because she unexpectedly sent a large padded envelope of original photographs of Marcia’s she just discovered going through Marcia’s stash of forgotten things. She didn’t know they existed, and Marcia herself probably forgot about these.
Suzanne said “they” were giving them to me as a gift. They included very early original shots of the so-called Anne De Valle car (Marcia named the car “Baby Bluey“), Marcia working on her roadster from the Hot Rod magazine issue Jan 1951 (with an original issue), pictures of her ’36 Ford Woody that she restored herself, her 1911 Ford Model T, ribbons that she won for Horseless Carriage Club meets in the 50’s, one of the first ’55 Mercedes Gullwing 300 SL Coupe that she owned and raced, as well as other foreign exotics (such as Porsche and Aston Martin that she owned and raced), plus 1st place ribbons, schedules, and trade articles from all these races.
One of Marcia’s many cars was this Aston Martin.
I also learned that Marcia raced yachts and she and Suzanne were the first females to cross the Pacific from CA to Hawaii winning a yachting expedition in the late 1960’s. I made the highest quality, un-Photoshopped, scans converting these photos (no negatives of the particularly interesting stuff though, except for the now legendary 4 x 5 color transparency) into jpg’s. I sent the best and most intriguing ones to Rik, and requested that he archive these images on his site for posterity (and for him to Photoshop them as he sees fit to improve their quality), so that Marcia’s work is commemorated properly!
Marcia Racing one of her Mercedes Gullwing’s in 1960.
Marcia with another Mercedes Gullwing 300 SL Coupe.
Marcia racing her Porsche on one of the many car events she participated in. In the photo on the right Marcia is awarded for here efforts at one of these events.
The Hot Rod Magazine pic of her in her Hawaiian shirt (shown above) is simply an optical illusion of a tattoo. Miss Marcia was a devout Catholic girl with strict rules about that. Actually, she was quite amused by the modern custom/hot rod car culture, with its relatively dramatic grooming, clothing, music, and car design styles, compared to her days gone by. She was squeaky clean.
I do have to mention though, she regularly adorned a few bruised arms and legs, scraped knuckles and knees, torn dungarees, and authentic grease smudges on her face, as she did quite a bit of her own wrenchin’! Now that’s Rock-A-Beatin’ Boogie! I believe Suzanne told me that it is her that slid into the driver’s seat as Marcia jumped out of the usual carload to snap the photo in front of one of the drop off homes. And yes, Marcia had a fondness for both woodies (she had a few), and teddy bears (she had dozens). I have the funniest photo of the teddy bears arrayed on the woodie. Ha, ha, ha,…Teddy Bears’ Picnic!
Marcia’s collection of teddy bears displayed on her 1936 Ford Woody.
Marcia belonged to the now defunct International League of Teddy Bear Collectors spanning 1985-2000, headquartered in SoCal, boasting three hundred+ members worldwide. Marcia was a founding member and served as president 1988 & ’89, after holding offices of secretary, treasurer, and vice-president. Marcia was also a member of other teddy bear clubs in San Gabriel Valley and Orange County. She collected antique, vintage, and artisan bears, she had about 400. Suzanne herself made bears. Marcia and she had a business named “Bear Clawset” for twenty years from the 1980’s-2000’s, selling bears and bear making supplies.
“If you go down in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise.
If you go down in the woods today, you’d better go in disguise.
For every bear that ever was, will gather there for certain because,
Today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their Picnic…”
Val Rosing vocal, Kennedy lyrics, Bratton melody, 1932
For your perusal are the pages of the 1965 Tricentric L.A. Mercedes-Benz Club of America racing program results. You’ll notice the published final winning results of the Ladies Division with Marcia Campbell and her ’56 300 SL Gullwing in 1st Place for Slalom and Gymkhana, 2nd Place for Acceleration. Also 4th Place Best of Show Sports Class (after three men). And the entire Sweepstakes Winner being Marcia Campbell! The program photos are indicated by Marcia’s own annotated sticky notes.
As a tribute, Rik Hoving is a magnificently talented and perspicacious photojournalist. He diligently labors and sacrifices extended hours making every event “picture superb”. He is easy and fun to work with. He’s historically tuned in to the details and the atmosphere. He gives so much more than he asks for in return. Sometimes I think people take advantage of his generous and magnanimous nature. Because he is devoted to his vocation and is amicable with everyone, he’s blessed to be an authentically happy soul. This car culture hobby has a charter destination since Rik is at the helm wheel. We anticipate his next tour de force. You know, Rik, that Marcia desired & deserved the credit, acknowledgement, & recognition she is endowed with posthumously. That you polished up the color transparency of her photograph of her custom at her home, for TRJ, & your HAMB & Custom Car Chronicle website icons, is showing her the most reverent respect. She gave up on all that many years ago. She would be very grateful for you.
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EXCLUSIVELY by Michelle M. Yiatras.
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4 thoughts on “Marcia Campbell – Not a “Bettie” Page!”
Wonderful story about a very special woman and the custom car times. Thanks to Michelle for writing/research/sharing the story and to Rik for making it available to all. We miss you Marcia! Geoff
Great story and photos, thanks for sharing.
Indeed! A terrific tribute to a lady who deserves all the accolades we can give her. Where would the custom car culture be without all of her splendid photographs (even showing Geo. B. how she did it). Well done Michelle; thank you for sharing!
This is my first visit to this site and I am in awe of the photojournalism that is preserved here.
Kudos for a fine job, keep up the great work.
So much to digest that I’ll be busy for a while.