May Isabel Betteridge (1905-1984) was one of the most photographed models in Los Angeles from 1927-1935. She later became an amateur archaeologist.
She was born in Rhode Island in 1905. Her father, John Thomas Betteridge, came to the U.S. from Ireland and her mother, Mary, immigrated from Britain. The Betteridges married in Massachusetts and had nine children. May was the eighth child. Her family moved from Rhode Island to Portland, Oregon, when she was five-years-old. Sometime in the 1920s, the family moved to a modest dwelling in Los Angeles. Five of their children, including May, moved with them.
As a teenager, May Betteridge took singing and dancing lessons. When she was 20-years-old, she won a beauty contest that promised a screen test. Although she did not test well, William DeMille hired her as an extra for his film The Splendid Crime (1925). Before long, newspaper photographers began hiring her for cheesecake type photos around town. She proved to be a reliable (if not fearless) model that took on unusual assignments.
More photos from her photo op at the Alhambra apiary of A.L. Boyden, c. 1927. (LAPL)
In 1928, she appeared in a supporting role in a stage play called “Mojita” performed by the Cordova Street Play Shop. It was an unusual bit of casting, given that the play was about the Mexican Revolution.
Following the Stock Market Crash (and start of the Great Depression) of 1929, Betteridge disappeared from the newspapers for a couple of years. According to the 1930 U.S. Census, she still lived with her mother (Note: Her father had died in 1927). She also stated that she worked as a dancer for motion pictures. Then in 1932, newspapers across the U.S. announced that she had won the “western division of a nation-wide smile contest!” Although the announcement claimed she was 21-years-old, she was really 27.
The contest reignited her modeling career. in 1933, she received a major endorsement from Los Angeles photographers, who lauded her brains and beauty.
In 1933, she became the “mascot” of the Gladioli Flower Show in Los Angeles. The following year, she was chosen as Queen of the National Orange Show. Although the crowning took place in San Bernardino, the Orange Show took place in Pamona. At that time, newspapers reported that she was a singer as well as a beauty queen.
Betteridge spent the remainder of the year, making special appearances to share recipes made with oranges. She also modeled for Mobil Oil!
By the end of 1935, Betteridge had quietly slipped out of the public eye. According to the 1940 U.S. Census, she worked as an interior decorator. She also claimed that she was 26-years-old despite the fact that she was now 30.
In 1945, during a visit to Mexico, she became fascinated with archaeology after a small girl had given her an ancient doll that she (the child) had found at an excavation site. Betteridge quickly enrolled as a student at the National University in Mexico City during her vacation. She next visited the Valley of Mexico to acquire “authentic clay figurines which…were more than 2000 years old.” She then brought them back to her apartment at 1131 S. Bronson Ave. and began to make clay replicas of each figurine for sale and exhibition. Although she returned to Mexico the following three summers to grab more ancient pieces, Mexican law made her amateur archaeological searches cost prohibitive. However, she had already amassed approximately 300 pieces, most of them trinket size.
In 1959, Betteridge brought her art collection to Bend, Oregon, near where she grew up as a child. She told a local reporter that following her modeling days, she had worked for two years as a food critic for a New York magazine and was keenly interested in possibly investing in health foods. She also said that she had dabbled in real estate, taught ceramics in veteran hospitals, made and sold Mexican jewelry, and collected paintings of Latvian artist Paul Puzinas.
Betteridge never married nor had any children. In fact, there are no records of her ever being romantically linked to anyone. She passed away in 1984 and is buried in Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills. She was 79-years-old. The whereabouts of her collection of “pre-Mayan” artifacts is unknown.
MAY BETTERIDGE RECIPES:
ORANGE FLOWER SOUFFLE
8 macaroons, crumbled (well-flavored with almonds)
1/2 cup orange blossoms or buds
5 oz. powdered sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 cube butter
Place macaroons and orange blossoms or buds into a bowl, pounding them well together. Stir in powdered sugar; set some aside. Add milk slowly. Beat the yolks and whites separately. Add yolks to other ingredients and then stir in lightly the stiff whites. Pour slightly browned butter into the batter, mixing well to color. Transfer to buttered souffle dish and bake in moderate oven. Sprinkle with powdered sugar that was set aside. Serve at once.
NOTE: Make sure orange blossoms or buds have not been sprayed with harmful insecticides.
CRYSTALLIZED ORANGE BLOSSOMS OR BUDS
1 cup fresh orange blossoms or buds
1/2 tsp. water
1 egg white
Granulated sugar as needed
Pick blossoms or buds early in the morning, while fresh. Wash carefully in cold water; allow to dry on absorbent paper. Add water to white of egg and beat until light and fluffy. Dip blossoms or bids in egg white, then in sugar. Place of waxed paper to dry. May be eaten immediately. Place in tightly covered jar to keep fresh.
ORANGE BLOSSOM HONEY SALAD DRESSING
1/2 cup orange blossom honey
1/2 cup salad oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tblsp. orange juice
1/2 tsp. salt
Combine and blend. Serve.