Bob Magill 1917-2005
by dean adams
Monday, February 14, 2005

Bob Magill. Hand scrawl on the back of this photo reads 'Young dimwit aircraft worker getting bombed with famous movie bimbo. Flamingo Hotel, Vegas, 1948.'
image by unknown
Photographer Robert "Bob" Magill died last week after a long illness. While his name may not be one that big numbers of racing enthusiasts would recognize today, Bob Magill was both a talented photographer and—even into his eighties—had a razor-sharp memory for race results and rider details from a bygone era. Magill shot for motorcycle magazines and newspapers in the late 1940s and 1950s, and he could reel off vivid race details about events that, today, have unfortunately been long forgotten.

Magill shot races and events all over California in the late 1940s using a Kodak Medalist and several other medium-format photography rigs. His work was widely used by period magazines and newspapers for fifteen years, then he seemed to drop out of the racing scene in the 60s when he was closely involved in the Apollo space program (via his long-time employer Rockwell). Magill was one of several multi-talented persons from the motorcycle industry who were pulled into the aircraft and space programs in the infancy of each; because, while Magill was renown as a shooter, he was also an accomplished machinist, built houses and worked in a Coast Guard sea-and-air-rescue unit in WWII. The US space program grew by leaps and bounds in the 1960s because of fellows like Bob Magill, guys who could seemingly build anything, fix anything and do almost anything. In fact, just about the time you think you'd finally gotten a handle on Bob Magill, he'd typically pull out a print from 1944 and say, "Did I ever tell you I knew Marilyn Monroe before she was famous?" or something of that order.

He retired from Rockwell in 1976 and would occasionally hang out at Del Mar or other races. His early photo archive was culled for contributions to books like Steve Wright's priceless American Racer 1940-1980 and the '80s Triumph book series by Motorbooks, among others. Usually, his photo credit simply read "Magill".

Images by Magill

Several of Bob Magill's wonderful race images are here.

Magill, like many purists, could never get his head around the fact that nearly the entire news photography industry dropped medium-format cameras for 35mm, without a real analysis of the wonderful photos that the larger format produced. "I can't understand why fellas use 35mm. The frame is so small, it's like shooting through a microscope," he'd muse.

Bob Magill was 87.


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