A is for Miss Atomic Bomb

This is my contribution to Round Fourteen of ABC Wednesday. For the fifth time I am focusing on people – some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten, but all with a tale to tell.

Lee A Merlin as Miss Atomic Bomb in 1957One of the places I really wanted to visit when we were in America a couple of years ago was the atomic testing grounds about 65 miles north of Las Vegas.

Not your typical tourist trap I grant you, especially compared with the arcade machine attractions of The Strip, but then I’d rather risk radiation sickness than throw away my money at a blackjack table.

But it wasn’t to be. It’s not the sort of place where you can just turn up, hand over your dollars and wander round before visiting the souvenir shop. There are only tours once a month, organised by the US military, and despite what you might think, you have to register well in advance.

Nevada Test SiteThen there is the security. You have to fill in a questionnaire to make sure you’re not about to steal sixty year old secrets before you’re even considered, so despite the best efforts of our friend Ant, my anticipated visit fell at the first hurdle.

Even so, it has given me my first ABC Wednesday post for round fourteen and rather than focussing on an individual, I give you instead the generic Miss Atomic.

America began testing atom bombs at the Nellis Air Force Gunnery and Bombing Range after President Truman authorised a 680 square mile area of the Nevada Desert for the purpose in 1950. Isolated though it was, these tests did not go unnoticed by the public and the first televised atomic blast took place in 1952.

Atomic design dinner plate

Atomic design dinner plate

Atomic fever gripped America as this weapon of mass destruction became a cultural icon. Designers incorporated the electrons and nucleus motif in everything from company logos to dinner sets and sports teams took the ‘Atoms‘ as their nickname.

Oddest of all though was when the impresarios of Las Vegas combined their two greatest attractionsatom bombs and showgirls – and created the Atomic pin-up girl.

The first photo appeared in May 1952 in the Daily Record in Statesville, North Carolina, and the Evening Telegraph in Dixon, Illinois, featuring Las Vegas dancer, Candyce King, as Miss Atomic Blast. The caption read:

…radiating loveliness instead of deadly atomic particles, Candyce King, actress appearing at Last Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, dazzled US marines who participated in recent atomic maneuvers at Yucca Flats. They bestowed on her the title of ‘Miss Atomic Blast’ finding her as awe-inspiring in another way, as was the ‘Big Bang.

The Atomic CityIn 1952 the film The Atomic City was released starring Gene Barry as Michael Addison, a scientist at Los Alamos, New Mexico, whose son is kidnapped by enemy agents.

The North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce chose the film as the theme for their annual beauty contest in spring 1953 and the winner, Paula Harris, was nicknamed Miss A-Bomb.

The sign on the parade float also proclaimed North Las Vegas as ‘new and modern as the A-Bomb‘.

In 1955 Operation Cue was devised to discover the effect of an atom bomb on civilian communities, measuring how well (or badly) houses, shelters, food and people would fare at various distances from the blast.

Mis-CueHigh winds delayed the test several times and the servicemen involved began calling it Operation Mis-Cue instead. Surprisingly, given the paranoia of the time, they were allowed to visit Las Vegas during these delays and during one such sojourn they crowned an unidentified showgirl as ‘Mis-Cue’.

The Sands Hotel issued the publicity photo on the left ‘to illustrate another mis-firing of the Operation Cue Bomb’ showing Mis-Cue being crowned with, what else, a mushroom cloud.

But the last and most famous Miss Atomic Bomb pin-up photo was the one at the top of this post showing Copa showgirl Lee A Merlin with her cotton wool mushroom cloud costume at the Sands Hotel.

It was taken by Donald English in 1957 to coincide with Operation Pumbbob and has been used widely ever since, including on the Miss Atomic Bomb video by the Killers in 2011. Below is a video of the real thing.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

8 comments… Add yours
  • Piggy Pudding 15th January 2014

    Thank you for this information. Previously I had thought that Miss Atomic Blast was simply a young woman with excessive flatulence – like Lady Gaga or The Right Honourable Justine Greening MP. Now I know better.

  • Carver 15th January 2014

    I didn’t know about the Miss Atomic Bomb pin ups. Bizarre! Interesting post. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

  • Roger Green 15th January 2014

    Informative, even for this American!
    ROG, ABC Wednesday

  • KVVS MURTHY 15th January 2014

    Very informative…have a nice day!

    Murthy, ABCW Team

  • Carol In Cairns 15th January 2014

    I love your A-Z posts ~ I have learned so much since I started reading them! and now that I know it’s a challenge I might hop on board. I have been looking for an inspiration for a 2014 blog. So thank you so much. Miss Atomic ~ who would have thought huh?

  • Richie 15th January 2014

    Very interesting and just a bit unsettling. An Arkie’s Musings

  • Leslie 15th January 2014

    The video is a bit shocking (no pun intended) but I guess it was all in the interest of man and his weaponry. Not sure if I approve, especially since it’s being glorified by have a “Miss Atom Bomb.”

    abcw team

  • rhymeswithplague 18th January 2014

    Absolutely bizarre, and a detail of the early atomic age of which I was completely unaware. Understandable, as I was not into pinup girls as a child.

    I do remember seeing on television the above-ground explosions of A-bombs before the tests were moved far underground because people became concerned about fallout as the mushroom clouds moved eastward toward the centers of population. I also remember seeing a horrendous 2-page color spread in Life magazine in 1952 showing the explosion of the first Hydrogen bomb in the Pacific. I was eleven years old at the time.

    The video made me very sad for the animals used in the testing.


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