|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.|
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.
Then 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 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 attractions – atom 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.
In 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.
High 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.