Sunday, November 11, 2012

Miss Atomic Bomb

Flag of the State of Nevada
Of late, The Killers’ newest album, Battle Born, has gotten a lot of playtime on my computer.

One of the things that I like about The Killers is that all of their albums have something to do with the culture and history of the American West. Everything from “Sam’s Town” to “Spaceman” ties into a western theme, be that the dusty western town where nothing happens or alien abduction. They really have a knack for turning western themes into a piece of art that people from across the globe can enjoy. 

(For a counter example, see Sting’s music video for “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying)

But I digress. Again.

Battle Born (2012)

Battle Born is no exception to The Killers' flair for all things western; the album's name itself comes from the Nevada flag, and is a reference to the fact Nevada was “born" of the Civil War. After the Civil War and the transformation of Las Vegas from dusty desert town to “poster town of Scorn and Ritz,” the testing of nuclear weapons out at the Nevada Test Site (now Nevada National Security Site) is the most important event in Nevada history. Appropriately enough, the second single off Battle Born, “Miss Atomic Bomb,” pays homage to this period in time.

Upshot-Knothole Shot Grable

“Miss Atomic Bomb,” however, isn’t just a catchy title, it’s a reference to a woman (really group of women) who between 1953 and 1957 were nicknamed after the atomic tests in various pageants and whatnot. In 1953, during the Upshot-Knothole series of tests at the Nevada Test Site, North Las Vegas hosted their annual beauty pageant contest. In the subsequent parade, the pageant winner, Paula Harris, rode atop a float with the theme of a recent spy thriller, “The Atomic City.” As part of a campaign by North Las Vegas to modernize its' image, the city, and in turn Paula, took on a “modern” name – “Miss A-Bomb.” 

"The Atomic City" Movie Poster (1952)

The most famous of the Miss Atomic Bombs was Lee Merlin, who, while working for the Sands Hotel in 1957 volunteered for a photo that would become synonymous with 1950s Las Vegas. Earlier this year, Las Vegas Review-Journal writer Jane Ann Morrison published an article recounting the story behind the most famous Miss Atomic Bomb:

Lee Merlin's famous "Miss Atomic Bomb" photo

Who can forget Miss Atomic Bomb? 

Credit News Bureau photographer Don English with that idea. He thought atomic bomb pictures were getting old and was looking for something fresh. 

Later, he told Gina Smith, his daughter, that the night before an assignment with the Sands Copa showgirls, he pasted cotton in the shape of a mushroom cloud onto cardboard. 

After his assignment, he asked the showgirls: "Who wants to model?" Lee Merlin volunteered, never realizing that would be the shot published for decades to come around the world. English took her across the street from the Sands, then an empty desert, and attached the cardboard to her swimsuit.

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