Calling All Copa Girls: Help find Miss Atomic Bomb
Her image has come to symbolize the bizarre love affair Las Vegas had with the Bomb in the 1950s. The famous photograph of the smiling model in a mushroom cloud bathing suit with her arms outstretched to the sky remains a powerful reminder of how sex appeal and atomic energy were once inseparable Cold War ingredients. Whatever happened to Miss Atomic Bomb? That is a question Robert Friedrichs of the National Nuclear Security Administration has been working on for the last couple of years (in his spare time). Mr. Friedrichs' dedicated sleuthing has generated some impressive leads including the likely name of his subject (Lee Merlin). CONELRAD's Missing Persons Bureau has volunteered to help Mr. Friedrichs spread the word of his quest. So without further delay, here are all of the known facts about Miss Atomic Bomb:
- Her name is almost certainly Lee Merlin and if she is still living she is in her early seventies.
- A woman resembling Miss Atomic Bomb and identified as Lee Merlin appears in a Long Beach Press-Telegram photograph in the newspaper's July 25, 1953 edition. In the photograph Merlin stands between Long Beach, CA Mayor Lyman B. Sutter and Jack Arnold of the Long Beach Culinary Workers union. The article concerns the mayor’s proclamation of "City of Hope Week"
- Merlin came to Las Vegas in late 1953 or early 1954.
- Her first job was at the Desert Inn Hotel.
- She worked as a Copa Girl at the Sands Hotel (now the Venetian Hotel and Casino) from 1954 to the summer or early fall of 1957.
- She lived with one of her co-workers at the Bali Hai Apartments on Desert Inn Road for most of her time in Las Vegas.
- One of her fellow dancers, Carolyn MacMullen, recalls Merlin as "very bookish" with a "dry" sense of humor.
- Photographer Don English was assigned by the Las Vegas News Bureau to take a picture outside the Sands Hotel in connection with an above ground atomic test. By 1957 the repetition of the tests had inspired English to become creative in his photography on this theme. He and his colleagues designed the striking mushroom cloud that adorns the bathing suit worn by Merlin. It was constructed of cotton wadding glued to cardboard.
- Don English did not photograph Merlin at the exact time of the detonation. Also, the landscape behind Merlin demonstrates that the picture was taken facing east, away from the test site.
- Contrary to oft-repeated claims, there was no beauty contest preceding the photograph and the title "Miss Atomic Blast" that is sometimes associated with the picture is incorrect.
If you have any information regarding Miss Atomic Bomb (Lee Merlin), please drop a dime to CONELRAD
. We will make sure that Mr. Friedrichs receives every piece of information generated by our readers.