Saturday, December 18, 2010

Atomic Cheesecake: The Alert America Convoy Comes to Hollywood

Signed Alert America-Model-photo“For the alert boys at CONELRAD! Best Charlotte Austin” 

The Alert America civil defense exhibit convoy of 1952 was what Millard Caldwell, Administrator of the Federal Civil Defense Administration (1951-1952), called “Paul Revere on Wheels.” The purpose of the much ballyhooed tour was to demonstrate to Americans the value of preparing for an atomic attack by the Soviet Union and, perhaps more strikingly, the consequences of ignoring such a threat.

The convoy (which was actually three separate convoys on three different routes) found a receptive audience in the nearly forty-eight states that it visited. Over the eight-month tour, an estimated one million visitors turned out in eighty-two cities to view the exhibit.

On May 15, 1952, the exhibit rolled into Los Angeles, California. The lead truck driver, Cpl. Samuel Leible, was greeted in grand style by “Miss Alert America,” Jeanne Lambros and two “hostesses,” one of whom bestowed a Hawaiian lei around his neck.

Lo-Miss Alert America

For a show that purported to demonstrate the grim realities of atomic war, its promotion was pure Hollywood. From having starlets Merry Anders and Charlotte Austin pose with an Alert America placard to advertising the show in the movie section of the Los Angeles Times, the P.R. people did not miss a trick.

Lo-Alert America Ad   
Once inside the exhibit, the public was treated to display after display about survival but with the atomic cheesecake of Ms. Anders and Ms. Austin noticeably absent. It was the old bait and switch re-fitted for the Cold War.

Lo-Alert America Women-Exhibit

When CONELRAD caught up with Ms. Austin in 2005 she told us that she had no recollection of her civil defense service other than to say that the photo was “obviously taken at the studio.” We thank her for signing the still that is seen at the top of this post. If we ever manage to convince Ms. Anders to autograph the photo, we will “alert” the readers of this blog. Until then, the convoy has left the state.

Lo-Alert America-Trucks-2


Kelsey Picken said...

This is a facinating topic -- I'm trying to conduct some research myself on this exhibit/convoy. Could you tell me which sources you used for the photographs as well as the information?

Bill Geerhart said...

Kelsey, I posted a more comprehensive article on Alert America here:

The main photo on the page came with an Alert America official government scrapbook that I won on eBay many years ago.

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