Indestructible entertainer Janis Paige, who will be celebrating her 90th birthday next month with a one-woman show at San Francisco’s RRaz Room, was once known (albeit briefly) as Miss Atomic Energy. The following is a short history of this little known chapter in Cold War popular culture.
In September of 1948 Ms. Paige, a Tacoma, Washington native and film actress, was scheduled to return to her home state to lend some star power to the first annual Atomic Frontier Days festival in Richland. Her title of Miss Atomic Energy was attributed in the press to an apparently spontaneous vote by “several thousand workers at the atomic-energy plant.” But it was more likely that the honor was the creative result of studio flacks looking for a story to go with their amazing publicity picture (as seen above and shot by the late great Floyd McCarty).
On September 1, 1948, the Los Angeles Times announced Ms. Paige’s news with a photo caption reading “SHE’S ATOMIC – Actress Janis Paige chosen for honor at celebration in Northwest.” The article went on to state:
Radioactive or not, Janis Paige, Warner Bros. actress, has been named Miss Atomic Energy by several thousand workers at the atomic-energy plant in RIchland, Wash., it was announced yesterday.
So, Miss Paige will fly to the northern city Friday to be a guest in an Atomic Frontier Day celebration which also will be attended by members of the government’s Atomic Energy Commission and other officials
The actress will crown the local queen, ride in the parade and be a guest at a horse show and barbecue.
In the September 6, 1948 edition of the Union Bulletin of Walla Walla, Washington, Ms. Paige was mentioned briefly in a story about Barbara Wiltz, “tall shapely blonde…who was crowned queen of the first annual ‘Atomic Frontier Days.’ The article notes that “movie actress Janis Paige took part in the ceremony.” A week later, the same newspaper carried a photo of the crowning under the headline “Queen of the Atomic City.” Although, it is impossible to tell from the poor quality image below, Ms. Paige is to the left of the “Queen.”
We’re not sure whatever became of Ms. Wiltz, but Janis Paige continued her remarkable career path with roles in One Sunday Afternoon (1948), This Side of the Law (1950), Silk Stockings (1957) and many other films and television series. CONELRAD wishes the former Miss Atomic Energy a very happy birthday!
APPENDIX: Text from the Back of the 1948 Floyd McCarty Publicity Photo
“Security at the Richland, Washington Atomic Energy Plant has been lifted long enough to reveal that the atomic workers there have selected Janis Paige as "MISS ATOMIC ENERGY." Janis will fly to Richland, Washington to reign over the Atomic Frontier Celebration, Sept. 4-6, commemorating the founding of Richland's Atomic Energy Plant. Here Janis demonstrates the reason she was accorded the honor -- her thorough knowledge of higher mathematics. Janis will soon be seen in Warner Bros.' ONE SUNDAY AFTERNOON.”