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Extraordinary sleuthing connects Rita Hayworth and the atom bomb

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Rita Hayworth was one of the most celebrated celebrities of all time, and a favorite wartime pin-up. But she became an infamous pin-up when a picture of her was rumored to have been put on an atomic bomb. Thanks to some amazing detective work, we now know the rumors were right.

Orson Welles, who was married to Hayworth, started this enduring rumor when he announced it during a radio broadcast. The bomb in question was the Able bomb, dropped on Bikini Atoll in 1946, and ever since Welles announced its existence, people have been speculating about what the picture was. Some claimed it was a film poster for Haywotth's film Gilda, while some said it was a painting, by multiple artists, carefully painted onto the surface of the bomb.


Conelrad, a site that deals with the sometimes kitschy, sometimes scary trivia of the dawn of the nuclear age, has given us an answer. An atomic documentarian found some previously-lost footage of the Able bomb, and upon making sure it wasn't classified, sent it to Bill Geerhart at Conelrad. Geerhart got together a team and tracked down the copy of Esquire in which it was published. It looks to be a portrait of Rita Hayworth by Bill Coburn, titled "American Beauty."


Geerhart sent the news to me, and so we at io9 can show you Rita Hayworth on the side of the Able bomb. If you want to see the original photo in full color, hear Orson Welles' thoughts on the subject, and read about Bill Geerhart's work on separating the many rumors from the facts, do go to Geerhart's page. It's a great read.