The Kiss, animated
Eisenstaedt did not have an opportunity to get the names and details of the sailor or the stranger, and the photograph does not clearly show the face of either person involved. The photo was published in Life in 1945 with the caption, “In New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers.” Numerous people came forward and claimed to be the subjects.
After much expert photo analysis, identifying people in the background and consultations with forensic anthropologists and facial recognition specialists it was concluded that the woman was Austrian-born American Greta Zimmer Friedman and that the 21-year old was wearing her dental hygienist uniform in the photograph. The Veterans History Project from the Library of Congress interviewed Friedman in 2005 (checkout the interview, it is great!) “It wasn’t my choice to be kissed…The guy just came over and grabbed!” she said. In 2012, Friedman told CBS News “That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me…I did not see him approaching, and before I know it I was in this tight grip.”
The sailor is widely accepted to be George Mendonsa of Newport, Rhode Island. Mendonsa was watching a movie with his future wife, Rita, at Radio City Music Hall when the doors opened to the sound of people screaming that the war was over. Mendonsa joined the partying on the street, but when he could not get into the packed bars decided to walk down the street. Mendonsa saw a woman in a white dress walk by and took her into his arms and kissed her. By this point he had quite a few drinks that day and considered her one of the troops—she looked like a nurse, but she was actually a dental hygienist.
When Greta Friedman died recently, on September 8, 2016, the kissing photo was all over the news. I noticed that there was not just one version of the photo – there were four slightly different photos. I searched google for the best versions I could find, and then stitched them together, using the people in the background to help decide on the order. It is so interesting to see the crowd form behind the kissing couple, which makes me think they were kissing for quite a while—though, Friedman’s son Joshua Friedman, says his mother recalled it all happening in an instant. The sailor seems to be holding the ‘nurse’ tightly and in an awkward way. Plus, remember, these are total strangers! Friedman is tugging at her dress, perhaps to keep it from rising. I am not sure how I would feel if a tipsy stranger grabbed me and kissed me like that.
Here are all 4 photos. I ordered them by looking at the sailor in the dark suit, on the left, and the man in the check shirt on the right side. Apparently, the lady peeking over the shoulder of the sailor in the top photos, is Rita. The Life cover featured the photo in top right. To see the photos larger, click twice on them.