V-J Day in Times Square

Coordinates: 40°45′28″N 73°59′09″W / 40.757682°N 73.98571°W / 40.757682; -73.98571

V-J Day in Times Square, a photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt, 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"
Alfred Eisenstaedt signing his famous "V-J Day" photograph on the afternoon of August 23, 1995, while sitting in his Menemsha Inn cabin located on Martha's Vineyard. He died shortly after midnight about 8 hours later.

V-J Day in Times Square (also V-Day and The Kiss)[1][2] is a photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt that portrays a U.S. Navy sailor grabbing and kissing a stranger—a woman in a white dress—on Victory over Japan Day ("V-J Day") in New York City's Times Square on August 14, 1945.[3] The photograph was published a week later in Life magazine, among many photographs of celebrations around the United States that were presented in a twelve-page section titled "Victory Celebrations".[4] A two-page spread faces three other kissing poses among celebrators in Washington, D.C.; Kansas City; and Miami opposite Eisenstaedt's, which was given a full-page display. Kissing was a favorite pose encouraged by media photographers of service personnel during the war, but Eisenstaedt was photographing a spontaneous event that occurred in Times Square soon before the announcement of the end of the war on Japan was made by U.S. President Harry S. Truman at seven o'clock. Similar jubilation spread quickly with the news.

Because he was photographing rapidly changing events during the celebrations, Eisenstaedt did not have an opportunity to get the names and details. The photograph does not clearly show the face of either person involved, and numerous people have claimed to be the subjects. The photograph was shot just south of 45th Street looking north from a location where Broadway and Seventh Avenue converge. Soon afterward, throngs of people crowded into the square and it became a sea of people.

The photograph was taken at 5:51 p.m. ET, according to Donald W. Olson and his team.[5] It was taken with a Leica IIIa.[6]

Accounts by Alfred Eisenstaedt

In two different books he wrote, Alfred Eisenstaedt gave two slightly different accounts of taking the photograph and of its nature.

From Eisenstaedt on Eisenstaedt:

In Times Square on V.J. Day I saw a sailor running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight. Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn't make a difference. I was running ahead of him with my Leica looking back over my shoulder but none of the pictures that were possible pleased me. Then suddenly, in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse. If she had been dressed in a dark dress I would never have taken the picture. If the sailor had worn a white uniform, the same. I took exactly four pictures. It was done within a few seconds.

Only one is right, on account of the balance. In the others the emphasis is wrong — the sailor on the left side is either too small or too tall. People tell me that when I am in heaven they will remember this picture.

From The Eye of Eisenstaedt:

I was walking through the crowds on V-J Day, looking for pictures. I noticed a sailor coming my way. He was grabbing every female he could find and kissing them all — young girls and old ladies alike. Then I noticed the nurse, standing in that enormous crowd. I focused on her, and just as I'd hoped, the sailor came along, grabbed the nurse, and bent down to kiss her. Now if this girl hadn't been a nurse, if she'd been dressed dark clothes, I wouldn't have had a picture. The contrast between her white dress and the sailor's dark uniform gives the photograph its extra impact.

It became a cultural icon overnight and by establishing his copyright, Eisenstaedt carefully controlled the rights to it, only allowing a limited number of reproductions which determined how it could be used.

Another photograph of the same scene

Jorgensen's similar photograph

U.S. Navy photo journalist Victor Jorgensen captured another view of the same scene, which was published in the New York Times the following day.[7] Jorgensen titled his photograph Kissing the War Goodbye. It shows less of Times Square in the background, lacking the characteristic view of the complex intersection so that the location needs to be identified, it is dark and shows few details of the main subjects, and it does not show the lower legs and feet of the subjects.

Unlike the Eisenstaedt photograph, which is protected by copyright, this Navy photograph is in the public domain as it was produced by a federal government employee on official duty. While the angle of the photograph may be less interesting than that of Eisenstaedt's photo, it clearly shows the actual location of the iconic kiss occurring in the front of the Chemical Bank and Trust building, with the Walgreens pharmacy signage on the building façade visible in the background.

The surprised woman on the left in Jorgensen's photograph has been positively identified as Kay Hughes Dorius of Utah.[8]

Identity of the kissers

Edith Shain's claim as the nurse

Edith Shain at the 2008 Memorial Day parade in Washington, D.C.

Edith Shain wrote to Eisenstaedt in the late 1970s claiming to be the woman in the picture.[9] In August 1945, Shain was working at Doctor's Hospital in Manhattan, New York City as a nurse when she and a friend heard on the radio that World War II had ended. They went to Times Square where all the celebrating was and as soon as she arrived on the street from the subway, the sailor grabbed her in an embrace and kissed her. She related that at the time she thought she might as well let him kiss her since he fought for her in the war. Shain did not claim that she was the woman in the white dress until many years later when she wrote to Eisenstaedt. He notified the magazine that he had received her letter claiming to be the subject.

Since the identity of the woman had been claimed, in its August 1980 issue, the editors of Life asked that the kissing sailor come forward. In the October 1980 issue, the editors reported that eleven men and three women had come forward claiming to be the subjects of the photograph. Listed in the October 1980 issue as claiming to be the woman were Greta Friedman and Barbara Sokol as well as Edith Shain.

On June 20, 2010, Shain died at age 91 of liver cancer.[10] In April 2012 the issue of who the woman was, remained, as a new book on the topic was about to be released. The authors, George Galdorisi and Lawrence Verria, stated that Shain could not have been the woman because her height of just four feet ten inches was insufficient in comparison with the height of any of the men claiming to be the sailor.[11]

Greta Friedman

Galdorisi and Verria used interviews of claimants, expert photo analysis, identifying people in the background and consultations with forensic anthropologists and facial recognition specialists. They concluded that the woman was Greta Zimmer Friedman and that she was wearing her dental hygienist uniform in the photograph.[11]

"It wasn’t my choice to be kissed," Friedman stated in a 2005 interview with the Library of Congress.[3] "The guy just came over and grabbed!" she said, adding, "That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me."[3][12] "I did not see him approaching, and before I know it I was in this tight grip," Friedman told CBS News in 2012.[13] Friedman died at age 92 on September 8, 2016, in Richmond, Virginia, due to health complications of old age.[14]

Claiming to be the U.S. Navy sailor

Numerous men have claimed to be the sailor, including Donald Bonsack, John Edmonson, Wallace C. Fowler, Clarence "Bud" Harding, Walker Irving, James Kearney, Marvin Kingsburg, Arthur Leask, George Mendonça, Jack Russell, and Bill Swicegood.[15] The issue regarding the identity of the kissers is no longer contended in a court of law.

George Mendonsa

George Mendonsa and Greta Friedman, guests of honor at the Bristol, Rhode Island, July 4 parade in 2009

George Mendonsa of Newport, Rhode Island, on leave from the USS The Sullivans (DD-537), was watching a movie with his future wife, Rita,[9] at Radio City Music Hall when the doors opened and people started screaming the war was over.[16] George and Rita joined the partying on the street, but when they could not get into the packed bars decided to walk down the street. It was then that George saw a woman in a white dress walk by and took her into his arms and kissed her, "I had quite a few drinks that day and I considered her one of the troops—she was a nurse."[9] In one of the four pictures that Eisenstaedt took, Mendonsa claims that Rita is visible in the background behind the kissing couple.[9]

In 1987, George Mendonsa filed a lawsuit against Time Inc. in Rhode Island state court, alleging that he was the sailor in the photograph and that both Time and Life had violated his right of publicity by using the photograph without his permission. After Time Inc. removed the case to federal court, Mendonsa survived a motion to dismiss.[17]

Mendonsa was identified by a team of volunteers from the Naval War College in August 2005 as "the kisser". His claim was based on matching his scars and tattoos to scars and tattoos in the photograph.[9] They made their determination after much study including photographic analysis by the Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories (MERL) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who were able to match scars and tattoo spotted by photograph experts, and the testimony of Richard M. Benson, a photograph analysis expert, professor of photographic studies, plus the former Dean of the School of Arts at Yale University. Benson stated that "it is therefore my opinion, based upon a reasonable degree of certainty, that George Mendonsa is the sailor in Mr. Eisenstaedt's famous photograph."[9]

The identity of the sailor as George Mendonsa has been challenged by physicists Donald W. Olson and Russell Doescher of Texas State University and Steve Kawaler of Iowa State University based on astronomical conditions recorded by the photographs of the incident. According to Mendonsa's account of the events of the day, the kiss would have occurred at approximately 2 p.m. However, Olson and Doescher argue that the positions of shadows in the photographs suggest that it was taken after 5 p.m. They further point to a clock seen in the picture, whose hour hand appears closer to the 6 o'clock position than to the 2 o'clock position; and to Victor Jorgensen's account of the circumstances of his own picture; concluding that Mendonsa's version of events is untenable.[18]

Carl Muscarello

Carl Muscarello is a retired police officer with the New York City Police Department, now living in Plantation, Florida. In 1995, he claimed to be the kissing sailor. He claimed that he was in Times Square on August 14, 1945, and that he kissed numerous women. A distinctive birthmark on his hand enabled his mother to identify him as the subject. Edith Shain initially said she believed Muscarello's claim to be the sailor and they even dated after their brief reunion. But in 2005, Shain was much less certain, telling the New York Times, "I can't say he isn't. I just can't say he is. There is no way to tell."[19] Muscarello has described his condition on August 14, 1945 as being quite drunk[20] and having no clear memory of his actions in the square, stating that his mother claimed he was the man after seeing the photograph and he came to believe it.[21]

Glenn McDuffie

Glenn McDuffie laid claim in 2007 and was supported by Houston Police Department forensic artist Lois Gibson.[22] Gibson's forensic analysis compared the Eisenstaedt photographs with current-day photographs of McDuffie, analyzing key facial features identical on both sets. She measured his ears, facial bones, hairline, wrist, knuckles, and hand, and compared those to enlargements of Eisenstaedt's picture.

I could tell just in general that yes, it's him. But I wanted to be able to tell other people so I replicated the pose.[23]

In the August 14, 2007, issue of AM New York McDuffie said he passed five polygraph tests confirming his claim to be the man.[24] McDuffie, a native of Kannapolis, North Carolina, who had lied about his age so he could enlist at the age of 15, went on after the war to play semi-pro baseball and work for the United States Postal Service.[25][26] He says that on that day he was on the subway to Brooklyn to visit his girlfriend, Ardith Bloomfield.[24] He came out of the subway at Times Square, where people were celebrating in the streets. Excited that his brother, who was being held by the Japanese as a prisoner of war, would be released, McDuffie began hollering and jumping up and down. A nurse saw him, and opened her arms to him. In apparent conflict with Eisenstaedt's recollections of the event, McDuffie said he ran over to her and kissed her for a long time so that Eisenstaedt could take the photograph:

I went over there and kissed her and saw a man running at us...I thought it was a jealous husband or boyfriend coming to poke me in the eyes. I looked up and saw he was taking the picture and I kissed her as long as took for him to take it.[27]

Gibson had also analyzed photographs of other men who have claimed to be the sailor, including Muscarello and Mendonça, reporting that neither man's facial bones or other features match those of the sailor in the photograph. On August 3, 2008, Glenn McDuffie was recognized for his 81st birthday as the “Kissing Sailor” during the seventh-inning stretch of the Houston Astros and New York Mets game at Minute Maid Park. McDuffie died on March 14, 2014.[28]

Other people

Life's October 1980 issue did not include Muscarello or Glenn McDuffie.[29] These claims have been made much more recently.

Mendonça and Friedman (both individually and together), as well as Shain, Muscarello, and McDuffie, were widely interviewed in the succeeding years by Life, PBS, NBC, CBS, and others. The life stories of Mendonça and Friedman, and how they came to be in Times Square that day, as well as the reasons they are considered most likely to be the ones photographed, are the subject of a detailed book on the photo.[30] Mendonça recognizes Friedman, to the exclusion of any other woman, as the "nurse" he kissed in the photographs (or, to be precise, the woman in the white uniform, as Friedman was a dental assistant—a nurse's uniform was customary in a dentist's office to be worn by female assistants and hygienists in that era).[31] As part of a World War II memorial at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts, a new painting titled Victory Kiss by Jim Laurier of New Hampshire was first unveiled on August 24, 2013, to honor the event captured in the photo. George Mendonça was in attendance for the unveiling.[16]

In 2005, John Seward Johnson II displayed a bronze life-size sculpture, Unconditional Surrender, at an August 14, 2005, sixtieth-anniversary reenactment at Times Square of the kiss. His statue was featured in a ceremony that included Carl Muscarello and Edith Shain, holding a copy of the famous photograph, as participants.[32] Johnson also sculpted a 25-foot-tall (7.6 m) version in plastic and aluminum, which has been displayed in several cities, including San Diego and Sarasota.[33][34][35] The 25-foot (7.6 m) version was moved to New York City again on August 12, 2015, for a temporary display.[36]

In the 2009 film Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, two characters jump into a life-size enlargement of the photograph, finding themselves in a monochrome Times Square. One of them cuts in on the sailor for a kiss with the nurse.

In the 2009 film Watchmen, during the opening credits, the Times Square V-J celebration is shown with a costumed heroine, Silhouette, kissing a female nurse as a photographer captures the moment.

In 2009 a furor over the placement of a derivative of the photograph on public land arose in Sarasota, Florida. Television and radio programs concentrated on it,[37] and letters to the editor were printed for months. Letters and articles in the local press continue to debate the central issue of the objections in 2015.[38] The statue was given ten years to stay on the public land by a slim majority of city council members.

In the 2010 film Letters to Juliet, the photograph is featured in a scene where a magazine editor questions a writer about her fact-checking regarding the image.

In the The Simpsons episode "Bart the General", victory celebrations following a "war" between two groups of children include a boy in a sailor outfit kissing Lisa as a photograph is taken. She then slaps the boy, exclaiming, "Knock it off!"

In 2012, while performing a show for the Marines during the New York City Fleet Week, singer Katy Perry kissed a man on stage, replicating the pose.[39]

In the 2012 film Men in Black III, a time traveling character views The Kiss.

In the 2014 video game Wolfenstein: The New Order, an alternative history version of the V-J Day kiss (V-A Day in the timeline) appears as a Nazi soldier forcing himself on the nurse.[40][41]

See also


  1. V-J Day in Times Square in The Photo Book (London: Phaidon, 2000; ISBN 0-7148-3937-X), p.134. V-Day in Twentieth Century Photography: Museum Ludwig Cologne (Cologne: Taschen, 2005; ISBN 3-8228-4083-1), pp. 148–9.
  2. Harnisch, Larry (August 14, 2005). "The Daily Mirror: Voices -- Edith Shain and 'The Kiss'". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved June 3, 2011.
  3. "V-J Day, 1945: A Nation Lets Loose". Life Magazine. .
  4. Mystery clouds Times Square kiss for 70 years
  5. "V-J Day, 1945: A Nation Lets Loose" Life. .
  6. Marshall Berman (March–April 2007). "Everyman in Times Square". Columbia Forum. Retrieved September 24, 2007. They were also photographed at just about the same moment, from a slightly different (and less exciting) angle, by U.S. Navy photographer Victor Jorgensen; Jorgensen’s photo was printed in the next day’s New York Times.
  7. Natalie Andrews (November 10, 2006). "The other woman in the WWII "kiss" photo". Daily Herald. Retrieved 2015-09-14.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Lucas, Dean (April 17, 2007). "Famous Pictures Magazine – VJday Times Square Kiss".
  9. Goldstein, Richard (June 22, 2010). "Edith Shain, Who Said Famous Kiss Came Her Way, Dies at 91". KGO-TV. Retrieved June 22, 2010.
  10. 1 2 Diane Bell, "Famous 'kissing sailor' photo sparks true detective tale", U-T San Diego, April 20, 2012.
  11. Martino, Andy (September 2, 2016). "How a celebrated image marking V-J Day in Times Square has taken on a sinister shade". New York Daily News. Retrieved September 12, 2016.
  12. "Woman in V-J Day photo dead at 92". CBS News. September 10, 2016. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  13. "Greta Friedman, woman in iconic WWII Times Square kiss photograph, dies at 92". LA Times. September 10, 2016. Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  14. "Who is the Kissing Sailor?", Life, October 1980
  15. 1 2 "Iconic WWII painting unveiled at Battleship Cove". whdh.com. WHDH-TV. August 25, 2013. Retrieved August 25, 2013.
  16. Mendonsa v. Time Inc., 678 F.Supp. 967 (D. R.I. 1988)
  17. Olson, Donald W.; Doescher, Russell L.; Kawaler, Steven D. (August 2015). "Telltale Sun & Shadow: Astronomy & the VJ Day Kiss" (PDF). Sky and Telescope: 30–35. Retrieved 29 January 2016.
  18. "V-J Day Is Replayed, but the Lip-Lock's Tamer This Time", New York Times, August 15, 2005.
  19. Carli Teproff, "WWII 'Kissing Sailor' Carl Muscarello visits Fort Lauderdale school kids", Sun-Sentinel, October 14, 2010.
  20. Sarah Mirza, "A Smooch For History", CBSNEWS, June 23, 2010.
  21. Juan A. Lozano, "Forensic expert: N.C. native is sailor in famous wartime photo", The News and Observer, August 3, 2007; Juan A. Lozano, "Man says he's the sailor in famous photo", Associated Press, August 3, 2007, Yahoo News.
  22. Juan A. Lozano, "Man Says He's the Sailor in Famous Photo"
  23. 1 2 Dispute over famed smooch – AM New York – August 14, 2007
  24. "Kannapolis sailor in iconic WWII photo dies in Houston". Independent Tribune. Retrieved March 15, 2014.
  25. "'Kissing sailor' from famous WWII photograph dies". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved March 15, 2014.
  26. "Man Claims He's the Mystery Sailor in The Kiss", ABC News, August 7, 2007.
  27. "Glenn McDuffie, man known as kissing sailor in WWII-era photo, dead at 86". CBC News.com. Retrieved March 15, 2014.
  28. "When a Kiss Isn’t Just a Kiss", New York Times, August 6, 2007
  29. Lawrence Verria and George Galdorisi, The Kissing Sailor: The Mystery Behind the Photo That Ended World War II (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2012; ISBN 1-61251-078-7).
  30. Christina Bates, A Cultural History of the Nurse's Uniform (Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2012; ISBN 978-0660201849)
  31. Huffingtonpost.com, "W Hotels' WWII Kiss Reenactment Contest (PHOTOS)"
  32. Unconditional Surrender Statue
  33. Robert L. Pincus, "Port surrenders in the battle against kitsch", San Diego Union-Tribune, March 11, 2007.
  34. Ogles, Jacob, Unconditional Surrender Deal to Be Finalized Today, SRQ Daily, June 11, 2010
  35. Alanna Martinez (August 12, 2015). "Monumental—and Controversial—'Kissing Sailor' Sculpture Comes to Times Square". The Observer. Retrieved August 13, 2015.
  36. Problems w/ Kiss interview, edited July 9, 2009 interview,
  37. A Victory for the ages, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Thursday, August 13, 2015
  38. Bidwill, Colleen (May 25, 2012). "Katy Perry kisses Marine during NYC Fleet Week". USA Today. Retrieved May 29, 2012.
  39. Nathan Birch (June 7, 2013). "It's Nazis, Nazis Everywhere In The Latest 'Wolfenstein: The New Order' Trailer". Retrieved November 14, 2015.
  40. "Wolfenstein: The New Order Trailer - E3 2013". June 10, 2013. Retrieved November 14, 2015.
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