V-J Day in Times Square
V-J Day in Times Square (also V-Day and The Kiss) is a photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt that portrays a U.S. Navy sailor grabbing and kissing a stranger—a nurse—on Victory over Japan Day ("V-J Day") in New York City's Times Square on August 14, 1945. 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". 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 with Japan was made by U.S. President Harry S. Truman at seven o'clock.
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.
- 1 Accounts by Alfred Eisenstaedt
- 2 Another photograph of the same scene
- 3 Identity of the kissers
- 4 Alternative interpretation
- 5 In popular culture
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
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 in 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
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. 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.
Identity of the kissers
Claiming to be the woman
Greta Zimmer Friedman
Lawrence Verria and George Galdorisi, authors of The Kissing Sailor, a 2012 book about the identity of the couple, used interviews of claimants, expert photo analysis, identification of 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.
"It wasn't my choice to be kissed", Friedman stated in a 2005 interview with the Library of Congress. "The guy just came over and grabbed!" she said, adding, "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," Friedman told CBS News in 2012. Friedman died at age 92 on September 8, 2016, in Richmond, Virginia, due to age-related health complications.
On June 20, 2010, Shain died at age 91 of liver cancer. Verria and Galdorisi's 2012 book stated that Shain could not have been the woman because her height of just 4 ft 10 in (1.47 m) was insufficient in comparison with the height of any of the men claiming to be the sailor.
Claiming to be the 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.
George Mendonsa (or alternatively according to certain sources Mendonça) of Newport, Rhode Island, on leave from the USS The Sullivans (DD-537), was watching a movie with his future wife, Rita Petry, at Radio City Music Hall when the doors opened and people started screaming the war was over. 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." In one of the four pictures that Eisenstaedt took, Mendonsa claims that Rita is visible in the background behind the kissing couple.
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. Citing legal costs, Mendonsa dropped his lawsuit in 1988.
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. 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."
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, its minute hand near the 10 and its hour hand pointing virtually vertically downward, indicating a time of approximately 5:50, and to Victor Jorgensen's account of the circumstances of his own picture. They concluded that Mendonsa's version of events is untenable. Mendonsa died on February 17, 2019, aged 95, two days shy of his 96th birthday. Shortly after Mendonsa died, Unconditional Surrender, a statue commemorating the photograph, was vandalized with red #MeToo graffiti. The Sarasota Police Department was notified, and authorities have since restored the statue.
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." Muscarello has described his condition on August 14, 1945 as being quite drunk 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.
Glenn McDuffie laid claim in 2007 and was supported by Houston Police Department forensic artist Lois Gibson. 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.
In the August 14, 2007, issue of AM New York McDuffie said he passed five polygraph tests confirming his claim to be the man. 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. He says that on that day he was on the subway to Brooklyn to visit his girlfriend, Ardith Bloomfield. 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.
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.
Life's October 1980 issue did not include Muscarello or Glenn McDuffie. These claims have been made much more recently.
Mendonsa 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. Mendonsa 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). 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 unveiled on August 24, 2013, to honor the event captured in the photo. George Mendonsa was in attendance for the unveiling.
The original interpretations of the photo centered on the jubilation of the V-J Day celebrations. Art critic Michael Kimmelman summarized the composition in 1997 as reflective of that mood: the sailor representing returning troops, the nurse representing those who would welcome them home, and Times Square standing for home. Since then, bloggers in the 2010s have called the photo documentation of a type of normalized sexual assault. The people pictured in the photograph did not previously know one another. Drunk at the time of the photograph, the sailor is shown kissing an unwilling partner. The widely agreed-upon identity of the female subject in the photo, dental assistant Greta Zimmer Friedman, had also explicitly stated that the kiss in question was not a consensual act. Combined with the humorous expressions on the bystanders and the sailor's firm grasp of the nurse, the situation has been described as emblematic of a time when women were "subordinated to men", or of a rape culture.
In popular culture
In 2005, John Seward Johnson II displayed a bronze life-size sculpture, Unconditional Surrender, at an August 14, 2005, 60th-anniversary reenactment at Times Square, of the kiss. His statue was featured in a ceremony that included participants Carl Muscarello and Edith Shain, holding a copy of the famous photograph.
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. The 25-foot (7.6 m) version was moved to New York City again on August 12, 2015, for a temporary display.
In The Simpsons episode "Bart the General" (first airdate February 4, 1990), 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 the film Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009), 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 film Letters to Juliet (2010), the photograph is featured in a scene where a magazine editor questions a writer about her fact-checking regarding the image.
- Dancing Man, an image of V-J Day in Sydney
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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.
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Then, 35 years later, the nurse, a Mrs. Edith Shain, 62, from Beverly Hills, broke the silence. Contacted the photographer, Alfred Eisenstaedt, identified herself, and asked for a print. At Life, where the publisher keeps the picture on his wall, there was great jubilation.
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