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V-J Day in Times Square is a photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt that portrays an American sailor kissing a woman in a white dress on Victory over Japan Day (V-J Day) in Times Square in New York City, on August 14, 1945.
The photograph, taken with a Leica IIIa camera, 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. 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 as 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.
The official United States celebration is not on this date, however. V-J Day is instead celebrated on September 2, the date of the formal signing of the surrender. A special day of remembrance is marked in Japan and other countries on September 2.
Because Eisenstaedt was photographing rapidly changing events during the celebrations he did not have an opportunity to get the names and details. The photograph does not clearly show the faces of either person involved in this embrace and several 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.
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:
From The Eye of Eisenstaedt:
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.
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 facade visible in the background.
Edith Shain wrote to Eisenstaedt in the late 1970s claiming to be the woman in the picture. In August 1945, Shain was working at Doctor's Hospital in 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, following a battle with liver cancer. 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.
Those claiming to be the sailor were 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 Mendonça of Newport, Rhode Island, 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. Mr Benson has stated that, "It is therefore my opinion, based upon a reasonable degree of certainty, that George Mendonça is the sailor in Mr. Eisenstaedt's famous photograph."
Mendonça, on leave from the USS The Sullivans (DD-537), was watching a movie with his future wife, Rita, 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 couldn't 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, Mendonça claims that Rita is visible in the background behind the kissing couple.
In 1987, George Mendonça 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, Mendonça survived a motion to dismiss.
Although the issue of who the kissers were/are was no longer contended in a court of law, it continues to this day.
Life's October 1980 issue did not include Glenn McDuffie or Carl Muscarello, who are described below. 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. 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).
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 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.
In the August 14, 2007 issue of AM New York McDuffie said he passed five polygraph tests confirming his claim to be the man. 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:
Gibson 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.
As part of a WW 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, stating that just before he kissed the nurse, he had been in New York City's Radio City Music Hall.
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 event made famous in Eisenstaedt's photograph. His statue was featured in a ceremony that included Carl Muscarello and Edith Shain, holding a copy of the famous photograph, as participants. Johnson also sculpted 25 feet (7.6 m)-tall versions in plastic and aluminum, which have been displayed in several cities, including San Diego (right) and Sarasota.
In the 2009 film, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, a life-size blow-up of the photograph plays an important role when characters Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) and Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) escape pursuers by jumping into it and emerging in a monochrome 1945 Times Square, and losing a cell phone, which catches the attention of one of the background sailors, Joey Motorola, played by actor Jay Baruchel. Then Ben Stiller cut in on the sailor for a kiss with the nurse, played by actress Alberta Mayne before jumping out of the photo.
The picture is referenced - albeit showing a different camera - in the 2009 film Watchmen, which depicts alternate history versions of iconic moments in American history. During the opening credits, The Silhouette, a costumed hero, replaces the sailor in the famous picture after coming upon the woman in Times Square during the VJ Day celebrations.
In the 2010 film, Letters to Juliet, the Eisenstaedt photograph is featured in a scene where an editor of the New Yorker questions Sophie about her fact-checking (her job there) of the image as if it would be published in that magazine as a full-page feature. He questions her closely about whether the photograph was staged and most importantly whether it truly was "spontaneous and romantic." Sophie gives him several pieces of information obtained from a sailor in the background of the photograph. She assures the editor that all of these facts were thoroughly checked and found to be correct, so he need have no concern.
The kiss was parodied in the The Simpsons episode, "Bart the General". As celebrations ensue following victory for Bart in a battle against the school bully, a young boy dressed as a sailor kisses Lisa as a photograph is taken. After the photograph is taken, Lisa rebukes the boy, telling him to 'knock it off' and slapping him in the face.
In the 2012 film Men in Black III, Will Smith views The Kiss occurring while time traveling after his fall from the skyscraper.
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