It’s rare when a single photograph defines an historic event. But, one such photograph is “The Kiss” from August 14, 1945, the day Japan surrendered to end World War II, a photo of sailor and a nurse locking lips in Times Square. The iconic photograph was taken by Life Magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. The kissing sailor in the photo was Glenn McDuffie, who died of natural causes this week in a Dallas nursing home at the age of 86.
McDuffie said he was changing trains in New York when he was told of Japan’s surrender. He was so excited, he ran into the street, saw a nurse, went up to her and flat planted one on the lips, then jumped a subway for Brooklyn. Following his discharge, he returned to Houston and became a mail carrier and played semi-professional baseball.
The photographer was no-doubt in the right place at the right time when he snapped the photo; however, he didn’t manage to get the names of the smoochers. When the photo went viral and caught the attention of everyone in America, it seemed as though every sailor and his dog claimed to be that kissing sailor, including McDuffie. So in 2007, Lois Gibson, a forensic artist for the Houston Police Department shot dozens of pictures of an 80 year old McDuffie and 11 others who made the same claim posing as the sailor in Eisenstaedt’s photo. Instead of holding a nurse in his arms though, McDuffie opted to hold a pillow, but Gibson was able to positively match McDuffie’s muscles, eyebrows, ears, and other features to the sailor in the picture. McDuffie was ecstatic when he was told the results proved that he was indeed the sailor in the photograph, something he had been waiting to hear for some 62 years.
“And so, began a whirlwind lifestyle of going to air shows, gun shows, fundraisers and parties to relate his story. Women would pay him $10 to take a picture of the two kissing,” Gibson said. “He would actually make money kissing women - the most glamorous lifestyle any 80 year old could ask for.”
“My dad loved it, he ate it up,” said Glenda Bell, his daughter. “He finally got the recognition that he deserved after so many men tried to say that it was them in the photo. He would happily recreate the kiss with women; he even re-created it with Diane Sawyer once for a TV segment.”
The nurse in the photo was identified as Edith Shain, who always claimed that she didn’t ask for the kiss, didn’t want the kiss, but did admit it was the best kiss she ever had.
As for the photographer, Alfred Eisenstadt, he was born in Prussia, Imperial Russia in 1898 and moved with his family to Berlin when he was six. He was fascinated with photography from early childhood and began taking pictures when he was given his first camera, an Eastman Kodak Folding Camera with a roll of film. Eisenstaedt successfully became a full-time photographer in 1929.
Because of Jewish oppression in Hitler’s Germany, Eisenstaedt immigrated to the United States in 1935 where he lived in New York City for the rest of his life. He worked as a staff photographer for Life Magazine from 1936 to 1972 submitting more than 2500 picture stories of news events and celebrities. His photo’s appeared on 90 Life Magazine covers and was awarded the National Metal of Arts in 1989 by President George Bush in a ceremony on the White House Lawn.
Eisenstaedt, known as “Eisie” to his close friends, enjoyed his annual August vacations on Martha’s Vineyard for 50 years, where he also photographed President Bill Clinton, Hillary and Chelsea. Eisenstaedt died there at 96.
Reference: “Photographing with Eise on Martha’s Vineyard”, by William E. Marks
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