In an iconic photograph that represented the sheer joy of a country free from war, “The Kiss” captures a sailor and nurse locked in an embrace on August 14, 1945, the day Japan surrendered to end World War II. Today here on Blair Stover Art History, we look at the past and present associated with this beloved photograph.
Taken in Times Square, the photograph is one of the most famous of the 20th century that still today elicits a feeling of unbridled happiness and elation. Famed photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt snapped four pictures of the two strangers’ embrace, which was then published by Life magazine.
Until recently, the two strangers remained anonymous, but with last year’s 67th anniversary of the date, CBS news reunited the pair and helped unlock the mystery behind the shot. George Mendonsa, the sailor in the photograph, had been celebrating the end of the war with a date at a nearby bar, after hearing the news at Radio City Music Hall. Mendonsa had been so elated by the news that, upon seeing Greta Friedman, a dental assistant on break on the street, he grabbed her and kissed her. Mendonsa’s date, Rita Petrie, can be seen smiling in the background. Mendonsa and Petrie have been married for almost 67 years.
Mendonsa and Friedman went their separate ways until Life magazine asked them to come forward in 1980. Mendonsa had to be convinced by a friend of his that he was indeed the sailor in the photograph. Friedman, however, was convinced that it was she was Life first published the photograph, as she claimed that event wasn’t something easily forgotten.
Today, Mendonsa receives frequent letters and requests for autographs from “The Kissing Sailor.” And the pair remains part of the iconic image that marked the end of World War II.