In film, there exists the idealised “Hollywood kiss”: the perfectly timed, expertly aimed, beautiful-looking smooch – a True Love’s Kiss, in which we would all dearly like to believe.
For the most part, the “Hollywood kiss” is, of course, a fiction, a fantasy. We know kisses are rarely perfect. Yet, the “Hollywood kiss” is so deeply ingrained in our collective psyche that it can never be completely discredited.
No wonder then, that the most famous and most reproduced photograph in the world, “Kiss in Times Square”, apparently features just such a kiss.
Taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt in 1945, “Kiss in Times Square” (officially entitled V-J Day Kiss) is not merely a photograph, but a cultural artefact, testifying to the heady power of love.
Although Eisenstaedt never recorded the names of his now-iconic subjects, it is generally accepted that US sailor George Mendoza and Austrian-born nurse Greta Zimmer Friedman are the kisser and kissee.
Far from being a loving couple, the pair were strangers, though they have met up and talked about the kiss several times since. Many years after the kiss took place, Friedman told the New York Post: “That man was very strong. I wasn’t kissing him. He was kissing me.”
Mendoza told the publication that he attributes the kiss to “the excitement of the war being over, plus I had a few drinks”.
My own faith in the existence of the singular “Hollywood kiss” was shaken when I read the following, written by Eisenstaedt in his photographic memoir Eye of Eisenstaedt: “I was walking through the crowds on V-J Day, looking for pictures, when 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.”
In a recent retrospective, Life magazine re-evaluated the moments immediately following the photograph’s capture: “Booze flowed, inhibitions were cast off, there were probably as many fists thrown as kisses planted”.
It seems, the more you know about this photo, the more difficult it becomes to “read”.
Yet lovers return to the same spot time and again in order to recapture the moment – to create their very own “Hollywood kiss”.
Arguably, it’s when wars end that things get really complicated, and this ambiguous tableau, taken at world war two’s close, embodies just that complexity.
The photograph means many different things to millions of different people, of course, but it’s never going to be as simple as a “Hollywood kiss”.
Contrary to popular opinion, the snap never starred on the cover of Life magazine, but appeared on page 27. What was on the cover? A black and white photograph of a ballerina, underwater.