The Woman in the Iconic "The Kiss" Photo, Is Dead at 92

The kiss times square greta friedman
Getty | Alfred Eisenstaedt

When photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt snapped the photo known as "The Kiss" in Times Square on V-J Day, Aug. 14, 1945, he had no idea who he was photographing. The pair's identity remained a mystery for years, and over time, many claimed to be the people in the photograph. At least 11 men claimed to be the sailor, and three women had claims on being "the nurse." It wasn't until the 80s that Greta Friedman was confirmed to be "the nurse."

The Kiss Times Square Greta Friedman Mendonsa
Getty | Alfred Eisenstaedt

Friedman was actually a dentist's assistant at the time. She was on break when news that the Japanese had surrendered broke. People flooded the streets to celebrate. George Mendonsa, the sailor in the photo, grabbed her and kissed her. They didn't know each other. In fact, Mendonsa, a quartermaster in the Navy, was in Times Square with another woman who he later married.

"I did not see him approaching, and before I know it I was in this vice grip," Friedman told CBS in 2012.

A few weeks later, the photo ran deep in the pages of Life magazine with the caption, "In New York's Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers." 

The image rose to prominence over the years and even courtedcontroversy as Friedman revealed the non-consensual circumstances of the kiss. Eisenstaedt reflected in 1985, in the book Eisenstaedt on Eisenstaedt: a Self-Portrait, "If [Friedman] had been dressed in a dark dress I would never have taken the picture. If the sailor had worn a white uniform, the same." He took four quick shots in that brief moment.

In a 2005 interview with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, Friedman reflected on the coincidence that landed her unexpectedly in one of the most famous photos of the 20th century, "It was a wonderful coincidence, a man in a sailor’s uniform and a woman in a white dress... and a great photographer at the right time."

Friedman arrived in the United States in 1939 after her parents sent her and two of her sisters out of Nazi-occupied Austria as conditions worsened for Jews. Both of her parents would eventually die during the Holocaust.

Greta Friedman, the woman from one of World War II's most iconic photos, passed away on Sep. 8, 2016, at age 92 according to her son Joshua Friedman. She'll be buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to her late husband Dr. Misha Friedman.

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Dustin Nelson is a News Writer with Thrillist. He holds a Guinness World Record, but has never met the fingernail lady. He’s written for Sports Illustrated, Men’s Journal, The Rumpus, and other digital wonderlands. Follow him @dlukenelson.