7 Momentous Kisses in History
Despite what the song says, a kiss is not always just a kiss. A kiss can be political, either because it is the first of its kind, or because it is between two heads of state. A kiss can also become emblematic when captured on film, even if the kiss itself was intrusive and undesirable.
With that in mind, here is a list of some of the most memorable kisses in history.
First kiss recorded (around 1500 BC)
Scholars are debating whether kissing started as a trend that has spread around the world or whether it has appeared organically in different regions. Be that as it may, the earliest known written records are found in the Sanskrit Vedic scriptures around 1500 BC. according to research by Vaughn Bryant, professor of anthropology at Texas A&M University. These scriptures, known as Vedas, were fundamental to the religion of Hinduism.
After that, kisses continued to appear in ancient Indian and Hindu literature. the Mahabharata, a Sanskrit epic compiled by the 4th century AD, has a line in which someone “put his mouth against my mouth and made a noise that produced pleasure in me.” the Kamasutra also contains a chapter on kissing that identifies the different kissing methods and types of kissing.
The kiss of Judas (around the 1st century AD)
Kissing is not just a romantic act. It can also be a sign of friendship or betrayal. in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, written around the 1st century, Judas betrays Jesus by identifying him with a kiss so that armed men can take him away and possibly kill him.
Judas’ kiss has since become an allusion to popular narration. It may have inspired the “kiss of death” that appears in mafia literature and cinema (but was probably never a real mafia practice). Perhaps the most famous example is The Godfather, Part II, when the character of Al Pacino gives his brother Fredo the kiss of death for having betrayed him.
First kiss on film (1896)
The first people to kiss on the film were May Irwin and John C. Rice, who appeared in a short film known by the various names Let Irwin kiss, Kiss or The kiss. In 1896, the two performers went to Thomas Edison’s studio in New Jersey and replayed their last kiss scene from a play they were staging in New York.
On stage, no one thought that the kiss was so sensational. But many felt that the close-up images of them kissing were too risky.
First black kiss on film (1898)
Video courtesy of USC School of Cinematic Arts, Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive
In 1898, black performers Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown starred in a short film called Something good black kiss, the first film to show black Americans kissing. In 2017, film historians rediscovered the footage filmed by a white man named William Selig in Chicago.
“There is a show there because they dance with each other, but their kisses also have an undeniable sense of naturalness, pleasure and fun,” Allyson Nadia Field, professor of film and media studies at the University of Chicago, who helped identify the film, said in an academic press release. “It is really striking to me, as a historian who works on race and cinema, to think that this type of artifact could have existed in 1898.”
V-J Day Kiss (1945)
On the morning of August 14, 1945, patients broke into Greta Zimmer’s Manhattan office, claiming that the war in Japan was over. The Austrian immigrant wasn’t sure what to think, so during her lunch break, she went to Times Square in her white dental assistant uniform to see what the ticker was saying. The atmosphere was festive, and the ticker confirmed that it was V-D Day and that the Second World War was over.
As Zimmer looked away from the ticker, a Navy sailor named George Mendonsa – who had started drinking early and mistook Zimmer for a nurse – rushed over and kissed her aggressively, leaving his girlfriend behind . Zimmer struggled to repel the stranger, and they separated. But unbeknownst to each of them, photographers Alfred Eisenstaedt and Victor Jorgensen each captured the moment, as told in The kissing sailor: the mystery behind the photo that ended World War II.
The photo of Eisenstaedt has become one of the most iconic images of World War II in the history of the United States, in part because viewers have mistaken it for a photo of a naval officer and d nurse celebrating together. The photo has also been controversial, as many people have claimed over the years to be the couple in the picture, while others point out that it depicts a non-consensual moment.
Zimmer, herself, said in an interview with the Library of Congress in 2005: “It was not my choice to be kissed … the guy just kissed or grabbed him!”
Star Trek Interracial Kiss (1968)
When William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols kissed during a 1968 episode Star trek, it wasn’t technically the first interracial kiss on American television. But it was the one that seemed to have the most cultural impact.
In the episode, entitled “Plato’s stepchildren”, Captain James Kirk and officer Nyota Uhura meet extraterrestrials who force them to kiss by telekinesis. In Nichols’ book Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and other memories, she remembers that NBC was worried about the reaction of the white Americans to the scene, so they asked the actors to film two scenes: one with a kiss and one without a kiss. However, Nichols and Shatner deliberately screwed up all the takes without kissing to ensure that NBC broadcast the kissing scene.
Socialist Brotherly Kiss (1979)
During the Cold War, the leaders of communist states often greeted each other with what is called the “fraternal socialist kiss”. It could be on the cheek or mouth, but the most famous example is the 1979 photo of French photographer Régis Bossu showing Leonid Brezhnev, from the Soviet Union, and Erich Honecker, from East Germany, s kissing on the mouth.
The kiss happened when Brezhnev went to East Berlin to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic (i.e. East Germany). When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Soviet artist Dmitri Vrubel recreated the image in a mural on the east side of the wall. He captioned it: “My God, help me survive this deadly love.”