According to the photographer’s account, the sailor was elated, weaving through the streets and kissing women as he went. Eisenstaedt waited for the sailor in black to approach the woman, who was wearing all white. The result: An image of two unnamed strangers pressed against each other has managed to outshine Eisenstaedt’s photographs of well-known public figures like Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein.
Recently, the image has resurfaced, after George Mendonsa, who was perhaps most widely reported as the sailor, died last week. In a 2012 book, The Kissing Sailor: The Mystery Behind the Photo That Ended World War II, authors George Galdorisi and Lawrence Verria claimed they had confirmed Mendonsa’s identity through military-grade facial recognition and forensic analysis. And in an interview with CNN in 2015, the veteran himself asserted that the scar above his eyebrow, the size of his hands, and the lump on his left arm match the sailor’s. “I haven’t found a person yet that I haven’t convinced,” he mused.
But he did fail to convince some particularly important people: the editors at Life. So assured of his role in the image, Mendonsa sued Time Inc. in the late 1980s for “appropriation of likeness,” after Life ran an ad selling the photo signed by the photographer for $1,600. (Faced with an uphill legal battle against Time Inc., Mendonsa eventually dropped the case.)