The case of the 

invisible woman

 and the heroic, mythical, monumental… 

Fabio meets Jack Ryan meets Columbo

The Kissing Sailor, by Lawrence Verria & George Galdorisi

Part "action" hero fan fiction, part hardboiled detective tale, and part bodice-ripping Harlequin Romance, the breathlessly unapologetic 2012 thriller, The Kissing Sailor, serves as a master class in male-gaze and avoiding accountability for masculine misbehavior.

In the course of describing their use of forensic photographic and crime scene analysis techniques to definitively disambiguate which of the many men who came forward bragging he was the sailor was correct, high school history teacher Lawrence Verria and retired Navy avaiator George Galdorsi offer a majestic mountain of purple prose to characterize unbecoming conduct.

How the idolizing book describes the incident...

“With a quickening pace that matched the surrounding scene's rising pulse, the sailor who served his country on board The Sullivans zeroed in on a woman whom he assumed to be a nurse. The liquor running through his veins transfixed his glassy stare...”

“He focused on Greta, the 'nurse.' She remained unaware of his advance. That served his purpose well. He sought no permission for what he was about to do.”

“As he overtook Greta's slender frame, his right hand cupped her slim waist. He pulled her inward toward his lean and muscular body. Her initial attempt to physically separate her person from the intruder proved a futile exertion against the dark-uniformed man's strong hold.”

“With her right arm pinned between their two bodies, she instinctively brought her left arm and clenched fist upward in defense...The struck pose created an oddly appealing mixture of brutish force, caring embrace, and awkward hesitation.”

Male Gaze

Every Picture tells a story

Seen at the crime scene

The key to armchair gumshoes' "irrefutable proof" of the sailor's identity was the authors' identification of a heretofore overlooked woman—although in this case, it wasn't Greta Zimmer Friedman, but Rita Petry, the woman whom George Mendonsa was on his first date with (and later married) who was visible in the background of the first two of the four frames which Alfred Eisenstaedt shot of the sailor forcing his affections on the "nurse." Petry later told the Daily Mail He's never kissed me like that.

The "nurse" was really dental hygenist Greta Zimmer, who recognized herself from her hair style, stocking seams, and the small purse which she clutched protectively during the forceful 10 second encounter.

Although 11 men asserted they were the sailor, only three women had credible claims that they were the "nurse." The most vocal of them was Edith Shain, a kindergarten teacher from California. Because she too recalled being forcibly kissed by a stranger in a sailor uniform in Times Square on V-J Day, Shain reasonably assumed she was the anonymous figure in the white uniform. However, Verria and Galdorsi offered strong photographic evidence that Shain was too short in stature to have been the woman George Mendsona accosted.

Indeed, although it was given little notice, Greta Zimmer Friedman had first identified herself in 1960, writing to LIFE magazine after coming across the photo in a picture book by Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Of Myths & Men

Whatever floats your Boat

LIFE stoked the already strong public interest in the identities of the anonymous figures in the haunting Eisenstaedt photograph by running a decades-long real-life version of the 1960s era TV show "To Tell The Truth" by staging manhunts for the famous sailor. As The Kissing Sailor authors' explain:

"More male suitors petitioned LIFE for the sailor's part in Eisenstaedt's iconic photograph than did female candidates for the nurse's role. One reason for the discrepancy...could be feminine modesty, and sailors' lack thereof. After all, social norms suggest he gets to be a hell of a guy. She may get tagged with something a bit less flattering."

In that context—an era when men who treated women's bodies as chattel were viewed as embodying the height of the macho man ideal, while women who embraced their sexuality risked being branded as "loose," is it any wonder Greta Zimmer downplayed the episode as "not that much of a kiss," while emphasizing that it was "not a romantic" (a.k.a. consensual) event?

A Statuesque Statue For a Circus Town

Repellent Tourist "Attraction"

Those who insist on Unconditional Surrender statue’s bemoaned and inexplicable presence in a city 1,200 miles and almost a century removed from the event it depicts and paints a false picture of, consistently conflate three VERY different things:

  1. Greta Zimmer’s feelings about what happened in 1945;
  2. their sentiments mistakenly etched into the long-mysterious and misunderstood Eisenstaedt photo;
  3. the out-of-place, out-of-time, out-of-context, colorized, romanticized super-sized pirated statue Seward Johnson inflated from Eisenstaedt’s art.

One of the three is most definitely NOT like the others, in that it impacts a generation far removed from the norms and sentiments of 1945, corrupts the true history of that moment, and portrays unbecoming behavior as not only acceptable, but heroic— setting a bad example of for those living under its shadow in the here and now.

By white-washing a decades-old drunken assault, excusing it as a warrior’s due, and dressing it up in larger than LIFE candy-colored clothing, the carnivalesque de Sade Disney figurine “subverts and liberates the assumptions of the dominant style” by creating an Alice in Wonderland topsy-turvey world where bad is good and up is down. 

The primary act of carnival is the mock crowning and subsequent de-crowning of a carnival king - an ecstatic inversion of the normal social order.

Although purchased as an homage to love and honor, Unconditional Surrender is, as it turns out, a profanation of both. One hopes that at some point, the wizened warriors who brought this circus to town will come to understand that their pyrrhic victory in the age-old war between the sexes does not do justice to military service and sacrifice.  There are more artful and appropriate ways of offering tribute to our flag and our forefathers than the uninvited “ahoy there” matey.

Belongs in the circus museum. Don't take your daughters to this. They're better off missing the larger-than-life message that some males regard them as conquests.