Edith Shain, 91

Edith Shain, nurse kissing Navy man in Eisenstaedt's WWII photo, dies at 91

In 2005, Edith Shain returned to Times Square and stood beside a statue immortalizing her famous kiss with a sailor 60 years before.
In 2005, Edith Shain returned to Times Square and stood beside a statue immortalizing her famous kiss with a sailor 60 years before. (Mario Tama/getty Images)
By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Edith Shain, 91, widely believed to be the uniformed nurse whose lip-locking embrace with a Navy sailor at the end of World War II was captured in a photograph that became one of the most iconic images of the time, died of cancer June 20 at her home in Los Angeles.

Ms. Shain was working at Doctors Hospital in New York on Aug, 14, 1945, the day the war ended with the surrender of Japanese troops. She and thousands of other jubilant New Yorkers flooded Times Square, where a young man in Navy blues was smooching women as he made his way through the crowd.

"Someone grabbed me and kissed me, and I let him because he fought for his country," Ms. Shain said. "I closed my eyes when I kissed him. I never saw him."

The moment was captured on film by famed photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt and appeared in Life magazine that month. A symbol of the relief, euphoria and optimism that Americans felt at the end of a horrible conflict, the kiss became one of Life's best-known and most-reproduced images, appearing on numerous greeting cards and dorm-room walls.

The picture, Ms. Shain said in 2008, "says so many things: hope, love, peace and tomorrow. The end of the war was a wonderful experience, and that photo represents all those feelings."

In the hubbub of Times Square, Eisenstaedt failed to get the names of the couple he immortalized. Dozens of men claimed to be the bussing sailor, and his identity has never been resolved.

Likewise, Ms. Shain is not the only woman who claimed to be the nurse, whose face is obscured in the photograph. But she was featured in Life magazine as the probable nurse after Eisenstaedt flew to her California home in 1979 to see if she was really the woman he had captured years before.

"He looked at my legs," Ms. Shain said in 2005, "and said I was the one."

Edith Cullen was born in Manhattan on July 29, 1918, and grew up in Tarrytown, N.Y. After working as a nurse she later received an education degree from New York University.

In the early 1950s, she moved to Los Angeles, where she worked for three decades as a kindergarten teacher in the city's public schools. She continued to work as a nurse as well, occasionally taking hospital night shifts. She retired in the early 1980s and became a producer for a public-access television talk show about community issues.

She kept her identity as the Times Square nurse a secret for dozens of years. "I was embarrassed," she told her alumni magazine. "I didn't want people to know that a stranger had kissed me."

Her embarrassment shrank as the years wore on, and she eventually wrote to Life magazine to identify herself.

"While Life magazine itself never officially endorsed any of the claims by any of the men or women who came forward saying that they were the sailor or the nurse in the photograph, Shain's claim is the one that, over the years, has held up best and has been most widely accepted (and most often celebrated)," said a statement from Life.com, the online repository for the magazine's rich photography archive.

Ms. Shain's three marriages ended in divorce. Survivors include three sons, Michael Shain of Conifer, Colo., Robert Shain of Malibu, Calif., and Justin Decker of West Los Angeles; six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

Ms. Shain came to embrace her role as a symbol of the jubilant end of war. She took part in numerous commemorative events, serving once as the grand marshal of New York City's Veterans Day parade.

On the 60th anniversary of V-J Day, or Victory over Japan Day, she donned a white nurse's outfit and reenacted the Times Square kiss with Carl Muscarello, who said he was the sailor. Was he indeed the one? "I can't say he isn't. I just can't say he is," Ms. Shain said at the time. "There is no way to tell."

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