Kissing the war goodbye

 V-J Day, Times Square, 14 August 1945 by Alfred Eisenstaedt

V-J Day, Times Square, 14 August 1945 by Alfred Eisenstaedt

The old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” refers to the notion that a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image. One such picture appears at the top of today’s post.

The picture in question is one of the most famous photographs ever published by Life magazine and was shot by Alfred Eisenstaedt in Times Square on V-J Day (14 August 1945). Eisenstaedt took his classic shot by following a sailor who had been running through the streets of New York kissing every woman he encountered in celebration of the end of World War II.
What is the deal with this picture? Why do we love it so much? Certainly, this young woman does not look comfortable, with her body being twisted into a ninety degree angle. This does not look like some sweet, intimate, private, in-love moment that every woman seems to want. Some dozen ex-sailors have claimed to be the amorous seaman and at least two other former nurses have identified themselves as his partner, but Life has accepted Edith Cullen Shain’s claim to be the nurse in this photograph and has said that for her, the kiss represented “hope, love, peace, and tomorrow.”

And that is perhaps the reason that we love this picture so much. It just fills us with exhilaration, with patriotism, and with hope. To have been in New York City on that day, to have lived through a world war in which this nation was the victim of unprovoked Japanese aggression with the attack on Pearl Harbor, and to know that the Empire of Japan had unconditionally surrendered – that was cause for an amazing feeling of joy, of triumph, of hope, of faith in the power of good to overcome evil, and of the belief in the power of the values for which this country stands. It was a day of deliverance. It was a day of peace with the past. It was a day of hope for the future. It was a day when feelings and emotions went unexpressed simply because some things cannot be described in words. And this photograph expresses all of that with a kiss! In the immortal words of Ingrid Bergman: “A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.”

What Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photograph did for our visual sense, Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn did for our other senses with their romantic ballad, It’s Been A Long, Long Time. As our men and women came home from World War II, they were welcomed back with this Number One hit from 1945 that perfectly captured the sentiments of those who remained home while their loved ones were away. Written from the perspective of a person welcoming home his or her spouse or lover at the end of the war, the lilting melody expertly supplied by Jule Styne effortlessly supports the tender lyrics written by Sammy Cahn that spoke to millions of couples who had been separated by the war.

One would be hard pressed to find a better vocalist than Bing Crosby to deliver these hopeful, romantic lyrics in a croon that was both smooth and warm. World War II ended the month before the Crosby recording hit Number One on the Billboard charts in 1945. Crosby effectively captured the swelling anticipation of Americans regarding the imminent return of their loved ones from overseas.Crosby’s version features some impressive and memorable guitar playing by the innovative Les Paul, who recalled in an interview printed in Mojo magazine: “Bing was a sucker for guitar and that particular song was a case of you don’t have to play a lot of notes, you just have to play the right notes.” Well, all the right notes were indeed played. It was a perfect song, sung by the perfect singer, backed by the perfect accompaniment; perfect in every way.

A recording by Harry James with vocal by Kitty Kallen also reached Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on November 24, 1945.

In 1945, unlike today, it was standard practice for record companies to release “competing” versions of hit songs. Other recordings of It’s Been A Long, Long Time that charted in 1945 were recorded by Charlie Spivak and his Orchestra and Stan Kenton and his Orchestra.

The Sammy Kahn lyrics speak for themselves:
Kiss me once, then kiss me twice
Then kiss me once again.
It’s been a long, long time.
Haven’t felt like this, my dear
Since I can’t remember when.
It’s been a long, long time

You’ll never know how many dreams
I’ve dreamed about you.
Or just how empty they all seemed without you.
So kiss me once, then kiss me twice
Then kiss me once again.
It’s been a long, long time.

Ah, kiss me once, then kiss me twice
Then kiss me once again.
It’s been a long time.
Haven’t felt like this my dear
Since I can’t remember when
It’s been a long, long time.

You’ll never know how many dreams
I dreamed about you.
Or just how empty they all seemed without you.
So kiss me once, then kiss me twice
Then kiss me once again.
It’s been a long, long time.
Long, long time.
Lyrics do not get much more romantic than that!

To listen to the song, click on the song title.

Bing Crosby with Les Paul and his Trio (#1) It’s Been A Long Long Time
Harry James and his Orchestra, vocals by Kitty Kallen (#1) It’s Been A Long, Long Time
Charlie Spivak and his Orchestra, vocals by Irene Daye (#4) It’s Been A Long, Long Time
Stan Kenton and his Orchestra, vocals by June Christy (#6) It’s Been A Long, Long Time

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