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The Kiss (also known as The May Irwin Kiss, The Rice-Irwin Kiss and The Widow Jones) is an 1896 film, and was one of the first films ever shown commercially to the public. Around 18 seconds long, it depicts a re-enactment of the kiss between May Irwin and John Rice from the final scene of the stage musical The Widow Jones. The film was directed by William Heise for Thomas Edison. The film was produced in April 1896 at the Edison Studios of Edison, the first movie studio in the United States. At the time, Edison was working at the Black Maria studios in West Orange, New Jersey.

The Kiss
Directed by William Heise
Starring May Irwin
John Rice
Distributed by Thomas A. Edison, Inc.
Release date
  • 1896 (1896)
Running time
18 seconds
Country United States
Language Silent

In 1999, the short was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.



May Irwin – The Widow Jones
John Rice – Billie Bikes


A film strip of The Kiss.

The film contained the very first kiss on film, with a close-up of a nuzzling couple followed by a short peck on the lips ("the mysteries of the kiss revealed"). The kissing scene was denounced as shocking and obscene to early moviegoers and caused the Roman Catholic Church to call for censorship and moral reform - because kissing in public at the time could lead to prosecution.[1]

The film caused a scandalized uproar and occasioned disapproving newspaper editorials and calls for police action in many places where it was shown. One contemporary critic wrote, "The spectacle of the prolonged pasturing on each other's lips was beastly enough in life size on the stage but magnified to gargantuan proportions and repeated three times over it is absolutely disgusting."[2]

The Edison catalogue advertised it this way: "They get ready to kiss, begin to kiss, and kiss and kiss and kiss in a way that brings down the house every time."

Perhaps in defiance and "to spice up a film", this was followed by many kiss imitators, including The Kiss in the Tunnel (1899) and The Kiss (1900).

Public exposureEdit

The Kiss was projected in West End Park, Ottawa, on July 21, 1896, and was long thought to be the first film publicly shown in Canada. However, the competing Lumière Brothers Cinematograph had already exhibited different films in Montreal on June 27, 1896.[3]


  1. ^ Sex in Cinema: Pre-1920s
  2. ^ The Chap-book, Volume 5, Number 5, July 15, 1896
  3. ^ Gaudreault, André and Lacasse, Germain (1996). "The Introduction of the Lumière Cinematograph in Canada", Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Volume 5, No. 2.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit