Courtesy of The Library of Congress:
Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division
The First Film Ever Made of a Couple Kissing
One of Edison's Most Controversial Early Productions
TITLE: May Irwin Kiss / Kiss Scene / Kiss
CREATED/PUBLISHED: United States: Edison Manufacturing Co., Black Maria Studio, West Orange, NJ, 1896.
SUMMARY: May Irwin and John Rice were the two principal actors appearing in the New York stage hit "The Widow Jones". At the request of the New York World newspaper, the two staged their kiss from the last act of that comedy for Edison's camera.
Producer: New York World newspaper.
Performers: May Irwin & John C. Rice.
Camera: William Heise.
Length: 50 feet
Filmed: mid–April, 1896, Edison's Black Maria studio, West Orange, NJ.
Source: "The Widow Jones" (musical comedy), 1895.
In 1896 the Edison Company purchased the rights to a motion picture projector that had been invented by C. Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat. The projector was renamed the "Vitascope" and had its commercial debut on April 23, 1896. During its first year the most popular film shown using the "Edison" vitascope was the "May Irwin Kiss".
May Irwin (1862–1938) was a Canadian actor, comedienne and singer. Her first starring role on Broadway came in 1895 in a musical comedy created for her by J.J. McNally, called "The Widow Jones". In one key scene at the end of the play, Irwin and her co–star, John C. Rice, kiss each other with something of a flourish. Many were scandalized when they recreated their stage kiss for Edison's camera the following year, and one clergy member denounced the film as "a lyric of the stockyards". Critic Herbert Stone complained, " . . . neither participant is physically attractive and the spectacle of their prolonged pasturing on each other's lips was hard to beat when only life size. Magnified to gargantuan proportions and repeated three times over is absolutely disgusting!" Despite, or perhaps because of these derisive reviews, the "May Irwin Kiss" became the most popular film produced that year by Thomas Edison's film company.
May Irwin went on to star in many other plays and became one of the most well–loved comediennes of her time. Happily married and the mother of two sons, she performed on Broadway until 1922. She managed her money well, and when she finally retired to the island she owned on the St. Lawrence river she had become a millionaire.