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Published on Aug 30, 2007
The May Irwin Kiss - also known as The May Irwin-John C. Rice Kiss or The John C. Rice-May Irwin Kiss, lasts just a few seconds and was directed by William Heise. An amorous moment from the Broadway play The Widow Jones is shared by actors John C. Rice and May Irwin.
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 23 April 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.