What You Don’t Know About Kissing… (Nov, 1959)

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What You Don’t Know About Kissing…

Whether you’re a chaste uncle or a swingin’ chick, osculation has its dangers—and delights.


NO LUXURY is without its dangers. Reading about the recently-discovered effects of smoking may make you reach for a cigarette to calm your nerves; drinking promises alcoholism or cirrhosis of the liver; every man knows that the pursuit of women ends in inevitable bankruptcy. Even the simpler pleasures of life are not without their balancing terror. Listen to the awful warning given the other day by the British Medical Journal: “The hazards of kissing depend very much on its technique. The dutiful or chaste kiss, involving application of the lips to the forehead or a central or lateral part of the cheek, may result in contamination of the lips by bacteria causing dermatitis or furuncles in this area (So there’s danger, even for uncles—Ed.).

“The full-blooded, passionate kiss, in which lips are applied to lips with a varying degree of pressure and lasting for a variable length of time, necessarily involves a risk of transmitting salivary bacteria between the two persons concerned, with its attendant risk of spreading throat infections. Possibly the incidental, although pleasurably less important, contact between noses is of almost equal if not greater importance in this connection.

– “It is of course worse to be coughed or sneezed at, and the probability is, although there are so far no experimental data on this point, that a kiss would be preferable to either of these experiences. . . .

So what with Asian Flu and furuncles, kissing is obviously a good way of sharing the bacteria—but there are more other dangers to the embrace than you might think. For kisses can be so violently physical that sometimes the weaker member of the wedding comes out of the experience all bent. There are records of quite a few ladies emerging for air to find themselves with fractured ribs or jaws, cracked collar-bones, or worse; and a few men, too, for that matter. A couple in a New York movie house, for example, emulated the screen stars to such a degree that the lights went up on a lady with a broken arm. These effects are not so surprising when you recall that Hollywood make-up king Max Factor estimated, in a research session directed at discovering the pressures his products have to withstand, that a first-class kiss exerts a normal pressure on the face of about ten pounds. One in the ecstasy class, however, brings out a power of some twenty-five pounds.

The remainder of you, incidentally, goes not unaffected. Example: did you know that a couple of ordinary kisses, under reasonable and salutary conditions, can send a man’s pulse rate up from the normal 72 into the 90s? Kisses in the super taxation class go even higher—to 110 and 120 yet! And respiration rates mount too; hence the traditional short pants.

Despite all these imminent dangers, kissing seems here to stay; even though one hygienically-minded American has recently perfected a “Kissing Veil” designed to prevent the usual lend-lease of germs. The use of this impediment has been likened by one happy philosopher to “eating candy with the paper on,” but its invention, remember, is the result of one sober medico insisting that during the passage of a single kiss some 100,000 microbes can emigrate from one dear friend to another.

That old spoil-sport, the dictionary, refers to kissing as “osculation”, and at least one scientist has broken it down into nothing more exciting than the “anatomical juxtaposition of the two orbicularis oris muscles in a state of contraction.” If that’s how you like your kissing that’s your business.

Some people don’t like kissing at all. The Eskimos, for example, have never gone much for it They haven’t even a word for it in their language, preferring the medically undesirable practice of rubbing noses. And the Japanese consider the idea quite revolting, or they did, anyway, until the American invasion.

Whether or not the Greeks had a word for it is not clear—but the Romans certainly did. They knew the kiss first as a solemn salute among men (in the still prevailing French manner) but, according to Cato, kisses first began to be exchanged between Roman couples when a suspicious husband started putting his nose (and lips) against his wife’s mouth to establish by scent whether or not the little woman had been hitting the bottle in his absence —for alcohol was forbidden to women. Oddly enough, times have changed more than somewhat; Italy is now one of the few countries where you can actually get into trouble with the law if you kiss a girl in public nowadays. So remember that on your Roman holiday.

The American who confessed with some glee that he belonged to the kissingest country in the world was speaking up for the majority, of course, yet even in this country so devoted to the labial art there Eire foes: only the other day an Ohio parson thundered, as Ohio parsons do: “The kiss is an intoxicant, and like the saloon—must go.” The chances of his success in this not exactly popular pulpit crusade don’t look so good from where we are standing; and to balance this view it may be as well to record the verdict of wise old Judge Louis Brodsky (no Canute he) who declared in court on an occasion when a couple accused of flirting in New York in public were brought before him: “Kissing is perfectly legal any- where, anytime. It is in accord with the laws of Caesar, those of Justinian, those of Napoleon, and those of Central Park.”

Whether or not it is in accordance with the law of gravity, however, is a moot point. It certainly never has been in Hollywood, where the horizontal kiss is frequently given the thumbs-down by the censorship brigade. Like the Ohio parson, the Johnston Office is not easily amused, and its dampening “Morality Code” makes a number of snarling references to “scenes of lust and passion” which “must be restrained,” and to the necessity for producers to avoid at all costs “lascivious embraces.” Unhappily, therefore, much of the reaction to any screen kiss must be in the eye—or the mind—of the beholder. The British film censor works to no written code, which makes it even more difficult for the producer. He may come down very heavily on too strenuous or too lengthy lip contact. Usually it’s the latter that bothers him most. To give you a for instance, in the $600,000 production of No Orchids for Miss Blandish the British censor frowned officially on a 45-second screen kiss, and actually cut it down to a mere 25 seconds before he’d let the natives see the film. You gay young sparks who have actually kissed girls in your time will well know how extremely unflattering to a lady is the application of the lips for such a short space of time. (It is this kind of pernicketyness that makes people wonder about censors.) The French, you won’t be surprised to learn, habitually allow their screen kisses to romp through 60-70 seconds and beyond.

The film industry may well have itself to blame in the first place, of course, since it is their endless and inevitable search for novelty which has so often placed the screen kiss in a category of sexual symbolism. So we had, and still get, the kiss which vainly strives for a visual novelty when everyone in the world knows only too well that a kiss is probably the one fact of life that just doesn’t have to be mucked about with. We get the kissings upside down, inside out and round about, the kiss under water, in mud, in the raging tide, over the hoods of automobiles, through plate glass and so on, when even a smattering of human experience would remind the directors that a kiss is the be-all and end-all of its own existence—and any supplementary circumstance can only, really, be sheer annoyance to the participants. Once, years ago, we had a series of cinematic kisses in total darkness between John Gilbert and Greta Garbo—with only the light of Gilbert’s cigarette glowing as he breathed in to indicate just where things were going.

But to those of you who think that being a screen actor and kissing partners like Jayne Mansfield for a fat salary is just the way to make a living, the experienced reflection of cinemactor Wayne Morris is a sobering concomitant: “Grease paint,” says Morris, “smells like lard and tastes like cold cabbage. You can’t let go because, for one, there’s an apathetic, cold-blooded audience of hard-boiled technicians, and, for two, you daren’t muss up her hair. You face the girl and look down at her—standing on a box if you aren’t tall enough. The director blandly tells you to take the girl in your arms and kiss her, which ought to be easy.

“But it isn’t. You loop your arms round the girl’s neck, paying attention to the evil eyes of Hairdressing department who are daring you to disturb her hair-do, and Wardrobe department who are daring you to crease her collar. Then you try and check your own appearance. Eventually you lean towards the moment of truth—but at the last minute you have to remember not to kiss her properly—or else your nose will hide her eyes. So, not on the lips, but just underneath the lips. You make love to the top of her chin and she gives with a loving smack right in the middle of the air.

“Screen loving is the bunk—but it’s a living.”

But ever since the Puritans banned all kissing between unmarried persons and forebade even married men to kiss their wives on the Sabbath, kisses have spelled disaster as well as pleasure. They have even turned the course of history.

If you doubt this (which you shouldn’t), then take the case of Valentine Baker, a promising young officer in the British army of a century ago. An irresponsible type, he once saw a pretty maiden asleep in a railway carriage, and kissed her on the lips in a moment of thoughtless impulse. The lady complained and Baker was court-martialled and flung out of the army. His career in ribbons, he sailed away and joined the Turkish army in despair, rose to the top and eventually became a brilliant general whose exploits in the Egyptian wars of the 1880s brought his homeland much success.

A kiss once given, they say, is never lost, and rarely has this been more truly proved than in the recent case of 71-year-old bachelor Arthur Machek. On his death his will was found to contain a bequest to a girl called Clara Mohr who, one day fifty years before, had suddenly planted her lips on his cheek as they sat shyly side by side on a sofa. Machek never forgot and his will referred generously to Clara, long since married to someone else, “who made the only voluntary demonstration of affection I have ever received, and who gave me the only kiss I ever got”

Kissing records are sparse, probably because the participants prefer to keep their prowess private, but there was once a French couple who kissed 237 times ill 240 seconds without pausing for breath. That was in public, for a wager, and so perhaps is disqualified.

Sometimes the penalties of a kiss take the most unexpected form. When the great Emperor Charlemagne caught his daughter kissing one of his secretaries (she had carried the lad across the palace grounds so that his footsteps would not be seen in the snow), they both feared the worst. But Charlemagne insisted that what he took to be a betrothal kiss be honored, and he made the couple marry at once. Even more surprising to donor and recipient alike was the fate of a Chicago damsel of 19 who leaned out of her second-floor window to blow a kiss to her departing sweetheart. In her ardor she tumbled right out and fell to the sidewalk at his feet, breaking a leg and an arm.

As for the reactions to a kiss, a cool cynic has hit them off to perfection: “Some women blush when they are kissed,” he said, “some call for the police, some swear, some bite. But the worst are those who laugh.” Perhaps it was one of those who made Dean “Gulliver” Swift declare in a moment of bitterness: “Lord, I wonder what fool it was who first invented kissing?” a note echoed later by glum novelist George Meredith who opined: “Kissing don’t last. Cookery do.”

The whole point is, of course, that kissing don’t have to last. You can always have another, and another and, unlike cooking, it has absolutely no calorific value. “As old as creation, and yet as young and fresh as ever,” it is one of the few delights left to man that is not expensive, fattening, immoral, or against the law, and we hereby come out heartily in favor of it. Female readers, please form a line to the right. • • •

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