Kiss of Fire (2-15-1954)

Radio personality Jack Eigen made his name during the 1940s, with celebrity interviews streamed from the Copacabana night club in New York. In 1951 he moved to Chicago and launched a similar show from the Chez Paree.  He also found time to do a late-night TV program over WBKB, the local ABC affiliate.

Eigen’s guest on his February 15, 1954 telecast was Cleo Moore. A 29-year-old native of Louisiana, Moore was described by one writer as a “D-cup B-movie starlet.”  She was in Chicago to promote her latest epic, Bait.

Cleo and Jack

Cleo and Jack

It was the day after Valentine’s Day. The conversation inevitably turned to romance, and kissing.  Some sources say that Eigen asked Moore to “show me how they do it in Hollywood.”  Others say that Eigen suggested, “Let’s go for the record!”  Whatever he said, they started to kiss.

By today’s standards, the kiss was pretty tame. Eigen and Moore were seated in separate chairs.  They kept their hands inactive.  They kept their mouths closed.

What wasn’t tame was the length of the kiss. Eigen and Moore remained in osculation for two minutes—or three minutes, or five minutes, again depending on your source.  Yet another report states that the duo came up for air only because it was time for a commercial.  When they did break, Eigen compared Moore’s kissing skill to his wife’s.

Public response was immediate. Phone calls from irate viewers poured in.  The station’s regular switchboard was closed, so some callers settled for complaining to the all-night traffic department.  Others tracked down station employees at their homes.  The vast majority of the complainants were women.

WBKB’s response was immediate. The next morning, the station vice president sent a telegram to Eigen.  It read:  “Regret to inform you that due to extreme poor taste exhibited in telecast of Monday night in putting on a kissing exhibition that under no circumstances can be considered acceptable television fare in the homes of our viewers, we must terminate your services with the program of Monday, Feb 15.”

Eigen was out of a TV job, but unapologetic. “I have been happily married for 18 years, and my wife knew what I had planned for the program,” he told the Tribune.  “If she had any thought that there was anything unladylike or rude in it, she would have told me.”

Nominated for NO Academy Awards!

Nominated for NO Academy Awards!

Sun-Times columnist Irv Kupcinet labeled the Eigen-Moore incident “The Kiss of Fire.” The story was widely-reported in the national press. Newsweek ran a picture of the pair doing an ex post facto bit of grooming.

In the aftermath, Moore mused that “people don’t ask me for my autograph anymore.” Still, her career remained on its trajectory, with more movies after Bait, and more TV appearances.  She even staged another marathon kiss on a New Orleans radio show.  Cleo Moore eventually married a real estate tycoon, retired from films, and became a Los Angeles socialite.

And the WBKB firing proved to be only a bump in Jack Eigen’s career. He remained a presence in Chicago broadcasting until he moved to Florida in 1971.  He was still doing a radio show there when he died in 1983.

—30—

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