June 10, 2014
When Woodfield, KISS and the '70s collided

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By Eric Peterson

Forty years ago this week, Schaumburg's Woodfield Mall became the national epicenter of 1970s pop culture with a combined celebration of KISS and PDA (public display of affection).

The "Great Kiss Off" was both a promotion for fans to come and meet the world's most theatrical rock 'n' roll band, as well as a kissing contest that took an epic 114 hours and 1 minute to settle.

The couple that outlasted 10 others from across the nation were Louise Heath and Vinnie Toro of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where the coast-to-coast radio promotions leading up to the Schaumburg finale began.

The band KISS was there in full makeup, to meet with fans and sign autographs.

Jane Rozek, local history librarian at the Schaumburg Township District Library, has thoroughly researched the event but found no evidence the band actually performed.

Her longtime colleague at the library, Jane Davey of Hoffman Estates, was there with her 4-year-old son, Patrick, and a neighbor boy wearing a KISS belt buckle.

Davey is amused that two such young children were drawn to the event when her three teenagers were not. "I had no idea what the draw was -- I guess it was the costumes," Davey said.

Rozek's research found that the event began at noon on Saturday, June 8, with a big kickoff by WCFL radio and "Superjock" Larry Lujack.

Even at the start, some contestants fully anticipated the event would last more than 100 hours. The kissers got only a five-minute break every hour.

Over the course of days, couples began to drop out from a combination of exhaustion and feeling physically ill.

Even falling asleep wasn't necessarily a disqualifier, though, as long as couples could find a way to do so without their lips parting. Jeff and Sherry Moore of Charlotte, North Carolina, strapped their heads together with a pink plastic belt while they slept, according to the Daily Herald article of Monday, June 10.

The contest continued to draw an audience of thousands as the days went by, states a Daily Herald article dated Wednesday, June 12, 1974.

"I feel like I'm watching a bad film," said one woman with a mock look of guilt on her face.

"They ought to hold another contest, to see how long someone can watch it," said then 21-year-old Keith Steinleil of Schaumburg.

The runner-up couple of Duane and Doris Boudreaux of Houston, Texas, finally conceded to Heath and Toro at 6:01 a.m. on Thursday, June 13.

The winning couple had victory in their sights from the start, believing their yoga discipline, determination and a diet of shrimp, oranges and an occasional french fry or two would see them through.

"We'll be here as long as it takes," Heath told the Daily Herald on the second day.

The promised prize was a trip to Acapulco.

But Heath and Toro instead took the cash equivalent of $1,000.

When WCFL learned that Heath and Toro were donating their winnings to friends who'd just lost their New Jersey home in a fire, the radio station donated another Acapulco trip, Rozek said.

The nationwide contest began as a fundraiser for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

Rozek said that according to the book, "And Party Every Day: The Inside Story of Casablanca Records" by Larry Harris, record company officials encouraged the crowd to donate money for the kids and spectators began throwing paper money from the upper level overlooking the center court of the mall.

People on the ground floor picked up the money, crumpled it up and threw it toward the stage.

In the end, about $5,000 was raised for the hospital.

Whatever happened to the relationship between Louise Heath and Vinnie Toro? Alas, we do not know. Neither could be reached for this story.