Carol Channing’s First Love Dies at 91

It’s the age-old love story of the walnut farmer and the Hollywood starlet: two lovers driven apart, who, through a twist of fate 70 years in the making, finally realized their union and lived happily ever after.

Legendary actress Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian, a farmer turned city councilman and activist, married in 2003 at the ages of 82 and 83 respectively. If that weren’t proof enough that true love knows not the boundaries of age and time, consider the fact that the couple first met almost seven decades prior.

“We went on talking from the last conversation when we were 15 years old,” Channing said in a 2003 interview on Larry King Live. “The years between disappeared, just disappeared.”

Channing and Kullijian were junior high school sweethearts before being split by the future actress’ disapproving mother. The ensuing years saw Channing achieve success on Broadway stages and Hollywood screens, leading to an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts from the University of California. Meanwhile, Kullijian fought in the Second World War and Korea between careers in real estate, walnut farming and as a member of Modesto City Council in Modesto, Calif.

Before their reunion, Channing married three times and Kullijian once. In 2000, at the age of 79, Channing released her memoir, Just Lucky, I Guess, in which she revealed that she’d never forgotten Kullijian.

“The leader of the school band was Harry Kullijian,” Channing wrote. “I was so in love with Harry I couldn’t stop hugging him.”

After the passing of Kullijian’s wife, Gerry, in 2002, a friend helped him reconnect with Channing and after only a few months of courtship the two were married in May 2003.

Together, Channing and Kullijian created the Dr. Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian Foundation for the Arts which, according to the foundation, “was established to herald the return of arts in education to all public schools-.(as) the arts help children develop their self-worth and creativity as well as reduce drop-out rates.”

On Dec. 26, 2011, Kullijian passed away from internal bleeding caused by an aneurysm suffered in his home. His passing came one day before his 92nd birthday and less than a month before the release of Larger Than Life, a film by Tony award winner Dori Berinstein, chronicling the love story of Channing and Kullijian.

For more on Kullijian’s life, work, social activism and charitable foundation, see his official obituary.

– Mike Crisolago