Daily TWiP – American Julia Mullock, former princess of Korea, born today in 1928

Welcome to Daily TWiP, your daily dose of all the holidays and history we couldn’t cram into The Week in Preview.

Long before Korean dramas became popular in the U.S., Julia Mullock found herself living out one of their standard plot lines of love and tragedy due to her marriage to Korea’s Prince Gu, the last heir to the throne. Mullock was born today (March 18th) in 1928, although the year of her birth has been disputed.

Born in Pennsylvania to Ukrainian-American parents, Mullock met Gu while both were working at the architectural firm of I.M. Pei in New York City. Bored with her work, Mullock decided to relocate to Spain and posted a notice on the company board that she was looking to sell her apartment.

Interested in getting to know his coworker a little better, Gu used the notice as an excuse to drop by Mullock’s apartment. Instead of touring the apartment, he talked her into staying, winning her heart with a couple of Russian phrases he had learned from his Ukrainian friends in college.

Mullock met Gu’s parents, Prince Eun and Princess Bangja, in 1958, and Mullock and Gu became engaged in May of that year. They married Oct. 25, 1959, at St. George’s Church in Manhattan.

The royal couple lived in Hawaii for several months, moving to South Korea in 1960 after the resignation of President Syngman Rhee, who was jealous of the respect and influence the royal family still commanded even though they were no longer in power.

Princess Bangja accompanied the couple. Contrary to what you might expect in a typical mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship, Mullock and Princess Bangja seem to have gotten along quite well, with the two of them even doing charity work together.

Princess Bangja was actually Japanese (her birth name was Masako Nashimoto-no-miya and she was royalty in her own right), so we can’t help wondering if she and Mullock were able to bond over the experience of being foreigners in Korea.

Unfortunately, Mullock’s marriage was not to last. In 1982, the couple was pressured into divorce by members of the royal family because Mullock was unable to have children and Gu was the end of the royal line.

We found no mention as to which members of the royal family insisted upon this divorce, but we know it couldn’t have been Prince Eun (he died in 1970) and we find it hard to believe Princess Bangja was involved, as she had struggled with infertility issues herself.

Because the couple had never had a formal Korean wedding ceremony, Mullock was not listed as Gu’s wife in his family registry, which led to complications when she attempted to process the divorce paperwork in the U.S.

In spite of the royal family’s hopes that Gu would remarry and have children, he did not. He died July 16, 2005, following a heart attack.

Mullock (who also did not remarry) had a stroke in 1998 that left her partly paralyzed on her right side, but she’s still going strong, dividing her time between South Korea and Hawaii.

As of 2006, a feature film based on Mullock’s life was being developed by Focus Features. Should the project come to fruition, we imagine it will do quite well at the box office. Mullock’s life has all the right ingredients for an excellent romantic drama.

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– Teresa Santoski