In 1921, while attending a church service in Missouri, 14-year-old Kathryn Kuhlman had her first religious epiphany. The Holy Spirit shook up her world and she would never be the same. A committed soldier in God’s army, she wasted no time in spreading the teachings of her beloved Christ. When most teenage girls were wooing neighborhood boys, Kuhlman was traveling with evangelistic tent ministries and preaching in pool halls. Jesus was her boyfriend.
By the time she was 28, Kuhlman was fronting her own revival show in a tabernacle in Denver, Colorado. But a romance with an older married minister (whom she eventually married) brought her budding religious empire crashing to the ground. It took several years and the selling of the tabernacle before she regained her mojo. When she came back, she came back strong.
Kuhlman ended up in the mining town of Franklin, Pennsylvania where the pulpit of the 1500 seat Gospel Tabernacle seem designed expressly for her. The crowds grew and Kuhlman’s Denver karma evaporated like holy water in the desert. It was in Franklin that Kuhlman discovered she had the divine ability to heal people.
As word spread of Kathryn Kuhlman’s miraculous ability to make the crippled walk and blind see, thousands upon thousands of true believers flocked to Franklin to be healed. In 1950, Kuhlman’s ministry went worldwide via radio and television and she became a huge attraction, appearing in Vegas and on television programs like Dinah Shore’s and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Through the 1960s and 70s, Kuhlman was a superstar for Jesus. And “star” is an apt description of Kathryn Kuhlman. She possessed the presence and grandeur of a great stage or film actress. And this is what I find fascinating about her.
Whether healer or charlatan, whether divinely intoxicated or just plain nuts, it matters little to me. It is Kathryn Kuhlman’s amazing flair for the dramatic, the flamboyant gesture and larger than life emotions she manifests that compels my conversion. Recalling Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, Kuhlman seems to be in a constant state of readiness for her close-up. Gesticulating like a silent movie star or drama-queening with the extravagant campiness of Bette Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, the divine Ms.Kuhlman gnaws the scenery like a pitbull tearing at the leg of a drunken priest.
Living much of her private life in Garbo-like secrecy, Kathryn Kuhlman revealed little about herself until she got up in front an audience and it was there, on the stage, that she unleashed the diva within. Joan Crawford meets Joan of Arc on some purgatorial film set overseen by the ghosts of Douglas Sirk and R.W. Fassbinder.
On Friday, February 20th, 1976 Kathryn Kuhlman died. “Oral and Evelyn Roberts were among the few visitors permitted to see her. As they walked into her room and began to pray for her healing, Kathryn recognized what they were doing and put her hands out like a barrier and then pointed toward heaven.” She was ready for her close-up.
The world called me a fool for having given my entire life to One whom I’ve never seen. I know exactly what I’m going to say when I stand in His presence. When I look upon that wonderful face of Jesus, I’ll have just one thing to say: ‘I tried.’ I gave of myself the best I knew how. My redemption will have been perfected when I stand and see Him who made it all possible.
Here’s a compilation of some of Kathryn’s most dazzling performances.
Previously on DM: Kathryn Kuhlman