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After 72 years of marriage they still adore each other, and their fans adore them

Barbara and Harry Cooper — a.k.a Cutie and PopPop — are full of charming advice, romantic gestures, fascinating memories and modern-day adventures. It's no wonder their website has become a viral hit.

June 13, 2010|By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times

Barbara "Cutie" Cooper, 93, speaks drolly to the camera, her words slurred from several strokes.

"Dear Abby has had her day, it's my turn now. Any problems … contact me … please call, don't write."

"Oh my goodness," chimes in Harry, her squeaky-voiced husband of 72 years. "She'll either send them to the poor house or up to the White House!"

From behind the camera come snickers and snorts from Kim and Chinta Cooper, half-sisters who barely knew each other before a crisis with their grandparents brought them together. When that happened, two years ago now, they decided Cutie and "PopPop" were so special they couldn't keep them to themselves.

So they bought a video camera, started a website and launched the "OGs" on the world. — short for Original Grandparents — has its own theme song (lyrics: "Oh wow, oh gee, it's the OGs!") and a handful of regular video features. In "PopPop's Adventure Corner," viewers look on as he discovers modern marvels like the iPod (He calls it his "music box.") In "Ask Grandma Anything," they get style advice from Cutie, a bold fashionista who was recently kicked out of the dining room at the couple's retirement home for wearing leggings that were, Kim admits, "too sexy."

Thousands of fans from around the world have tuned in to watch the couple opine on such topics such as time travel ("it's possible"), lesbians ("just do your thing") and Michael Jackson ("He was a very unhappy young man who didn't know if he was fish or fowl.")

They've been like this practically since they met, in the 1930s on the tennis courts at Poinsettia Park in Los Angeles.

Cutie, who was born in Egypt and came to the United States as a child, didn't think twice about PopPop when they were first introduced. But when an aunt prodded her to reconsider the Philadelphia-born former Army private, "I opened my eyes and saw him. He had black curly hair and brown eyes — big, wide, brown eyes."

They married and built a house in Beverlywood, with a pool and plenty of room to raise a family. They had a daughter, Carol, and a son, Jan.

At Hollenbeck Palms nursing home in Boyle Heights, they still sleep in the same twin bed and kiss more often than teenagers.

"If I walk by, he kisses me," Cutie says. "We kiss when we say hello, goodbye, when we're going to bed and waking up."

Fellow residents attest that Cutie, slim and wide-eyed with bottle-blonde hair, is never far from PopPop, who, with his straight back and strong shoulders, has the figure of a younger man, his 98 years revealed only in the age spots on his face and the soft layer of fuzz on his head.

A recent video blog captures their reunion after Cutie's solo hair appointment in Echo Park.

"How are you?" she asks after they kiss.

"Lonesome," he replies.

"Good, you're supposed to be when I'm not there."

Nine decades of living may have slowed the Coopers down — last month Cutie broke her elbow in a fall — but they've hardly dulled them.

"Of course we've got the spark," Cutie says to camera. "It's kind of rubbed off at the edges, but it's there."

It's a spark that charmed Kim, 43, and Chinta, 21, who for most of their lives shared a father but little else. Jan Cooper wasn't around much for either of them, they say.

In 1978, when Kim was 11, he set off with her younger sister to sail the world, leaving Kim to live in Hollywood with her mom, who was more interested in punk music than parenting.

So Kim would escape to spend time with Cutie and PopPop, who had moved into a Camarillo retirement community called Leisure Village. Her grandparents were "straight shooters" who talked to her frankly about life. The drawers in their home were filled with candy and Cutie's collection of fancy, elbow-length gloves.

More than two decades later, Chinta also sought refuge at Leisure Village.

It was 2007, and she had just finished her first year of college in San Diego. She headed to Camarillo for the summer to avoid going home to her four younger brothers and parents in San Pedro. Their house was crowded and hectic; Jan had just decided on a whim to open an ice cream store.

At Leisure Village, Chinta could swim, putter around the golf course and listen to her grandparents weave tales about the past.

She could also help Cutie and PopPop out. Their health was failing — both had had heart attacks — and that spring their daughter Carol had died of cancer.

Six months later, Jan died of a heart attack.

Bereft, Cutie all but stopped eating. Always in sync with her, PopPop did the same. Soon Chinta, reeling from the loss of her father, dropped out of school to care for them.

In the summer of 2008, Cutie landed in the hospital with congestive heart failure. Chinta desperately called everyone she could think of, finally dialing the number of the half-sister she hardly knew.

"I really have no idea what I'm doing, Kim," Chinta said, "and I really need your help."

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