The making of the cultural phenomenon that was Julia Child had three key ingredients: a
man, a meal, and a TV camera. Five years after Childís death, as Meryl Streep plays the
woman who revolutionized Americaís relationship with food, this article recalls the wartime
romance between Julia McWilliams and Paul Child, the 1962 television appearance that
turned her into the star of "The French Chef" - and her book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" into a kitchen bible.
Born Julia McWilliams, on August 15, 1912, in Pasadena, California. The eldest of three children, Julia was educated at
San Francisco's elite Katherine Branson School for Girls, where - at a towering height of 6 feet, 2 inches - she was the
tallest student in her class. Upon her graduation from Smith College in 1930, she moved to New York, where she worked in
the advertising department of the prestigious home furnishings company W&J Sloane. In 1941, at the onset of World War II,
Julia moved to Washington, D.C., where she volunteered as a research assistant for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS),
a newly formed government intelligence agency. She and her colleagues were sent on assignment to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka),
an island off the coast of India. In her position, Julia played a key role in the communication of top secret documents
between U.S. government officials and their intelligence officers. In 1945, she was sent to China, where she began a
relationship with fellow OSS employee Paul Child. Following the end of World War II, the couple returned to America and
were married. In 1948, when Paul was reassigned to the U.S. Information Service at the American Embassy in Paris, the
Childs moved to France. While there, Julia developed a penchant for French cuisine and attended the world-famous Cordon
Bleu cooking school.
Julia Child with Master Chef Max Bugnard at the Cordon Bleu Cooking School, Paris. In her kitchen in
France, photographed by her husband Paul. Child with her collaborator and Simone Beck, as played by Linda Emond in the
film. (picture credits courtesy © Schlesinger Library)
Following her six-month training - which included private lessons with master chef Max Bugnard - Julia banded with fellow
Cordon Bleu students Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle to form the cooking school L'Ecole de Trois Gourmandes. With a
goal of adapting sophisticated French cuisine for mainstream Americans, the trio collaborated on a two-volume cookbook
titled Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). Published in the U.S., the 800-page book was considered a groundbreaking
work and has since become a standard guide for the culinary community. Then living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Julia
promoted her book on the Boston public broadcasting station. Displaying her trademark forthright manner and hearty humor,
she prepared an omelet on air. The public's response was so enthusiastic that she was invited back to tape her own series
on cookery for the network. Premiering on WGBH in 1962, The French Chef TV series, like Mastering the Art of French
Cooking, succeeded in changing the way Americans related to food, while also establishing Julia as a local celebrity.
Shortly thereafter, The French Chef was syndicated to 96 stations throughout America. For her efforts, Julia received the
prestigious George Foster Peabody Award in 1964 followed by an Emmy Award in 1966.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Julia made regular appearances on the ABC morning show Good Morning, America. Her other
endeavors included the television programs Julia Child and Company (1978), Julia Child and More Company (1980), and Dinner
at Julia's (1983), as well as a slew of bestselling cookbooks that covered every aspect of culinary knowledge. In 1993,
Julia was the first woman inducted into the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame. Her most recent cookbooks were In Julia's
Kitchen with Master Chefs (1995), Julia's Delicious Little Dinners (1998), and Julia's Casual Dinners (1999), which were
all accompanied by highly rated television specials. In November 2000, following a 40-year career that has made her name
synonymous with fine food, Julia received France's highest honor: the Legion d'Honneur. And in August 2002, the
Smithsonian's National Museum of American History unveiled an exhibit featuring the kitchen where she filmed three of her
popular cooking shows. Child died in August 2004 of kidney failure at her assisted-living home in Montecito, two days
before her 92nd birthday. After her death Child's last book, the autobiographyMy Life in France, was published with the
help of Child's great nephew, Alex Prud'homme. The book, which centered on how Child discovered her true calling, became
a best seller.
Meryl Streep on Julia Child
When you talk about passion, Julia Child just didnít have it for her husband or cooking; she had a passion for living.
What was compelling about her was her joie de vivre and her unwillingness to be bogged down in negativity. She loved being
alive and thatís inspirational in itself. I saw her cooking shows when I was a kid. She was a pioneer because she was one
of the first women on television who wasnít an entertainer and she was already 50 years old, with her personality
indelibly created by her own life experience. There was no focus group telling her how to dress and look, and her
generous nature was what drew people to her. Julia's personality was so much like my mother's that I felt very familiar
with it. My mother had an undeniable sense of how to enjoy her life, and she made every room she walked into brighter.
She really was something, and all my life I wanted to be more like my mother. So this is my little tribute to that spirit.
Unfortunately, in my own life I can be a real whiner. The cookbook my mother used was Peg Bracken's I Hate To Cook. I
remember when I was 10 going over to a friend's house and she and her mom were seated at the kitchen table and they were
doing something with what looked liked tennis balls, these big white things. They said, 'We're making mashed potatoes.' I
went, 'What do you mean? Mashed potatoes come in a box.' I'd never seen a peeled potato. My mother's motto was, 'If it's
not done in 20 minutes, it's not dinner.' She had a lot of things that she wanted to do and cooking was not one of them.
Here's a list of Julia Child's many books. A link on the title will forward you to Amazon.
Most of the books are still available and can be ordered.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking
(1961) with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two
(1970) with Simone Beck
The French Chef Cookbook
From Julia Child's Kitchen
Julia Child & Company
Julia Child & More Company
The Way To Cook
Julia Child's Menu Cookbook
(1991), one-volume edition
Cooking With Master Chefs
In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs
Baking with Julia
Julia's Delicious Little Dinners
Julia's Menus For Special Occasions
Julia's Breakfasts, Lunches & Suppers
Julia's Casual Dinners
Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home
Julia's Kitchen Wisdom
My Life in France
(2006, posthumous), with Alex Prud'Homme
Julia Child: Lessons with Master Chef
Julia Child video collection
assorted clips and programs courtesy PBS
Laura Jacobs on Julia Child
courtesy Vanity Fair
Good Morning America compilation of videos
entry at Wikipedia with all essential information
The Julie/Julia Project
original blog by Julie Powell