Julia Child

Julia Child
Julia Child

1988 portrait of Julia Child by Elsa Dorfman
Born August 15, 1912(1912-08-15)
Pasadena, California
Died August 13, 2004(2004-08-13) (aged 91)
Montecito, California
Cooking style French
Education Smith College
B.A. History 1934
Le Cordon Bleu
Le Grand Diplôme
Spouse Paul Cushing Child
(m. 1946–1994) «start: (1946)–end+1: (1995)»"Marriage: Paul Cushing Child
to Julia Child

Married September 1, 1946

Julia Child (née McWilliams;[1] August 15, 1912 – August 13, 2004) was an American chef, author, and television personality. She is recognized for introducing French cuisine to the American public with her debut cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and her subsequent television programs, the most notable of which was The French Chef, which premiered in 1963.

In 1996, Julia Child was ranked #46 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.[2]


Childhood and education

Child was born Julia Carolyn McWilliams in Pasadena, California, the daughter of John McWilliams, Jr., a Princeton University graduate and prominent land manager, and his wife, the former Julia Carolyn ("Caro") Weston, a paper-company heiress whose father, Byron Curtis Weston, served as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. The eldest[3] of three children, she had a brother, John III (1914–2002), and a sister, Dorothy Dean (1917–2006). [4]

Child attended Westridge School, Polytechnic School from fourth grade to ninth grade, then The Katherine Branson School in Ross, California, which was at the time a boarding school. At six feet, two inches (1.88 m) tall, Child played tennis, golf, and basketball as a child and continued to play sports while attending Smith College, from which she graduated in 1934 with a major in English.[1] A press release issued by Smith in 2004 states that her major was history.[5]

Following her graduation from college, Child moved to New York City, where she worked as a copywriter for the advertising department of upscale home-furnishing firm W. & J. Sloane. Returning to California in 1937, she spent the next four years writing for local publications and working in advertising.

World War II

Child joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) after finding that she was too tall to enlist in the Women's Army Corps (WACs) or in the U.S. Navy's WAVES.[6] She began her OSS career as a typist at its headquarters in Washington, but because of her education and experience soon was given a more responsible position as a top secret researcher working directly for the head of OSS, General William J. Donovan.[7] As a research assistant in the Secret Intelligence division, she typed 10,000 names on white note cards to keep track of officers. For a year, she worked at the OSS Emergency Rescue Equipment Section (ERES) in Washington, D.C. as a file clerk and then as an assistant to developers of a shark repellent needed to ensure that sharks would not explode ordnance targeting German U-boats. In 1944 she was posted to Kandy, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where her responsibilities included "registering, cataloging and channeling a great volume of highly classified communications" for the OSS's clandestine stations in Asia.[8] She was later posted to China, where she received the Emblem of Meritorious Civilian Service as head of the Registry of the OSS Secretariat.[9] For her service, Child received an award that cited her many virtues, including her "drive and inherent cheerfulness."[7] As with other OSS records, Child's file was declassified in 2008, and, unlike other files, her complete file is available online.[10]

While in Ceylon, she met Paul Cushing Child, also an OSS employee, and the two were married September 1, 1946 in Lumberville, Pennsylvania,[11] later moving to Washington, D.C. Child, a New Jersey native[12] who had lived in Paris as an artist and poet, was known for his sophisticated palate,[13] and introduced his wife to fine cuisine. He joined the United States Foreign Service and in 1948 the couple moved to Paris when the US State Department assigned Paul there as an exhibits officer with the United States Information Agency.[9] The couple had no children.

Post-war France

Child repeatedly recalled her first meal in Rouen as a culinary revelation; once, she described the meal of oysters, sole meunière, and fine wine to The New York Times as "an opening up of the soul and spirit for me." In Paris she attended the famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and later studied privately with Max Bugnard and other master chefs. She joined the women's cooking club Cercle des Gourmettes; through the club she met Simone Beck, who was writing a French cookbook for Americans with her friend Louisette Bertholle. Beck proposed that Child work with them, to make the book appeal to Americans.

In 1951, Child, Beck, and Bertholle began to teach cooking to American women in Child's Paris kitchen, calling their informal school L'école des trois gourmandes (The School of the Three Food Lovers). For the next decade, as the Childs moved around Europe and finally to Cambridge, Massachusetts, the three researched and repeatedly tested recipes. Child translated the French into English, making the recipes detailed, interesting, and practical.

In 1963, the Childs built a home near the Provence town of Plascassier in the hills above Cannes on property belonging to co-author Simone Beck and her husband, Jean Fischbacher. The Childs named it "La Pitchoune", a Provençal word meaning "the little one" but over time the property was often affectionately referred to simply as 'La Peetch'.[14]

Books and television

Julia Child at the Miami Book Fair International of 1989

The three would-be authors initially signed a contract with publisher Houghton Mifflin, which later rejected the manuscript for seeming too much like an encyclopedia. Finally, when it was first published in 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf, the 734-page Mastering the Art of French Cooking was a best-seller and received critical acclaim that derived in part from the American interest in French culture in the early 1960s. Lauded for its helpful illustrations and precise attention to detail, and for making fine cuisine accessible, the book is still in print and is considered a seminal culinary work. Following this success, Child wrote magazine articles and a regular column for The Boston Globe newspaper. She would go on to publish nearly twenty titles under her name and with others. Many, though not all, were related to her television shows. Her last book was the autobiographical My Life in France, published posthumously in 2006 and written with her husband's nephew, Alex Prud'homme. The book recounts Child's life with her husband, Paul Child, in post-World War II France.

The French Chef and related books

A 1962 appearance on a book review show on the National Educational Television (NET) station of Boston, WGBH, led to the inception of her first television cooking show after viewers enjoyed her demonstration of how to cook an omelette. The French Chef had its debut on February 11, 1963, on WGBH and was immediately successful. The show ran nationally for ten years and won Peabody and Emmy Awards, including the first Emmy award for an educational program. Though she was not the first television cook, Child was the most widely seen. She attracted the broadest audience with her cheery enthusiasm, distinctively charming warbly voice, and non-patronizing and unaffected manner.

In 1972, The French Chef became the first television program to be captioned for the deaf, albeit in the preliminary technology of open captioning.[15]

Child's second book, The French Chef Cookbook, was a collection of the recipes she had demonstrated on the show. It was soon followed in 1971 by Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two, again in collaboration with Simone Beck, but not with Louisette Bertholle, the professional relationship with whom ended.[16] Child's fourth book, From Julia Child's Kitchen, was illustrated with her husband's photographs and documented the color series of The French Chef, as well as providing an extensive library of kitchen notes compiled by Child during the course of the show.

In 1981 she founded The American Institute of Wine & Food,[17] with vintners Robert Mondavi and Richard Graff, and others, to "advance the understanding, appreciation and quality of wine and food," a pursuit she had already begun with her books and television appearances.

Later shows and books

In the 1970s and 1980s, she was the star of numerous television programs, including Julia Child & Company, Julia Child & More Company and Dinner at Julia's; at the same time she also produced what she considered her magnum opus, a book and instructional video series collectively entitled The Way To Cook, which was published in 1989.

She starred in four more series in the 1990s that featured guest chefs: Cooking with Master Chefs, In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs, Baking With Julia, and Julia Child & Jacques Pépin Cooking at Home. She collaborated with Jacques Pépin many times for television programs and cookbooks. All of Child's books during this time stemmed from the television series of the same names.

Child's use of ingredients like butter and cream has been questioned by food critics and modern-day nutritionists. She addressed these criticisms throughout her career, predicting that a "fanatical fear of food" would take over the country's dining habits, and that focusing too much on nutrition takes the pleasure from enjoying food.[18][19] In a 1990 interview, Child said, "Everybody is overreacting. If fear of food continues, it will be the death of gastronomy in the United States. Fortunately, the French don't suffer from the same hysteria we do. We should enjoy food and have fun. It is one of the simplest and nicest pleasures in life."[20]

Home as television set

Julia Child's kitchen

Julia Child's kitchen, designed by her husband, was the setting for three of her television shows. It is now on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Beginning with In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs, the Childs' home kitchen in Cambridge was fully transformed into a functional set, with TV-quality lighting, three cameras positioned to catch all angles in the room, and a massive center island with a gas stovetop on one side and an electric stovetop on the other, but leaving the rest of the Childs' appliances alone, including "my wall oven with its squeaking door."[21] This kitchen backdrop hosted nearly all of Child's 1990s television series.

Other appearances

She appeared in an episode of This Old House as designer of the kitchen. This Old House was launched in 1979 by Russell Morash, who helped create The French Chef with Julia Child.[22]


Emmy Awards

  1. 1966: Achievements in Educational Television- Individuals for The French Chef, won
  2. 1972: Special Classification of Outstanding Program and Individual Achievement - General Programming for The French Chef, nominated
  3. 1994: Outstanding Informational Series for Cooking with Master Chefs, nominated

Daytime Emmy Awards

  1. 1996: Outstanding Service Show Host for In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs, won
  2. 1997: Outstanding Service Show Host for Baking with Julia, nominated
  3. 1999 Outstanding Service Show Host for Baking with Julia, nominated
  4. 2000: Outstanding Service Show Host for Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home, nominated
  5. 2001: Outstanding Service Show Host for Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home, won

Peabody Awards

  1. 1965: Personal Award for The French Chef, won

In popular culture

Child was a favorite of audiences from the moment of her television debut on public television in 1963, and she was a familiar part of American culture and the subject of numerous references. In 1966 she was featured on the cover of Time with the heading, "Our Lady of the Ladle."

In a 1978 Saturday Night Live sketch (episode 74[23]), she was parodied by Dan Aykroyd continuing with a cooking show despite ludicrously profuse bleeding from a cut to his thumb, and eventually expiring while advising "Save the liver". Child reportedly loved this sketch so much she showed it to friends at parties.[citation needed]

Jean Stapleton portrayed her in a 1989 musical, Bon Appétit!, based on one of her televised cooking lessons. The title derived from her famous TV sign-off: "This is Julia Child. Bon appétit!" She was the inspiration for the character "Julia Grownup" on the Children's Television Workshop program, The Electric Company (1971–1977), and was portrayed (or more accurately, parodied) in many other television and radio programs and skits, including The Cosby Show (1984–1992) by character Heathcliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby) and Garrison Keillor's radio series A Prairie Home Companion by voice actor Tim Russell. Julia Child's TV show is briefly portrayed in the 1986 movie, The Money Pit starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long; the 1985 Madonna film Desperately Seeking Susan and the 1991 comedy Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead. In 1993, she was the voice of Dr. Juliet Bleeb in the children's film We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story. Child's TV show was also featured in the 1993 movie Mrs. Doubtfire, when Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire (Robin Williams) is watching the show to learn gourmet cooking.

In 2002, Child was the inspiration for "The Julie/Julia Project," a popular cooking blog by Julie Powell that was the basis of Powell's 2005 bestselling book, Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, the paperback version of which was retitled Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously.[24][25] The blog and book, along with Child's own memoir, in turn inspired the 2009 feature film Julie & Julia. (Meryl Streep portrayed Child in half the narrative.) Child is reported to have been unimpressed by Powell's blog, believing Powell's determination to cook every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year to be a stunt. Child's editor, Judith Jones, said in an interview: "Flinging around four-letter words when cooking isn't attractive, to me or Julia. She didn't want to endorse it. What came through on the blog was somebody who was doing it almost for the sake of a stunt. She would never really describe the end results, how delicious it was, and what she learned. Julia didn’t like what she called 'the flimsies.' She didn't suffer fools, if you know what I mean."[26]


Signature of Julia Child

After the death of her beloved friend Simone Beck, Child relinquished La Peetch after a month long stay in June 1992 with her niece, Phila, and her family. She turned the keys over to Jean Fischbacher's sister, just as she and Paul had promised nearly 30 years earlier. Paul, who was ten years older, died in 1994 after living in a nursing home for five years following a series of strokes in 1989.[27]

In 2001, she moved to a retirement community in Santa Barbara, California, donating her house and office to Smith College, which later sold the house.[28] She donated her kitchen, which her husband designed with high counters to accommodate her formidable height, and which served as the set for three of her television series, to the National Museum of American History, where it is now on display.[29] Her iconic copper pots and pans were on display at COPIA in Napa, California, until August 2009 when they were reunited with her kitchen at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

In 2000, Child received the French Legion of Honor[30][31] and was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000.[32] She was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003. Child also received honorary doctorates from Harvard University, Johnson & Wales University in 1995, her alma mater Smith College, Brown University in 2000,[33] and several other universities.


On August 13, 2004, Julia Child died of kidney failure at her assisted-living home in Montecito, two days before her 92nd birthday.[34] Child ended her last book My Life in France with "... thinking back on it now reminds that the pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite - toujours bon appétit!"[27]


On August 18, 2004, a documentary filmed during her lifetime premiered. Produced by WGBH, the one-hour feature, Julia Child! America's Favorite Chef, was aired as the first episode of the 18th season of the PBS series American Masters. The film combined archive footage of Child with current footage from those who influenced and were influenced by her life and work.[35][36]

A film adapted by Nora Ephron from Child's memoir My Life in France and from Julie Powell's memoir, and directed by Ephron, Julie & Julia, was released on August 7, 2009. Meryl Streep played Child; her performance was nominated for numerous awards, winning the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical or Comedy.

A film titled Primordial Soup With Julia Child was on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Life in The Universe gallery from 1976 until the gallery closed.[37]

She also voiced the character Doctor Juliet Bleeb, an eccentric Museum of Natural History employee in the children's movie We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story.

Public works

Television series

  • The French Chef (1963–1973)
  • Julia Child & Company (1978–1979)
  • Julia Child & More Company (1980–1982)
  • Dinner at Julia's (1983–1985)
  • The Way To Cook (1989) six one-hour videocassettes
  • A Birthday Party for Julia Child: Compliments to the Chef (1992)
  • Cooking with Master Chefs: Hosted by Julia Child (1993–1994) 16 episodes
  • Cooking In Concert: Julia Child & Jacques Pepin (1993)
  • In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs (1994–1996), 39 episodes
  • Cooking in Concert: Julia Child & Jacques Pepin (1995) [38]
  • Baking with Julia (1996–1998) 39 episodes
  • Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home (1999–2000) 22 episodes
  • Julia Child's Kitchen Wisdom, (2000) two-hour special

DVD releases

  • Julia Child's Kitchen Wisdom (2000)
  • Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home (2003)
  • Julia Child: America's Favorite Chef (2004)
  • The French Chef: Volume One (2005)
  • The French Chef: Volume Two (2005)
  • Julia Child! The French Chef (2006)
  • The Way To Cook (2009)
  • Baking With Julia (2009)
  • Julie and Julia (2010)


By Others


  1. ^ a b Michael Rosen (interviewer) (June 25, 1999). Julia Child - Archive Interview, part 1 of 6 (video). Archive of American Television on YouTube.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3u1ljheBtY&feature=related
  2. ^ "Special Collectors' Issue: 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time". TV Guide (December 14-20). 1996. 
  3. ^ The Biography of Julia Child, Noel Riley Fitch, pg. 169, paragraph 2..."Dorothy (at six feet four)"
  4. ^ http://www.newsmodo.com/display.jsp?id=509084
  5. ^ "Farewell, "French Chef"". NewsSmith. Fall 2004. http://www.smith.edu/newssmith/fall2004/child.php. 
  6. ^ Child, Julia; Prud'homme, Alex (2006). My Life in France. Random House. pp. 85. ISBN 978-0-307-27769-5. http://books.google.com/books?id=8cKLQO4bgDQC&pg=PA85&lpg=PA85&dq=julia+child+oss+too+tall&source=bl&ots=DaMV9YVB0s&sig=yJw97hJgt2ehNBN0_-WsBmTEIO4&hl=en&ei=EgSvSvPVLo6llAew4ZjqBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6#v=onepage&q=&f=false. 
  7. ^ a b "Julia Child Dished Out ... Spy Secrets?". ABC.com. 2008-08-14. http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/story?id=5579095. Retrieved 2010-02-16. 
  8. ^ Miller, Greg (August 15, 2008). "Files from WWII Office of Strategic Services are secret no more". Los Angeles Times. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-archives15-2008aug15,0,1415513.story. 
  9. ^ a b "A Look Back ... Julia Child: Life Before French Cuisine". Central Intelligence Agency. 2007-12-13. https://www.cia.gov/news-information/featured-story-archive/2007-featured-story-archive/julia-child.html. Retrieved 2008-02-01. 
  10. ^ Julia McWilliams, ARC Identifier 2180661, Office of Strategic Services Personnel Files from World War II
  11. ^ "Julia Child". http://www.practicallyedible.com/edible.nsf/pages/juliachild. 
  12. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang (May 14, 1994). "Paul Child, Artist, Dies at 92". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1994/05/14/obituaries/paul-child-artist-dies-at-92.html. Retrieved May 7, 2010. 
  13. ^ Lindman, Sylvia (2004-08-13). "Julia Child: bon appétit: Celebrated cook taught America to relish life's bounty". MSNBC.com. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3694953/. Retrieved 2006-09-30. 
  14. ^ Child, Julia; Prud'homme, Alex (2006). My Life in France. Random House. pp. 268–272. ISBN 978-0-307-27769-5. http://books.google.com/books?id=8cKLQO4bgDQC&pg=PA85&lpg=PA85&dq=julia+child+oss+too+tall&source=bl&ots=DaMV9YVB0s&sig=yJw97hJgt2ehNBN0_-WsBmTEIO4&hl=en&ei=EgSvSvPVLo6llAew4ZjqBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6#v=onepage&q=&f=false. 
  15. ^ "A Brief History of Captioned Television". http://www.ncicap.org/caphist.asp. 
  16. ^ http://julia-and-i.blogspot.com/
  17. ^ "American Institute of Wine and Food". http://www.aiwf.org/site/who-we-are.html. 
  18. ^ O'Neill, Molly (11 October 1989). "Savoring the World According to Julia". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1989/10/11/garden/savoring-the-world-according-to-julia.html. 
  19. ^ Clifford, Stephanie (23 August 2009). "After 48 Years, Julia Child Has a Big Best Seller, Butter and All". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/24/business/24julia.html. 
  20. ^ Lawson, Carol (19 June 1990). "Julia Child Boiling, Answers Her Critics". New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1990/06/20/garden/julia-child-boiling-answers-her-critics.html. 
  21. ^ Child, Julia (1995). "Acknowledgments". In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs. Knopf. ISBN 0679438963. 
  22. ^ "This Old House: A Dream House". 
  23. ^ SNL Transcripts: Eric Idle: 12/09/78: The French Chef
  24. ^ Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen
  25. ^ Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously
  26. ^ Julia Child Considered The Julie/Julia Project 'a Stunt'
  27. ^ a b Child, Julia; Prud'homme, Alex (2006). My Life in France. Random House. pp. 329–333. ISBN 978-0-307-27769-5. http://books.google.com/books?id=8cKLQO4bgDQC&pg=PA85&lpg=PA85&dq=julia+child+oss+too+tall&source=bl&ots=DaMV9YVB0s&sig=yJw97hJgt2ehNBN0_-WsBmTEIO4&hl=en&ei=EgSvSvPVLo6llAew4ZjqBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6#v=onepage&q=&f=false. 
  28. ^ Gift from Julia Child Spurs Construction of First Campus Center at her Alma Mater, Smith College
  29. ^ Julia Child's Kitchen at the Smithsonian
  30. ^ Goldberg, Carey (November 25, 2000). "For a Cooking Legend, the Ultimate Dinner Was Served". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/25/dining/20001125child.html?ex=1163480400&en=ffe4cd399b8b45b9&ei=5070. Retrieved November 12, 2006. [dead link]
  31. ^ "Profile: "Julia Child"". Encyclopædia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/women/article-9024054. Retrieved November 13, 2006. 
  32. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter C". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. http://www.amacad.org/publications/BookofMembers/ChapterC.pdf. Retrieved June 12, 2011. 
  33. ^ "Commencement 2000 - Brown will award 10 honorary degrees at Commencement May 29" (Press release). Brown University News Service. May 24, 2000. http://brown.edu/Administration/News_Bureau/1999-00/99-130.html. Retrieved March 28, 2010. 
  34. ^ Saekel, Karola (August 14, 2004). "TV's French chef taught us how to cook with panache". San Francisco Chronicle. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/08/14/MNG51886851.DTL. Retrieved 2008-06-28. 
  35. ^ Mellowes, Marilyn (June 15, 2005). "Julia Child: About Julia Child". American Masters. PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/julia-child/about-julia-child/555/. Retrieved 2009-05-13. 
  36. ^ ""American Masters" Julia Child! America's Favorite Chef (2004)". IMDb. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0784622/. Retrieved 2009-05-13. 
  37. ^ "Primordial Soup With Julia Child". YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pt0rIZ3ZNE. 
  38. ^ http://www.alacartetv.com/html/jnj/aboutalc.htm, Retrieved on 2009-03-28.

External links

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