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Julia Child

Cookbook Author, Television Personality

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Julia Child Facts

Known for: popularizing French cooking and gourmet cooking in America, writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking (with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle)

Occupation: cookbook author, television personality

Dates: August 15, 1912 - August 12, 2004
Also known as: Julia McWilliams, Julia McWilliams Child, Julia Carolyn Child

Julia Child Biography:

Raised in relative privilege in Pasadena, Julia Child was, as a child, something of a tomboy, enjoying athletics and dramatics more than intellectual subjects, and growing to a tall 6 feet 2 inches. She attended a private boarding school for high school and Smith College, a women's college.

After a few years in New York searching for a meaningful career, where she found jobs related to writing, Julia Child returned to California to care for her mother, who died shortly after Julia returned, and then to care for her father. She continued to find writing work, and in World War II, sought to enlist in the WAVES or the WACS. Her height was outside the limits established by those services, so she found work with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

In the OSS, she worked her way up to a supervisory position, and then, in 1944, she went to south east Asia to work for the OSS there. There, she met a diplomatic officer, Paul Child, and fell in love with him. They dated, including after both were reassigned to China. In both Ceylon and China, Julia Child was in charge of the registry in which intelligence and personnel data were processed and filed.

After the War

After the war Julia and Paul began dating again in California, and in order to impress Paul, Julia began taking cooking lessons. She was not impressed with her own efforts or progress, however -- this may have influenced her later goal of making cooking easier to learn and understand.

Their relationship progressed to marriage, and the couple moved to Washington, D.C. Then Paul, now part of the U.S. Foreign Service, was assigned to Paris.

French Cooking

Julia Child discovered French cooking in Paris. She studied at the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, using the G.I. Bill to finance her study. She was the only woman in her class. She joined a club of French women, Cercle des Gourmettes, and there she met two French women, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. The three started a cooking school aimed at Americans, L'Ecole des Trois Gourmands, with classes in Julia Child's apartment, and Julia accepted their invitation to co-write a book.

Even as Julia Child moved from country to country as her husband was transferred, the three -- and after Bertholle withdrew, the two -- continued for nine years with their experimenting with recipes and writing. After several publisher rejections and a major rewrite, the book was picked up by Knopf and published as Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1961. It quickly became a best seller.

Paul retired and the couple moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and from there, Julia Child began a new stage in her career of introducing French cooking to Americans: television.

Television

Her television programs were meant to introduce French cooking techniques to Americans. With low budgets for the programs, and just one taping, mistakes happened on camera and Child's reactions to and recovery from errors proved part of their charm -- and part of the lessons in real-life cooking. Her distinctive voice, dramatic presence and willingness to "make a mess" helped Americans see French cooking as something they could also do. She managed to come across both as part of America's aristocracy, and an ordinary person "just like us."

Julia Child's television work won a Peabody Award in 1965 and an Emmy Award in 1966.

In 1968, Julia Child was diagnosed with breast cancer. After her mastectomy, the cancer did not return.

In her later books, Julia Child focused on transforming traditional recipes to take advantage of ingredients available in America and also to make the recipe preparation take less time.

Paul Child's health failed and, after a series of strokes, was in a nursing home after 1989. He died in 1994. Julia Child continued her active work, with more cookbooks published, with some special attention to how to plan whole meals.

At Home in Massachusetts

Julia Child spent most of her last years at her home in Massachusetts, spending time each year at the Childs' vacation home in France. Julia Child was born and spent much of her early years in California, and began spending her winters there again in her later years. When she closed her Cambridge home in 2001, the Smithsonian Institution acquired her kitchen and installed it as an exhibit, Julia Child's Kitchen, at the National Museum of American History.

Julia Child died in 2004 of kidney failure. At her request there was no funeral, and her ashes were scattered where Paul's had been, in Santa Barbara and Maine.

Julia Child wrote My Life in France with Alex Prud'Homme, and it was published after her death.

More Julia Child Facts

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Carolyn Weston McWilliams
  • Father: John McWilliams (farm consultant)
  • Siblings: Dorothy, John

Education:

  • Katherine Branson School for Girls (boarding school, Ross, California), 1930.
  • Smith College, B.A. 1934.

Marriage, Children:

  • husband: Paul Cushing Child (married September 1, 1945, died 1994; diplomat, photographer, painter)
  • no children

Political Affiliation: Democrat

By Julia Child:

  • The French Chef Cookbook. 1968, 2002.
  • From Julia Child's Kitchen. 1975, 1999.
  • Julia Child and Company. With E.S. Yntema. 1978.
  • Julia Child and More Company. With E.S. Yntema. 1979.
  • The Way to Cook (6 cassettes with booklets: Poultry; Meat; Vegetables; Soups, Salads, and Breads; Fish and Eggs; First Courses and Desserts). 1985.
  • The Way to Cook. 1989.
  • Cooking with Master Chefs. 1993.
  • In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs. With N.V. Barr. 1995.
  • Julia's Delicious Little Dinners. 1998.
  • Julia's Menu for Special Occasions. With E.S. Yntema. 1998.
  • Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. With Jacques Pepin. 1999.
  • Julia's Breakfasts, Lunches, and Suppers. With E.S. Yntema, photographs by James Scherer. 1999.
  • Julia's Casual Dinners. With E.S. Yntema. 1999.
  • An American Feast: A Celebration of Cooking on Public Television. Editor, with Burton Wolf. 1999.
  • Julia's Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking. With David Nussbaum. 2000.
  • My Life in France. (Memoir.) With Alex Prud'Homme. 2006. (The 2009 movie, Julie & Julia, was adapted in part from this book.)

Books About Julia Child:

  • Noël Riley Fitch. Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child. 1997.
  • Joan Reardon. M.F.K Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters: Celebrating the Pleasures of the Table. 1994.
  • Laura Shapiro. Something from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America. 2004.

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