Julia Child (1912 - 2004)


Julia Child Biography & Family History

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Julia Child, the French Chef for a Jell-O Nation, Dies at 91
By Regina Schrambling
Aug. 13, 2004
Julia Child, who turned the art of French cooking into prime-time television entertainment and brought cassoulet to a casserole culture in the two volumes of her monumental "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," died yesterday at her home in Santa Barbara, Calif., two days before her 92nd birthday.
The cause was complications of kidney failure, said a niece, Philadelphia Cousins.
Mrs. Child was a towering figure on the culinary front for more than 40 years. Most Americans knew her as the imperturbable host of the long-running PBS television series "The French Chef." She was a tall, exuberant woman who could make lobster bisque look as easy as toast. But she was also respected by food professionals for the clarity and rigor with which she translated French cuisine for an American audience, most impressively in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," a work that Craig Claiborne, in The New York Times, said "may be the finest volume on French cooking ever published in English."
Mrs. Child was not the first dedicated cook to turn cooking into a spectator sport - James Beard preceded her on television in 1945, Dione Lucas in 1948 - but she brought a fresh, breezy approach to daunting material, expressed in her up-the-scales signature signoff, "Bon appétit!"
"She demystified French cuisine in a way that had not been done before, in an appealing, straightforward way," said Jacques Pépin, who teamed up with Mrs. Child in the cooking series "Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home."
A self-confessed ham, she became a darling of audiences and comedians almost from the moment she made her debut on WGBH in Boston in 1963 at the age of 50. On "Saturday Night Live," Dan Aykroyd played her boozily bleeding to death while shrieking, "Save the liver." Jean Stapleton even portrayed her in a musical with sung recipes called "Bon Appétit!" in 1989.
"I fell in love with the public, the public fell in love with me, and I tried to keep it that way," Mrs. Child said in an interview last year.
What made Mrs. Child such an influential teacher was her good-humored insistence that competent home cooks, if they followed instructions, would find even complicated French dishes within their grasp. Mistakes were not the end of the world, just part of the game.
In fact, minor slips and mishaps were weekly events on ''The French Chef," and none of them seemed to faze Mrs. Child. At the same time, she always put the food before showmanship. She had real respect for recipes, and by example she helped elevate the status of cooking in the United States.
Julia Carolyn McWilliams was born Aug. 15, 1912, in Pasadena, Calif. Her father was a wealthy farm consultant and investor; her mother was a housewife with a cook and maid who could make not much more than baking powder biscuits, codfish balls and Welsh rarebit. Julia was the oldest of three siblings, each so tall that their mother boasted that she had "given birth to 18 feet of children." Otherwise, she gave no indication that she would lead an outsize life.
E‘After a Few Moments of Awkward Silence, We Reached the Other Side’
She attended Smith College at a time when "women could be either nurses or teachers," she said, and she had some vague idea of being a novelist or a basketball star. After graduation in 1934 and a stint as a copywriter in between cocktail parties in New York, she returned home. According to her biographer, Noel Riley Fitch, in "Appetite for Life" (Doubleday, 1997), her one real job in her hometown, in advertising and public relations, ended when she was fired for insubordination, and rightly so, she always said.
After World War II broke out, she signed up for intelligence work with the Office of Strategic Services, hoping to become a spy, but was sent off as a file clerk to Ceylon. There she met Paul Child, the head of a chart-making division who was 10 years older and several inches shorter. He was also an artist, a poet and a serious food lover who opened up her taste horizons on their travels in China.
They married in 1946 and spent a year in Washington before Mr. Child was sent to Paris by the United States Information Agency. It was a fateful move, because Mrs. Child by then was struggling to learn to cook and her husband was suffering the consequences. French food immediately took her attempts to a higher plane. Out of those early experiments came her core belief: that cooking was an art to be studied, not picked up on the fly.
She threw herself into studies at the Cordon Bleu and later joined the Cercle des Gourmettes, a club where she met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, two cooking enthusiasts who wanted to write a cookbook for the American market but lacked the English to do it. The three became partners in a cooking school they called L'École de Trois Gourmandes in Paris and set to work on their cookbook, even as Mrs. Child followed her husband to postings in Marseille, Bonn and Oslo. In 1956 the couple took up residence in Cambridge, Mass. They continued to visit Europe frequently, maintaining a home near Grasse, in the south of France.
After nearly a decade, Mrs. Child and her partners produced an 800-page manuscript that Houghton Mifflin, the publisher that had originally contracted for it, rejected as too daunting. Judith Jones at Alfred A. Knopf read a later, more comprehensive version and decided it was the detailed, lucid, approachable French cookbook that she, and all of America, had been waiting for.
"I was jealous," said Mr. Pépin, who met Mrs. Child in 1960 and saw the book in manuscript. "It was just the kind of book I would have liked to do."
The introduction showed Mrs. Child at her most direct: "This is a book for the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, time schedules, children's meals, the parent-chauffeur-den mother syndrome or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat." The book, she wrote, could well be titled "French Cooking From the American Supermarket."
As revolutionary as the book was, it might have only gathered cobwebs in bookstores alongside "Escoffier's Guide Culinaire" if not for Mrs. Child's way with a whisk on camera. Invited onto a book show on WGBH to talk about "Mastering," she chose to whip up an omelet, beating the eggs in a giant copper bowl. Russell Morash, who became her producer, recalled the sight: ''I thought to myself: Who is this madwoman cooking an omelet on a book-review program?"
Viewers were so taken with the frenzy of cooking and relaxed chatter that Mrs. Child was hired to put together 26 segments, for $50 apiece. Although its host was American and regarded herself as a cook, the program was called "The French Chef," a title that would fit on one line in TV Guide. When stations in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and then New York picked the series up, it was on its way.
"I think the secret of her appeal was a combination of joy in what she was doing and a deep desire to teach and to teach well," said Geof Drummond, who produced Mrs. Child's cooking programs in the 1990's. "The food was important to her, and it was important to her that you get it."
With help from her husband she appeared on a set replicating a home kitchen and cooked the dishes of the week, then served them to herself, complete with wine.
While Mrs. Child has been credited with inspiring a boom in French restaurants, an explosion of fancy food markets and even the arrival of the Food Network, she insisted her original book and program benefited from "a concatenation of factors" in the early 1960's. It was an era when Jacqueline Kennedy was raising awareness of all things French, and travel to France, which used to take a week by boat, was shortened to mere hours by plane. Duncan Hines cake mixes and Jell-O salads may have been far more prevalent than chocolate mousse and vinaigrette, but Americans were ready to embrace French food, at least as it was translated by a charismatic compatriot.
Over the years, Mrs. Child devoted herself to her television series while writing companion cookbooks, ending with "Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home," in collaboration with Mr. Pépin, in 1999. For the first books, she would test her recipes upstairs in the open kitchen in Cambridge, Mass., outfitted with a Garland range, while her husband painted in a studio in the basement. When she called, he would come up to photograph her latest creation to give the illustrator something to draw on.

Julia Child was also known as Julia Carolyn McWilliams Child.


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"The French Chef" became the longest-running program in the history of public television; it was followed by "Julia Child & Company," "Dinner With Julia" and other series.
The unlikely star whipped through quenelles and coquilles St. Jacques with the greatest of ease, moving on smoothly even after dropping pots or announcing she was about to put a gratin in the refrigerator instead of in the oven where it belonged. Years later, she explained her insouciance by saying that she had demonstrated those same dishes many times at her school in France, whose logo she wore on her signature blue shirt, and that she had the technique down cold.
All her programs were distilled to what she called fundamental lessons. In browning meat, it was as simple as "hot oil, dry meat and don't crowd the pan." She would cook chicken fricassee and coq au vin side by side to show that they were essentially the same dish, one made with white wine, the other with red. She advised viewers to "plunge right in" boning a chicken and to "have the courage of your convictions" in flipping a potato pancake. Her fearlessness made great television: she roasted ducks, sautéed sweetbreads and stuffed sausages into casings with grunts of effort. She stayed with WGBH even after her series became a national success because it gave her the freedom to cook tripe, kidneys and other offal that she said would not fly on commercial television.


When she wrote recipes, they were long and detailed because, she said, she felt obligated to ensure their success. "A cookbook is only as good as its worst recipe," she said. All 10 of her cookbooks were held up as models of clarity. She was also adamant that cooking was not like free-form jazz: she intended her recipes to be followed to the letter. Her own tastes ran to rather simple food. Overall, she said, she preferred "la cuisine soignée: long, caring cooking."
Asked what her favorite meal was, she might mention duck or leg of lamb but would almost always add, "I love good, fresh food cooked by someone who knows what he's doing."
She ignored fads and fashions. "I remember her telling me, 'I hate grilled vegetables,' when those were all the rage," Mr. Pépin said. "She said, 'They're raw and burnt at the same time.' "
As Mrs. Child aged, her role in more and more programs was to sit by as other cooks did the sautéeing. She also appeared regularly on "Good Morning America" on ABC in the 1980's.
Mrs. Child was a breast cancer survivor, a cat lover, a fervent advocate of Planned Parenthood and an unabashed sensualist with a sly sense of humor. One year she and her husband sent out Valentine's cards with a photograph of them together in the bathtub in Paris. One of her last projects was to be a memoir of her years in France.
Mrs. Child's obsession with promoting the culinary arts as a profession led to her becoming the first woman inducted into the Culinary Institute of America's hall of fame. She helped establish the American Institute of Wine and Food and, later, Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts. In 1986, after the death of her friend James Beard, she led the effort to buy his town house in Greenwich Village and convert it into a nonprofit foundation.
Mrs. Child was always a star, never a spokeswoman. She prided herself on not granting endorsements because she was devoted to public television, and she was not afraid to mock corporate contributors to her advertising-free programs. She once demonstrated how to break off a part on a Cuisinart food processor to make it less cumbersome to use even as the manufacturer's representatives sat in the audience. And she was known to sue to prevent a restaurant from advertising that it was one of her favorites.


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Julia Child died on at Casa Dorinda, in Montecito, Santa Barbara County, California United States of America

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1912 - In the year that Julia Child was born, in October, former President Theodore Roosevelt was shot, but not killed, while campaigning for another term as President with the newly created Bull Moose (Progressive) Party. John Schrank was a Bavarian-born saloon-keeper from New York who had been stalking Roosevelt when he shot him just before a campaign speech. Shot in the chest (and showing the audience his bloody shirt), Roosevelt went on to give a 55 to 90 minute talk (reports vary on the length) before being treated for the injury. After 8 days in the hospital, Roosevelt went back on the campaign trail.

1938 - At the age of 26 years old, Julia was alive when on June 25th (a Saturday) the Fair Labor Standards Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt (along with 120 other bills). The Act banned oppressive child labor, set the minimum hourly wage at 25 cents, and established the maximum workweek at 44 hours. It faced a lot of opposition and in fighting for it, Roosevelt said "Do not let any calamity-howling executive with an income of $1,000 a day, ...tell you...that a wage of $11 a week is going to have a disastrous effect on all American industry."

1944 - At the age of 32 years old, Julia was alive when on December 16th, The Battle of the Bulge began in the Ardennes forest on the Western Front. Lasting for a little over a month, the battle began with a surprise attack by Germany on the Allied forces The U.S. suffered their highest casualties of any operation in World War II - 89,000 were casualties, around 8,600 killed - but Germany also severely depleted their resources and they couldn't be replaced.

1961 - When she was 49 years old, on April 17th, about 1,000 CIA trained Cuban exiles invaded Cuba with the intention of igniting a rebellion and overthrowing Castro. They were defeated within three days. Although the operation began under Eisenhower, Kennedy approved it and the operation, named the Bay of Pigs for the beach where they landed, was a humiliation for the United States.

1977 - When she was 65 years old, on January 20th, Jimmy Carter became the 39th President of the United States. Running against incumbent Gerald Ford, he won 50.1% of the popular vote to Ford's 48.0%. He was elected to only one term.

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Julia Child Obituary

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In 1966 she became the first PBS personality to win an Emmy Award. She was awarded a George Foster Peabody Award in 1965, the National Book Award for "Julia Child and More Company" in 1980 and the Légion d'Honneur from the French government in 2000. When she moved from her longtime home in Cambridge to a retirement center in her home state, California, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington took her famous kitchen: whisks, stockpots and 800 knives. She also contributed her huge cookbook collection to the Schlesinger Library at Harvard.
She was also active in the International Association of Culinary Professionals. For her 90th birthday, 20 restaurants across the country staged dinners in her honor to raise money for the group to conduct culinary research in France.
Paul Child died in 1994 after a long hospitalization. Julia Child is survived by a sister, Dorothy Cousins, of Mill Valley, Calif., and several nieces and nephews.
To the end, Mrs. Child maintained her image as the ultimate bonne vivante, a California girl with easy French tastes. Whenever she was asked what her guilty pleasures were, she responded, "I don't have any guilt."
Despite decades of rumors about her suspiciously relaxed condition on the set, though, she always denied a one-bottle-for-me, one-for-the-pot pattern of cooking. Her husband, in fact, often said that one of his earliest duties was dyeing water with beef extract so that it could pass for red wine on black and white television - the producers could afford real Burgundy only for the stew, not for the star's glass.
Mr. Drummond, her producer, also debunks another myth. Mrs. Child never dropped a chicken or a turkey on "The French Chef." It was a potato pancake that flew onto the work table when she tried to flip it. She put it back in the pan, pressed it back into shape and said, "Remember, you are alone in the kitchen, and no one can see you."
She always refused to speak evil of fast food but admitted she could live without Mexican cuisine, and she never quite saw the point of Italian food. "I don't think it's a real cuisine because you don't do much," she said in an interview last year.
"I still feel that French cooking is the most important in the world, one of the few that has rules. If you follow the rules, you can do pretty well."
William Grimes contributed reporting for this article.

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