Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Formerly Unpublished Julia Child Blog Post

A few weeks ago, I wrote briefly about the new Julia Child movie on the horizon - it was brief only because the PR team wanted me to wait until it was closer to the release date to wax poetic. (I blogged about the advance screenings of the film at the Mill Valley Film Fest, which ended Sunday). But now that the Julia film release date is coming right up - Nov. 12 - here's the rest of the review.


Julia has never looked this good before.

In addition to 14 TV series, we've had the 2009 fictional feature film Julie & Julia, in which Meryl Streep played Julia and won an Academy Award nomianation for her performance. In the film, the modern day Julie cooks - and blogs - her way through all 524 recipes in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking

But even if you have seen all these Julia's, you have never really seen Julia before, until you have seen THIS Julia. 

That's because, in a word: food. Food photography has come a long way, baby. 

This is the first Julia movie one could say is food porn. Dripping with juices, browning the beef for the famous beef bourguignon, watching this Julia, one can almost smell the delicious liquid in the pan. It's a sensual experience - the most experiential Julia movie of all. 

It's hard to watch without dialing a restaurant delivery service that could provide you with the real thing while you watch. Or without running to your kitchen and trying to whip up some beef bourguignon yourself - from Julia's cookbooks. 

How did the filmmakers ever get food look oh so compelling on the screen?

Says filmmaker Betsy West, “We filmed in New York and in France with macro food photography and with a special lens on the food so it looks very impressionistic. We chose certain dishes of Julia’s specifically, including roast chicken, her pear tart recipe, and boeuf bourguignon. We wanted to really let you feel the food. If people leave this film hungry, we did something right.”

Credit cinematographer Claudia Raschke and Cohen for these sumptuous segments, filmed with that macro lens and played in slow motion to stirring original music. Susan Spunge, the food stylist on Julie & Julia, did the food styling here.

While I was hoping for a bit more footage of wine, which Julia famously loved, I was satisfied enough with what appeared. While Julia is the star of the show, the food segments could almost get an Academy Award nomination for supporting actor. 

The movie casts Julia in a new role - as a woman in the vanguard in the movement of women to professional chef/influencer status. 

It also enlivens speculation about her love life (with her husband) and spicily raises the specter of afternoon delight as a part of their marriage. Her hubby's racy sonnet for Julia speaks of the sensual joy she incites in him:

“For never were there foods, nor were there wines

Whose flavor equals yours for sheer delight.

O luscious dish! O gustatory pleasure!

You satisfy my taste buds beyond measure.”

Filmmakers Betsy West and Julia Cohen at the
Telluride Film Festival this summer. The film
also screened at the Toronto International
Film Festival to glowing reviews. The two 
filmmakers also made the documentary RBG, 
nominated for 2 Academy Awards.

I confess I went to the same college as Julia - Smith College - where she is something of a cult figure. 

The college has dedicated an annual celebration day to Child

A Smithie recently purchased Child's home in Provence (called La Pitchoun or La Peetch), and now offers cooking courses (not in the Julia dimension but in a far more contemporary approach the current owner calls Courageous Cooking). During the pandemic, the new owner offered a two hour zoom visit for Smith alumni which I attended, which was spent roaming around the kitchen and the property, showing us the famous peg board, the rooms, the gardens, etc. 

Learn more about renting it on the La Peetch website or in this article.

You can also indulge in more Julia-ana on her foundation's podcast here.

Though the film makes light of Julia's time at Smith, most alumni would not agree that Julia was being frivolous there. Women's colleges are known for turning out independent women as well as more accomplished women (more women doctors, more women lawyers, more women scientists, etc. etc. percentage wise than at co-ed colleges). There is no football and no women cheerleaders for the guy sports; plus women run all the newspapers, student government, etc. and just get used to that sort of thing. 

The film clearly illustrates Julia's personality as a free thinker who matter of factly enters a totally formidable, all male, Parisian, top tier cooking school. 

Since the pandemic sent so many of us back to the kitchen as a creative outlet, it seems the time is right to revisit the story of Julia. 

Now, what wine to pair with that beef bourgignon...?

A Tip: Yes you will be able to stream this movie one day, but with food photography this good, why would you? Okay, whatever. You're the judge. But my advice is simply to go to the big screen and be sure you have a restaurant reservation at some exquisite French place to eat in after the film. You may feel famished.

HBO has announced it will air a new TV series (fictionalized) on Julia, too, which you can stream at home - eventually.

For now, with cool weather cooking in full swing, crack open a Julie cookbook and start chopping some onions...

APPENDIX: If you want more...



JULIA brings to life the legendary cookbook author and television superstar who changed the way Americans think about food, television, and even about women. Using never-before-seen archival footage, personal photos, first-person narratives, and cutting-edge, mouth-watering food cinematography, the film traces Julia Child's 12 year struggle to create and publish the revolutionary Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) which has sold more than 2.5 million copies to date, and her rapid ascent to become the country’s most unlikely television star. It’s the empowering story of a woman who found her purpose – and her fame – at 50, and took America along on the whole delicious journey.


“Julia was more than a cook. She was a cultural force.” 

That summation of cooking and TV phenomenon Julia Child begins an exploration into how one of America’s most unique television-era and literary figures jump-started a food revolution. JULIA tracks Julia Child from her well-to-do childhood in Pasadena, California, to the Far East during World War II, where as an OSS worker she met her future husband Paul Child. One of the few women to attend Paris’ Le Cordon Bleu school, 

Julia Child became a bestselling author in her 50s thanks to the seminal cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. An appearance on Boston public television led to her mega-successful public TV show The French Chef, decades of celebrity, and a dedication to teaching Americans the joys of cooking. 

JULIA is the story of a woman conquering the male-dominated food world, but it’s also a feminist love story: Paul Child served as his wife’s fiercest advocate and loudest cheerleader. 

Directed by Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West (RBG), with commentary from Ruth Reichl, Sara Moulton, Jacques Pepin, José Andrés, Marcus Samuelsson, Ina Garten, Alex Prud’Homme, and others, a luscious score by Academy Award winner Rachel Portman, and macro food photography filmed in a recreation of Child’s French Chef kitchen, JULIA unwraps how one of the modern era’s most entertaining and vibrant personalities sparked a re-evaluation of the culinary arts and a love of food in the United States as she seasoned her days with romance, curiosity, and a recipe for living life to the fullest.


The love of cooking is now central to American culture, with an appreciation for the artistry of preparing delicious cuisine filling Instagram accounts, Twitter feeds, airwaves, blogs, and bookshelves. It’s a complete generational shift from the way Americans used to see food, which in the Mad Men era of 60-plus years ago ran the gamut from blood-red meat and potatoes to unimaginative processed food. It was a time when Cream of Mushroom soup and Jell-O with marshmallows were dinner staples.

That is, until one woman changed American palettes: Julia Child brought continental recipes and an excitement about the experience of cooking to kitchens across the United States with her bestselling 1961 book Mastering the Art of French Cooking — and then brought her playful and unique personality and her love of food into homes with her groundbreaking syndicated program The French Chef, which ran from 1963 to 1973. It was followed by Julia Child & Company; the series The Way to Cook; a 15-year run on ABC’s Good Morning America starting in 1980; Cooking with Master Chefs; her show with Jacques Pepin titled Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home; and countless appearances on major daytime and nighttime talk shows across nearly four decades.

But as Betsy West and Julie Cohen — director-producers of 2018’s Academy Award- nominated, Emmy-winning documentary RBG — reveal in the evocative and entertaining documentary JULIA, the path that led Child from a well-to-do childhood in Pasadena to fame was a distinctive and fascinating journey. It included Child’s experiences at Smith College; her time in the OSS during World War II and on assignment in Asia; her expatriate life in Paris with her husband, Paul Child, a state department official; being one of the few women to study at Paris’ renowned Le Cordon Bleu cooking school; a chance television appearance on a local Boston TV show that led to fame; a fearless and easy stride into celebrity that allowed for the 6’3” Child to stand tall and lend her distinctive voice to the fight for reproductive rights; and her unerring support for and mentorship of her fellow chefs, especially women.

With hours of audio and video interviews of Julia speaking about her life and career, archival footage and photos, Julia and Paul Child’s letters to each other, research from Julia biographer Bob Spitz, commentary and history from José Andrés, Marcus Samuelsson, Ina Garten, Ruth Reichl, Sara Moulton, Jacques Pepin, Julia’s nephew, author Alex Prud’Homme, and others, JULIA is a five-course appreciation of a genuine icon.

“I think Julia’s authenticity always came through in everything she did,” says codirector Betsy West. “She had a calling to help people learn what she knew. There was something relatable about her; she was so open to everything and so welcoming. Adventure and curiosity drove her.”

That sense of curiosity is what brought Child to writing the book that started her fame, 1961’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And as seen in JULIA, when Child was a guest on a low-budget book-review show on Boston’s WGBH-TV — where, in addition to discussing her book, she made a perfect omelet “to liven things up,” as she said — station management at WGBH saw someone with a unique flair who could engage viewers her own way.

“With that book, Julia Child was saying, we’re going to be comprehensive here and do a magnum opus of French cooking as it had never been done before,” says JULIA codirector Julie Cohen.

“And when she bursts onto the airwaves in the 1960s, it was a time people thought there was a certain way a woman on TV was supposed to be — they should have a quiet voice, be demure and petite, preferably blonde, certainly young, and either a sex bomb or a quote-unquote housewife type with every hair in place,” adds Cohen. “Julia was the opposite of all of that, and it was because she became a television star by happenstance. She was a real human being with a great wacky personality — and it turns out, people really liked that.”

“When you think of someone as iconic as Julia, you assume they were always around,” adds Cohen. “Until we started researching the film, I would have thought her origin story was something like, when she was a little girl she dreamed of being a chef and went to cooking school early. But she didn’t even start writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking until she was in her forties and didn’t do TV until she was in her fifties.”

Julia profoundly influenced today’s world of celebrity chefs, many of whom she personally knew before she died in 2004.

“We take it for granted now that we have all of these cooking shows, but before Julia, there wasn’t much,” says West. “She was unique as a personality in the ’70s, and then in the ’80s, as cable television took off and the Food Network and other channels began to see people responding to cooking, the genre grew. It cut across generations to people who aspired to cook and who enjoyed watching other people cook. Julia had a profound influence on that.”

“When you think about the great food personalities on TV now, Julia’s idea about cooking is very much a part of it,” says Cohen. “To her, food was not just a series of steps to prepare a meal. It was about making a festive, pleasurable experience for us all to share.”


To make Julia Child’s love of food come alive, Cohen and West brought together a team of cinematic collaborators to make viewers’ mouths water as many of Child’s recipes are recreated for JULIA.
“That was important for us, to make as much of the food as we possibly could — we really wanted to make sure there was an emphasis on food cinematography,” says Cohen. Adds West, “We filmed in New York and in France with macro food photography and with a special lens on the food so it looks very impressionistic. We chose certain dishes of Julia’s specifically, including roast chicken, her pear tart recipe, and boeuf bourguignon. We wanted to really let you feel the food. If people leave this film hungry, we did something right.”

Cinematographer Claudia Raschke (RBG, Mad Hot Ballroom) says that she, West, and Cohen discussed creating an “immersive experience” in the macro cooking scenes and other instances.

“The cinematography was meant to capture the sensuality, anticipation, and process of cooking,” says Raschke. “Knowing that the emotional impact of food is huge, we tried to photograph the food in a way that triggers your senses. When you’re looking at food, it’s as a combination of all the senses: The visual, how you’re smelling different ingredients, the way they dissolve on your taste buds, the texture of it. How do you bring that into a film?”

“So, the idea of camera motion was in my mind from the get-go,” Raschke continues. “Because when you’re cooking, it’s about anticipation and understanding how you’re building the meal. Through the macro food photography, we wanted to bring the audience up close and personal in order for them to see the steam, see the bubbles bursting in gravy, see the juices flowing — because all of that is building the anticipation. It is a full sensory experience. Julie and Betsy had carefully selected different recipes of Julia’s that they felt were the best to visualize.”

Adding to the leap-off-the-screen cuisine is a soaring original score for JULIA by Academy Award-winning composer Rachel Portman (Emma, The Cider House Rules, Chocolat), whose music highlights the journey through Child’s life as well as the mouth-watering macro food photography.

“Julia Child was really a larger-than-life character,” says Portman. “The score is very closely tailored to all the scenes, and that isn’t always the case in documentaries.

There are themes which are really carried through and then they return and we build on them and develop them throughout the film. From her early days on through, they’re all a progression of her story. We’re setting up a story — and by end, it feels like a whole person’s life.”

“I knew I wanted to have strings involved, because there’s just a whole world in strings, and they’re so adaptable,” says Portman. “The orchestration sort of came out of the musical ideas as I was writing. There’s a harp I use in there as well, and quite a lot of accordion actually for the scenes in France. For the 1960s scenes, there are vibraphones heard to evoke a sort-of up-tempo ’60s cuisine. I even sing in one section, double-tracking myself for one of the period pieces, which was fun. The main themes had to build at the right moments, as if it were scoring a drama.”

Finding the right note for the macro food photography — in which the camera lingers over mouth-watering images — involved a mix of inspiration and images, Portman says.

“The way the food was shot for the film, the colors and the flow, and the fact that the images were slowed down, gave me inspiration,” explains Portman. “I wanted to write something for those scenes that was sort of like a beautiful river, with strings and a melody going through it which would echo what’s onscreen. That’s what those images said to me. Something about seeing those dishes being made just brought to mind a delightful, rolling river.”

West and Cohen recreated Child’s kitchen in her Cambridge, Massachusetts home (designed by Paul Child, and now on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History) in a studio space in New York City, complete with period-specific copper pots and pans, cast iron skillets, a recreation of the pegboard plan on the wall that Paul set up for Julia — and a 1950s stove similar to the one Child used, found at an antique sale in New Jersey by producer Holly Siegel. After it was refurbished, the stove was given a removable back to allow for camera shots from that angle. 

“We had a pyrotechnician on set in case anything went up in flames while we were cooking,” laughs Cohen.

Food stylist and author Susan Spungen (whose Open Kitchen: Inspired Food for Casual Gatherings has just been published) styled the food and showcased it for the camera. Spungen also served as the production chef for recreated recipes with her expertise on display during original in-kitchen footage in JULIA. Spungen was uniquely qualified for the task; she had also served as food stylist for the 2009 narrative film Julie and Julia.

“We used the movement of the cutting with the hands to also provoke an emotion,” explains editor Carla Gutierrez (RBG). “When people discuss Julia cooking a recipe, or making a pastry, a lot of it is the details of the fingers and how the fingers are interacting with the ingredients. It was an enjoyment of pleasure that made Julia Child want to cook. So, how do you capture that visually, or make that come alive with archival? We wanted the experience of tasting and smelling something to be very intense in the film.”

Due to Covid-19, the JULIA team had to have some sections of the macro food photography happen in both New York and Paris — with French filming done by Nanda Fernandez Brèdillard — and then Gutierrez seamlessly blended the two sections as if the dish was being created in one place, on one plate. Every filmmaking ingredient helped.

“Julie and Betsy and I were speaking about sound effects for the cooking of food, and they said, ‘Let’s really work the sound design into the mix,’” says Gutierrez. “In the final film, it’s amazing how alive those food sections feel, partly because of the sound design that we layered in to complement the delicious images. It provides an extra oomph.”


Child, born Julia McWilliams in 1912, came from an upper-class upbringing in Pasadena, California, the oldest child of a conservative, strict family that expected her to follow suit. That she came to a very liberal, adventurous life no one predicted is a testament to character dictating circumstance.

“By all accounts, Julia had a happy, privileged childhood, playing tennis with her siblings and going to the ocean in the summertime. She had a good and easy upbringing,” says West. “She went to Smith College but wasn’t a super student — she wasn’t particularly academic. She described herself as ‘fun-loving.’ Under that, though, was a sense of adventure, a sense of longing for something else. She thought to herself, ‘Maybe I don’t have to go back to Pasadena, marry the rich guy join the country club, and start to drink martinis at lunchtime ... maybe there’s another way.’ For Julia and many men and women of her generation, World War II offered an opportunity.”

After graduating from Smith in 1934 she worked in New York as a copywriter, then went to Washington, D.C., to be a researcher at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). She volunteered when positions in the Far East became available.

“It was this sense of adventure that propelled Julia, and ultimately led her to a serious purpose,” says West.

Adds Cohen, “Julia wanted to learn. It was a hallmark of a lot of the Greatest Generation, the idea that they wanted to play some role in a larger effort, which was understood by Americans to be the righteous effort at the time. They wanted to contribute something.”

In the OSS, Julia met and fell in love with Paul Child, a state department official in China — she was involved with the Burma Road project; he was a graphics artist in charge of maps — and the two married in 1946. More than just a diplomat, Child, a

New Jersey native, had an appreciation for art, food, and culture, despite not finishing high school. After they married, the couple lived an expat life in Paris, where Paul was stationed and where they subsequently settled.

“There was a period where if you wanted to have delicious food, you had to think about France, Italy, and China, and French food was the first thing that really blew Julia’s mind,” says Cohen.

Child enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu, the oldest and most esteemed cooking school in Paris. In the late 1940s and early ’50s, women who attended there were put into specific areas to learn. That pigeonholing wouldn’t do for Child.

“There were women’s courses at Le Cordon Bleu, but they were more like amateur housewife courses, and that’s where Julia was assigned when she went,” says Cohen. “But she was very clear from the beginning that she didn’t want that. She wanted to jump in with both feet into the professional course.”


JULIA shows how at Le Cordon Bleu, Child earned her place in a culture and profession that didn’t necessarily think of women as worthy of commanding a chef’s position. In fact, many women were pushed out, as the film shows. Yet Child graduated from the initial course in 1951, then continued to study with the famous chef and teacher Max Bugnard.

“At that time, Le Cordon Bleu was populated by young American G.I.’s who fought in the war and, thanks to the G.I. Bill, were intent on learning a trade,” says Cohen. “Julia jumped into the courses there with French male teachers who were stereotypically snooty and not predisposed to respecting young women. But her teacher saw how spongelike Julia was in absorbing the lessons of great French cuisine, and she got very good at it. She eventually earned respect there, which wasn’t going to be just given to a woman in that circumstance at that time.”

At a cooking club party in Paris, Child met and became great friends with Simone “Simka” Beck, who also attended Le Cordon Bleu and had written cuisine pamphlets in France. The pair opened a small cooking school of their own, and soon decided to write a French cookbook for women and housewives in America — a place where, in the 1950s, a dinner party might consist of beef fondue, frozen fruit with toothpicks in them, cream cheese and oranges, or spaghetti with ketchup. JULIA shows how Child and Beck, along with Beck’s friend, cooking teacher Louisette Bertholle, set about writing the seminal Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Their overarching goal was to include ingredients found in America. Despite both Child and Beck’s strong views, the collaboration clicked, and through 12 years of writing and rewriting (done through the mail after the Childs relocated to Marseilles) and a rejection by its original publisher, Houghton Mifflin, the book found success in 1961 when published, somewhat reluctantly, by Alfred A. Knopf.

“That book was an amazing accomplishment of stick-to-it-iveness — from the writing of it in the face of their geographical and technological challenges to the lack of reception from the publishing world,” says West. When Houghton Mifflin rejected the book, Knopf himself thought it would have only minimal appeal. “But Julia knew they had something important to convey. This was their life’s work, and they had to make it good. They exhibited a lot of determination, persistence, and belief in themselves even when they must have been very discouraged at times.”

Adds Cohen, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking was also a very serious undertaking. So much of what Julia had been trained for was frivolous, something women of her generation were used to. The book, though, was not a light little clip-job, the kind that would be excerpted in a ladies’ magazine — which, as it turned out, some of the publishers they approached had in mind. Julia and Simka had a vision and really kept to it, even when people said they needed to cut it down or make it like something a

housewife flipping through a magazine might enjoy. They were told not to make it so comprehensive. But Julia said, ‘We’ll just stick with it this way.’”

Mastering the Art of French Cooking was a massive success in 1961, flying off bookshelves and getting a rave review in the New York Times. It recalibrated what publishers and the restaurant world considered their core audience, ushering in an era that elevated what cooking and eating might mean to people.
“Julia anticipated a cultural desire to cook in a different way, rejecting what was the push toward convenient, packaged, and processed foods,” says West.

“The book became one of those touchstones for people to learn something,” says West.

Says Cohen, “It was a big, serious book by a woman, an encyclopedia of food from another culture. The book meant a lot to people and symbolized something in the culture and especially to American women.”


While promoting the book on Boston public television in 1962, Child — who with Paul had relocated back in the United States, to Cambridge, Massachusetts — discovered quite by accident that she had the secret ingredient in a genre awkwardly coming into being on television.

JULIA shows how the standard at the time for local television programs was low- budget academic shows, with stiff and academic hosts seemingly. When Child came on Boston’s WGBH-TV to discuss Mastering the At of French Cooking, she came prepared to cook an omelet — and the audience responded.
As Child’s WGBH producer Russell Morash says in JULIA about what passed for food culture at the time, “We ate without much style, flair, or imagination.”

“The show’s producers said, ‘Let’s do a few more shows,’” says Cohen. On Child’s own syndicated show, The French Chef, which debuted in February 1963, her unconventional style and genuineness stood out in an era when cookie-cutter-style suburban beauty was the order of the day, Cohen says. “It turned out, people liked seeing real people on TV. The fact that Julia was Julia is what everybody loved about her. Although she was certainly something of a ham, viewers didn’t say, ‘Who is this middle-aged, tall woman with the odd voice?’ They said, ‘This is the kind of person I’d like to see on television.’”
Says West, “A lot of instructional or educational TV, as it was called, was very pompous and stiff and the hosts were kind of academic, sort of above the masses. Whereas Julia’s attitude was, ‘Come on in, I’m going to teach you, and it’s not easy but you can do it!’ That was instantly appealing to audiences. She would practice everything down to the minute of how she would present things. Julia really worked hard behind the scenes.”

The show was done live-to-tape originally — “Giving them a breathless quality,” Child notes in the film — with no teleprompter, requiring long takes. When Child would feature a certain ingredient, that ingredient would often sell out at grocery stores. She considered it a teaching show, and its host’s theatricality, waving her arms and seemingly occupying every corner of the kitchen, caught the imagination of its audiences. The French Chef was on the air for 10 years, ending in 1973, with Child becoming a household name as she helped public television itself take off.
“I appeared at the right time, as people were interested in more interesting cooking,” Child recalls in the film.

In the 1970s, Child’s programs expanded to include Julia Child & Company, Dinner at Julia’s, In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs, Baking with Julia, and Julia Child & Jacques Pepin Cooking at Home. And she went on to write The French Chef Cookbook,

Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. II, and From Julia Child’s Kitchen, among others.
Child would win two Emmy Awards and three Daytime Emmys Awards and win a National Book Award, additionally being awarded the French Legion of Honor and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. And she was parodied by Dan Aykroyd in drag in a 1977 Saturday Night Live skit that poked fun at a self-inflicted finger-slice Child made on camera. The real-life subject of the joke loved Aykroyd’s homage, often showing a tape of it to guests.

“For someone who had been brought up in a proper, restrained way, Julia was very loose on camera,” says Cohen. “That was very liberating to her audience in general, and her female audience in particular. She brought a very French philosophy that food is sensual, and eating meals isn’t a boring thing you have to do — it’s one of the great pleasures of the world. That was a fairly new idea for a lot of Americans.”


JULIA shows how throughout Child’s successes with Mastering the Art of French Cooking and on TV with The French Chef, Paul Child was there behind the scenes, aiding her rise as his career in the State Department ended amongst false accusations during the Red Scare and Lavender Scares of the late 1950s and early ’60s. When he took an early retirement, he threw himself into helping in any way Julia needed.
“Julia and Paul had an amazing partnership,” says West. “Paul was 10 years older, and he was introducing Julia to art, architecture, literature, and really tutoring her in a way of life that she took to. He was a renaissance man, a self-taught intellectual who truly opened up the world to her, including, crucially, the world of food, which they enjoyed in China and then in France. Yet as Julia found her calling, Paul had professional struggles.”

“Paul could have resented the fact that Julia became successful just as he was questioning what to do after leaving the State Department. Instead, he wanted to help make her career possible,” says West.

Says Cohen, “In the film, we show again and again Paul’s excitement as Julia finds something she loves and cares about. He wrote letters to his brother saying how wonderful it was to watch Julia perfecting her art. Once The French Chef is on the air, there are pictures of Paul either hunched in the background trying to help the show come together or sometimes literally mopping her brow as she was preparing food. He would wash off the utensils in the restroom. There was no job too small or big for him. He was figuring out everything she might need to succeed, and it’s a touching thing to witness.”

From scrubbing pots to writing cue cards to managing schedules, Paul Child supported Julia in any way she needed.

JULIA also tastefully brings up how Child would make lunches for her husband as he would come home in the afternoon from his job at the State Department, and that the sensuality she exhibited in her cooking was a part of her and Paul’s private life, too.

Those lunches, as personal letters between the two seen throughout JULIA hint at, were likely not the only thing the couple indulged in during their afternoons together.

“We can surmise that Julia and Paul had a very sensual relationship — we show in the film the pictures of them looking at each other, it seems like there was real love there,” says West. “Their relationship certainly opened Julia’s eyes to all of the possibilities in the world, including sexuality.”

Says Rachel Portman, whose score encompasses a romantic theme for the couple, “Julia discovered food and love, and one of the things I really wanted to capture in the music — and which is in the film of course — is how there's something very sensuous about the preparing of food. It was a glorious challenge.”

In 1963, the two built a home in Provence, above Cannes. As Paul’s health declined late in life from a heart attack and strokes in the late 1980s and the onset of dementia, Julia’s strength and love brought him along and buoyed him and kept him safe. He died in 1994 at the age of 92.


As JULIA shows, Child continued to write bestselling books and host cooking shows as she became a staple on ABC’s Good Morning America, and illustrate recipes on talk shows. In much the same way Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert brought their film criticism from public TV to the national conversation, sparking an industry revolution in the process, Child was making appreciation for good cuisine and cooking not just must-see afternoon TV but a legitimate phenomenon. And beyond the world of entertainment, in the 1980s, Child took a brave step and lent her name and support to Planned Parenthood as reproductive rights came under attack.

“Julia was unafraid of criticism,” says West. “She didn’t hold back from supporting Planned Parenthood in the 1980s when it was under assault from people who may have been part of her audience. But she was so self-confident. And, importantly, she had a maturity when she became successful — she didn’t go on TV until she was in her fifties — and the combo of that and her incredible success gave her a confidence. She didn’t back down about the things she thought were important, especially pro-choice issues.

As former Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards says in the film, at the time Julia supported the organization, “It wasn’t something celebrities were doing. But she just decided she was interested in fundraising, and in being a very public face of support for reproductive rights.”

“Julia was going around the country anyway, to high-profile events that people were lining up to attend, so she thought, why not talk about the issues that are important to her,” adds West. “One reason why not might be because she would get blowback — which she did. But she just didn’t care.”
Says Cohen, “Julia Child was a person who let herself inhabit spaces physically and metaphorically. She didn’t ever shrink from anything.”

When her longtime lawyer Bob Johnson died of AIDS in 1986, Child began advocating for gay rights and health care, an issue she hadn’t given thought to. But by the late 1980s, it was another cause she cared deeply about, and she used her celebrity to help bring awareness to it.

Her own health had challenges in the 1960s, as Child battled and overcame breast cancer, undergoing a mastectomy. In 2004, Julia Child succumbed to kidney failure, passing away at the age of 91.
“Throughout her whole life, Julia approached aging in such an interesting way,” says West. “She became famous in her fifties, and that speaks a lot about her view. She felt like she was young at heart, and she always felt she was going to stay in the game. Her work was key to who she was and kept her going.”
Says Cohen, “She loved the things that she had always loved, and she had a magnetic presence and a way with people that continued throughout her whole life. And she was so relaxed about her celebrity — despite the fact that she was an accomplished cook with a superb technique, and wrote an iconic cookbook, she was a very welcoming and relaxed hostess and guest.”

Says West, “People often talked about having Julia over for dinner — which of course would be extremely nerve-racking, to cook for Julia Child! — and yet she was always very open. ‘Just give me good hamburger and I’m fine!’ she’d say. And if something screwed up, it was fine, or she would ask guests to come into the kitchen and help.”

“There was a relaxed joyousness to the way she dealt with cooking. She didn’t feel the need to impress people. She didn’t have to — she was Julia Child.”

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