Julia Child

Julia the Great – A Movie and Memories

 

Julia ChildHer one-liners could be as hilarious as Rodney Dangerfield’s.  She was quotable like Mae West and as beloved as Jackie Kennedy Onassis.  Julia Child is forever in the American fabric, a California girl who took French cooking into the American kitchen and literally started television cooking.  Her talent, wit, refreshing irreverence, and even her love for the Boston Red Sox team contributed to her national popularity.  

“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook” – by Julia Child

 

I make a living in part interviewing television chefs, always measuring them by my recollections of Julia Child on her TV show, “The French Chef.”  I really want them to do something outrageous or say anything funny.  I concluded long ago that this will never happen.

Julia Child was an American original, as much an eternal part of our popular culture as Elvis.

Julia-PlaqueIn 2002, I joined guests at one of the Julia Child 90th birthday celebrations at the Arizona Biltmore in Scottsdale enjoying the aphorisms and hilarious film clips from her television series (the longest running show in public television history), and absorbing stories told by those who knew her well.
Although she was convalescing at the time, the evening was noteworthy for humor, food prepared from her recipes, and glasses of fine wine.

 

The plaque (photo on right) presented to guests who celebrated the 90th birthday of Julia Child is mounted on a wall near Doc Lawrence’s stove. – Photo by Stephen Thomason

 


A Musical and the Movie:

Dan Ackroyd portrayed Julia Child on a Saturday Night Live skit and Jean Stapleton-Edith Bunker in “All in the Family”-became Julia Child in the musical  ”Bon Appetit! a phrase  made part of the American vocabulary when she wished her television audience a good appetite.  When Ms. Child saw it, she howled with laughter.

As the star of “Julie & Julia,” Meryl Streep was created to play Julia Child.  With memories still fresh and so much archived video of the television series available, taking on the role of an icon with near perfection is what separates royalty from the pretenders.

During a time of year when the box office is saturated with the ordinary and banal, it is reassuring that Hollywood’s version of Julia Child brings in crowds.

As the first television chef, Julia Child achieved popularity with her talent and surprising magnetism.  She reminded me of my mother and grandmother.  My favorite childhood memories are being with them while they cheerfully prepared dinner.

 

Julia Child in Atlanta:  

Julia Child in Atlanta
Photo courtesy of Melissa Libby

Melissa Libby, center, with Julia Child and wine legend Robert Mondavi in Atlanta. Ms. Child and Mondavi founded the American Institute of Wine and Food.

Melissa Libby, a major business and civic leader in Atlanta, heads the public relations firm bearing her name.  In the late 1980’s when she was PR director for a luxury hotel, Ms. Child and Robert Mondavi came to Atlanta for an event, and Ms. Libby scheduled media interviews for Julia Child.”  My heart was pounding,” she told me, “as I dialed her Boston telephone number, but I had to giggle when she trilled HELLOOOOOO on the other end. She was so accommodating with my requests.”

Surprises awaited Ms. Libby.  “The next morning, Julia announced that she’d like to have her hair done which took two precious hours.  I had to reschedule everything, leaving little time for lunch.  I suggested a deli, but in her shrill voice she said, ‘I always find those sandwiches quite soggy, don’t you?’  Realizing we had to eat quickly, she said, ‘Well, is there a McDonald’s nearby?  I like McDonald’s. It’s always consistent.  Plus we can eat in the car.’ So, we did the McDonald’s drive-thru, with her newly coiffed hair grazing the roof of my little Honda Civic.  She had a cheeseburger, fries, and a shake and insisted on paying for everything.”

During a radio interview later that afternoon, Melissa Libby shared the lunch story with the show’s producer and it got to the interviewer prompting one last question.  “So, Ms. Child, in our city with fine restaurants, please tell us where you had lunch today?” The answer, Libby recalls, was vintage Julia Child: “OOOOOH, McDonald’s!”

 

More Julia Stories:

Propelled in part by the popularity of the movie, anecdotes are surfacing.  A lifelong Boston Red Sox fan and a frequent figure in the stands, Ms. Child was asked to rate the stadium’s hot dogs, called Fenway Franks. “Thin and pale.”

She attributed her longevity to “gin and red meat.”  She was regularly caricatured on Garrison Keilor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” complete with her high-pitched voice.

Recently, the National Archives’ released more than 35,000 top-secret personnel files of World War II-era spies, and one had the name Julia Child. In her OSS (which later became the CIA) application there was a note that she left a department store job because she was unhappy with her boss.

Josh Butler, Chef for Florida governor Charlie Crist, has a special memory.  “Mastering the Art of French Cooking  was my first cookbook.  I met Julia Child one day in Chicago and explained how her book helped me become a chef.  She was so tickled that she blushed.  As we parted she gave me a sweet kiss on the cheek. I will never forget her.”

Mississippi native and fabled cookbook author Craig Claiborne proclaimed in The New York Times that Mastering the Art of French Cooking “may be the finest volume on French cooking ever published in English.”

Enjoy this gloriously entertaining movie, a reminder that Julia Child struck an emotional chord with Americans.  Her kitchen television set along with her copper pots and pans are permanently exhibited in the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, symbolically saying everything.

 


 

Article by Doc Lawrence

Doc Lawrence is a veteran food and wine journalist based in Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale.  Doc Lawrence writes and lectures regularly about subjects in which he is a recognized and acknowledged expert – wine and food, theater, travel and cultural tourism, visual art and music. His works have earned praise from many editors and publishers.  Check out all of Doc Lawrence’s Sips Across America articles.

 

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