Child, Julia, 1912-2004

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1912-08-15
Death 2004-08-13
Gender:
Female
Americans
English, French

Biographical notes:

Julia Child, cookbook writer, cookery teacher, and TV personality, was born Julia Carolyn McWilliams, in Pasadena, California, on August 15, 1912. She attended the Katharine Branson School in Ross, California (1927-1930), and graduated from Smith College in 1934. She worked in public relations in New York City (1934-1941) and served in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, 1941-1946). She was stationed in Ceylon, where she met her future husband, and in China.

In 1946, she married Paul Cushing Child (1902-1994). After the war, Paul worked for the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), and, while the Childs were stationed in Paris, Julia studied at the Cordon Bleu and soon opened a cooking school, L'Ecole des Trois Gourmandes, with Simone Beck and Louisette Remion Bertholle. Her first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, written with Beck and Bertholle, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1961; the second volume, by Child and Beck, appeared in 1970. These books gathered together the methods and recipes of classic French cooking and introduced Americans to French cooking that worked.

In 1962 Child launched a television cooking show, The French Chef, on WGBH-TV, the Public Broadcasting System channel in Boston. This was followed by two other series of The French Chef in color (1970, 1972). She resolutely refused all offers to appear on commercial television, preferring the freedom to run the program without interference from sponsors. Two cookbooks based on the series were published: The French Chef Cookbook (Knopf, 1968; Bantam, 1972) and From Julia Child's Kitchen (Knopf, 1975; Jonathan Cape, 1978). In the television programs and the books that accompanied them, Child was able to communicate, with gusto and enthusiasm, classic techniques for cooking, showing the importance of fresh produce and ingredients and of correct kitchen equipment and cooking procedures. She won a national following and launched a revolution in cooking and eating in the United States.

Three more television series followed: Julia Child & Company (1978), Julia Child & More Company (1980), and Dinner with Julia (1982). Knopf brought out companion cookbooks for the first two of these shows. Child's next book, The Way to Cook (Knopf, 1989), was accompanied by a "how-to" video. In addition to cookbooks, she wrote regular columns for the Boston Globe, McCall's, Parade, and many articles on food or cookery in other magazines.

As a star popular entertainer, Child was much in demand for cooking demonstrations, lectures, and promotions for countless non-profit organizations. She appeared with the Boston Pops Orchestra, took part in television specials (as compère of programs about White House banquets), and appeared on talk shows and as a guest on ABC's Good Morning America .

Child always worked with a team of colleagues. First and foremost was her husband Paul, accomplished photographer, artist, and chronicler of their life together. After his retirement, he was "resident manager" for her TV shows, was responsible for black and white still photography, and contributed some of the line drawings illustrating Mastering the Art of French Cooking . Other colleagues included Ruth Lockwood, producer of her TV series; Avis DeVoto, the friend who, when Houghton Mifflin rejected the manuscript for Mastering the Art of French Cooking, sent it to Knopf, which published it; Peggy Yntema, co-author of Julia Child & Company and Julia Child & More Company ; Gladys Christopherson and Stephanie Hersch, secretaries; and a host of others who answered fan letters or helped backstage with the production of her television programs.

Child's many awards include the Peabody (1965) and Emmy (1966) for The French Chef (the first to be given to a PBS program), l'Ordre du Mérite Agricole (1967), l'Ordre National du Mérite (1976), and honorary degrees from Boston College, Bates College, Smith College, and Harvard University, among others. She received the French Legion of Honor in 2000 and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003.

The Childs maintained three homes: in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Santa Barbara, California; and in the south of France, where they built a summer home on the property of Child's colleague, Simone Beck. Paul died in 1994. Julia moved permanently to a retirement community in Santa Barbara, California in 2001; she died of kidney failure in Montecito, California, on August 13, 2004.

From the guide to the Papers of Julia Child, 1925-1993, (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)

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Subjects:

  • Food writing
  • Cooking
  • Television cooking shows
  • Authors, American
  • Cooking, French
  • Women authors
  • Cooking--Study and teaching
  • Cooking schools
  • Television programs
  • Women cooks
  • Women in television broadcasting
  • Cooking, American
  • Cooks

Occupations:

  • Television personalities
  • Authors
  • Cooks

Places:

  • Cambridge, MA, US
  • Montecito, CA, US
  • Pasadena, CA, US
  • Paris, A8, FR