Julia McWilliams was born in Pasadena, California in 1912. Daughter of wealthy parents, she grew up eating fine food prepared by the family maid. At 6 feet, 2 inches tall Julia was a basketball player on her college team at the prestige Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. In 1934 she graduated from Smith with a Bachelor's degree in history.
Upon graduating from college, Julia McWilliams worked in advertising and copy writing for W. & J. Sloane, the high-class furniture store known for furnishing the homes for the wealthy, as well as The White House, the breakers, and model homes in the 1939 World Fair. Julia worked as the assistant to New York ad manager A. W. Forester. Julia McWilliams returned to California in 1937 where she freelanced and worked in advertising for local publications.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor Julia McWilliams tried to enlist in the Navy but was rejected because she was too tall, and instead took a job with the Office of Strategic Services in Washington D.C. working directly under General William J. Donovan, who ran the OSS as the COI (Coordinator of Information), the predecessor to the CIA. One of her greatest contributions during this time was assistance in developing a shark repellent that would minimize interference with sharks and bombs intended for German U-Boats.
In 1944 she was stationed in what is now Sri Lanka, and then she was stationed in China. During her time overseas she met Paul Child, a OSS Cartographer. In 1946 Julia married Paul Child.
After WWII, Paul joined the United States Foreign Service and the US State Department assigned Paul to Paris, where Julia Child was introduced to fine French cuisine. She joined Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and then later studied privately with individual chefs. Two of Child's cooking friends Simon Beck and Louisette Bertholle were writing a cookbook and pulled Child's into the project to help the French cookbook appeal to American women.
These three authors (Beck, Bertholle, and Child) would not see their book, Mastering The Art of French Cooking, published until 1961 after the original manuscripts were rejected by Houghton Mifflin, for it's "encyclopedia qualities." Instead the 734 book was published by Alfred A. Knopf upon which it became a highly respected book as well as a best-seller, launching Child's status an expert in French cooking, writing articles, and appearing on television. Her first regular television program began in 1963, the Emmy-winning show The French Chef which aired for 10 years.
By the 1990s Julia Child was not only a household name, but many of her cooking shows aired in her own household kitchen which was set up to accommodate television cameras. The kitchen was designed largely by her husband to accommodate her height as well.
Paul Child died in 1994, after living in a nursing home for 5 years. Julia continued her work, but retired in 2001 moving to a retirement community in Santa Barbara and donating her house to her alma mater Smith College, and her kitchen was donated to the National Museum of American history.
Julia Child died in 2004, at the age of 91.
Julie & Julia
The film Julie & Julia is a film based off the blog and book by Julie Powell who chronicled her experience cooking her way through Julia Child's entire book Mastering The Art of French Cooking, while blogging about it along the way. While Meryl Streep plays Julia Child, Amy Adams plays Julie Powell, and Stanley Tucci (pictured above with Streep) plays Paul Child.
An incredibly interesting person played by an incredibly talented and highly acclaimed actress, will Meryl Streep receive critical attention or even an Oscar nomination/win for portraying this Real (Reel) Person?