Julia, Chef Bugnard Preparing Chicken & Fish
Photograph by Paul Child. © Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Courtesy of Sony
When love came calling, Julia Carolyn McWilliams threw off the shackles of her wealthy Republican upbringing, disregarding the image of what she was "meant" to be, and married a fairly liberal US Foreign Service employee, Paul Child.
And, as seen in the new documentary Julia, once she gained her footing as an American ex-pat in 1949's Paris, France, her calling found her. Once again, Julia cared not a whit that she was breaking barriers, now shocking the French by enrolling, along with 11 post-war GI's, to be trained in the art of cooking at their pinnacle of cookery, Le Cordon Bleu. Though the Master Chef there expressed misgivings that Ms. Child could be a "true professional" (... imagine - an American, and a woman ... pfft ...) history has given that doubt the boot it royally deserved.
What's inviting about Julia, in addition to her story and the onscreen creation of a variety of delicious cuisine you can almost smell, is that someone, most probably Paul Child, had the foresight to photographically document Ms. Child at the culinary school, outfitted in her white jacket, cutting and enthusiastically stirring something fabulous.
Paul was very much in love with his bride, just as America quickly fell in love with his Julie. As stated in the film, "when you cook, you give your love... and pleasure". And Julia Child certainly returned that love and pleasure in spades to her adoring audience.
Houghton Mifflin publishers received her first pitch for a book of recipes, and, in exchange, Child was given an advance of $750 against a royalty of 10% of the list price, plus 90% of any royalties for a set number of advance sales. It took 12 years to compile the book, with assistance from her chef friends, all women. Ultimately that publisher rejected the huge volume; an error we're sure they regret. Soon after, an editor at Knopf had the foresight to rectify H-M's miscalculation. and in 1960, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" hit the shelves.
Upon returning to the States, Julia appeared on a local book review program in the Northeast and made an omelet to "liven things up". When one considers the eternal question of 'the chicken and the egg', in Ms. Child's case, the egg obviously came first. A point of interest - the station that took the on-air chance with Julia, WGBH, is the same Boston station that first aired Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Much is to be said about forward-thinking programmers, to be sure.
Julia's original paycheck for The French Chef was $50 an episode. Once again, a pittance paid for the love that was returned in droves. She became the watercooler talk, 'Did you see what Julia did'???, eventually earning a number of awards due to not only her content, but the style and originality she displayed on air.
Ms. Child herself is so self-effacing that she states, "I came along at the right time because people were becoming interested in cooking." Oh, Ms. Child, people became interested in cooking because you came along. The Food Network owes you a huge debt of gratitude.
I do hope that only reviewer's copies of Julia omitted some interviewees' names as they were speaking, and that it's not an overall omission in the theatrical release. Other than that faux pas, there's much joy to be had in Julia. She had an obvious appetite not only for food, but for also keeping the people she loved well-fed and happy, especially the men she met along the way.
Like RBG, the well-received previous Documentary by Julia's Co-Directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen, Julia is another intriguing, engaging bio of a strong, intelligent woman who was unafraid to speak her mind. In Julia, the Directing duo lovingly examines the sometimes bold and bawdy sense of humor of the woman who first showed us how to properly wield a kitchen cleaver.
My personal kudos to Food Stylist Susan Spungen and Director of Photography Claudia Raschke for making Julia a deliciously visual feast.
Lisa Blanck is the Associate Editor for In Focus Magazine. She's been a News Editor at NBC affiliate WESH2 in Orlando for more than a decade. She was formerly with WKMG6 for 14 years as a News Editor. She spent nine years in advertising, marketing, promotions and live special events at Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite and MTV Networks. She also worked as an on-air host for local cable access programs. Lisa has covered the Florida Film Festival for the past 29 years as well as the World Peace Film Festival. She was a columnist for Lady Freethinker, ShelterMe.tv and Examiner.com. She has been a columnist for the Focus In Newspaper and now for In Focus Magazine.
Lisa Blanck can be reached at: [email protected]