“Julia and Paul” – My Lunch With Julia Child and her husband Paul

JULIA AND PAUL — That was the title of a story I wrote for PARADE magazine in 1982, back in the days when I was blissfully unaware of any question about the authorship of the Shakespeare works.   I was sent by editor Walter Anderson to interview Julia as she was about to become food editor of the magazine; and to my surprise I was invited into her home in Santa Barbara, CA, to have lunch with her and her husband Paul.   What a treat!

I was busily writing books, articles and TV documentaries, never thinking that five years later my life would undergo a sea change as a result of being introduced to Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), whose life seemed too similar to that of Prince Hamlet to be coincidental.   Ah, but enough of that for now.  The beautiful new movie Julie & Julia with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams (and Stanley Tucci as Paul) has inspired me to recover a copy of the story from my musty files…

I hope you like my one-page portrait, which I’ve reproduced below in addition to including an image of it:

PARADE - Feb 28, 1982

PARADE - Feb 28, 1982

Julia Child stands in her kitchen in Santa Barbara, CA, a dish towel hooked around her apron string, vigorously chopping vegetables and grinding herbs as her husband, Paul, looks on fondly. A Sunday-afternoon meal of soupe au pistou becomes a celebration of their life together — a love story that would be difficult to make more perfect.

They and their guests move out to the dining room table by a window overlooking the ocean.  The Mediterranean vegetable soup is served with hot French bread and white wine.  Glasses are held by the stems so that when they are clinked together in a toast, they sound like musical chimes.

“Le carillon de l’amitié,” Julia exclaims.

“The bells of friendship,” Paul echoes.

There is warmth and camaraderie and exuberance in the air. It comes from Julia’s spontaneous merriment, from Paul’s quiet appreciation, from their shared passion for fine food and for each other. On this day, Paul is moved to express his deep feelings about the famous woman to whom he has been married for 35 years.

“We met in Ceylon during World War II,” he begins, explaining that they both had been sent to the China-Burma-India theater as members of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services.  He was a painter making maps for the OSS.  A confirmed bachelor of 41, he had lived in Paris during the expatriate era of the 1920s, learning to love the French language and cuisine.

“I wasn’t going to marry anybody.” Paul says, “but when we met, I liked her right away.”

At that time,  she was Julia McWilliams, 31, originally from Pasadena, CA.  She had joined the OSS hoping to become a spy, winding up instead as a tile clerk. At Smith College, she had majored in history and earned a reputation as a prankster.  Now she was an aspiring novelist who had made her living as a public-relations writer. And so far, she had never tasted French food or done any serious cooking.

“She had certain qualities that appealed to me very much,” Paul continues.

“Brains, that’s one. And crazy humor, a lot of it. Guts. Ability. And she was interested in food, as I was.”

“Food didn’t bring us together,” Julia interrupts with a laugh. “I liked you.”

“I loved to look at her. I thought she was beautiful.”

“Eye of the beholder,” Julia quips.

“I liked the way she talks, and—”

“We thought the same way—”

“—and the sound of her voice. I liked that she was tough and worked like mad and never gave upon things. And I was automatically drawn to her outgoingness and sympathy for human beings. I could live in a cave, but she likes people, and I respond to that.”

“I wasn’t ready to marry anyone until I met Paul,” says Julia. “He brought out my nesting instincts. He was interested in food and—”

“She’s a wolf, by nature. Always hungry.”

“—and he was sophisticated. I wouldn’t have done nuttin’ without him.”

“It was a kind of human chemistry.” Paul continues. “We met and started a new fizzz going off. When we were sent to China, we told each other:  ‘If we can get through this war and survive, we must get married. And then we must do everything together that we possibly can.’”

Julia nods at him across the table.  “That’s the nice thing about a good marriage,” she says.

“And we’ve done it.”

A few years after their marriage in 1946, Paul was assigned to the American Embassy in Paris. With her first taste of French food, Julia was hooked. It was an “intoxicating revelation,” which made her plunge with fervor into the art of French cooking. And she has never looked back.

As a coauthor of the two volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child helped to create the most thorough teaching books on the subject in English and her television appearances have done much to make French cooking a part of our culture.

Paul, who calls her “Julie” once in a while, says that the public and private “Julies” are the same. “She speaks the truth,” he says. “She’s not showing off. No phoniness.  She’s just her self.  And this is so when she’s writing or talking. Julie is always Julia.”

“It’s a great deal of fun as a career,” she says, adding that the “profession of
gastronomy” should not be disparaged.  “I think a country is only really civilized when it can take food as an art form. A meal doesn’t have to be like a painting by Raphael, but it should be a serious and beautiful thing, no matter how simple. And it’s a wonderful time to talk, the way we are now. What nicer way for a family to get together and communicate?

Which is what life is all about, really.”

Paul and Julia Child have been breaking bread together for a long time, and yet their enthusiasm for that communication has never dwindled. After Paul resigned from foreign service in 1961, they settled in Cambridge, MA.  A third home is in the south of France.

While his wife has continued to expand her involvement in cooking and teaching, he has produced exquisite works as a painter, sculptor, photographer and cabinet-maker.

“We both need long, quiet, agonizing periods by ourselves,” Julia says, “so it works out very nicely. We always have something to do. So I think we are very fortunate in having interests that coincided. If we’d had children, we wouldn’t have had the life we have. They just never came. By now, we’d be grandparents, and that would be nice, but we’re not unfulfilled.”

Paul gazes at her and smiles. No more words are needed.

By Hank Whittemore

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Yesterday was “my day”. By that I mean that nothing was absolutely required of me so I rented the movie, Julie & Julia. I have been interested in the life and cooking of Julia Child for a long time (I’m 58 yrs of age). She was so pleasant and adept at her art and the teacher in me appreciated the teacher in her. What wonderful confidence she had in the face of society’s Barbie girl preferences. Thank you for reprinting this bit of her life with Paul. Some of the people we should explore that exhibit noble marriages go unnoticed. Thank you for noticing this one.

    • Deborah – You’re so right and I’m grateful to you for taking the time to say it. Yes, she brought that “wonderful confidence” that shone through everything she did, it would seem. She was the same in private as in public, at least in my experience. And Meryl Streep in the movie certainly did capture Julia’s spirit and character — that laugh! — and the gestures, and more. Two special women, eh? Thanks again – Hank

  2. I too have recently been enamoured by the movie Julie & Julia.(Its now one of my favorites) I first watched this movied on the plane flying from Seattle to Seoul South Korea. I had never known much about Julia Child, except for the old Saturday Night stint with Dan Akaroyd (which they showed on the movie). She had been the brunt of some jokes I had heard over the years. Yet now I read about her quirky sense of humour. Maybe she took some of those jokes in stride.

    More importantly, the glimpse into her amazing life instills me with a newfound confidence as well. Isn’t that wonderful when another life inspires you to be a better person by finding your own strengths and passions at any age.

    I am truly intrigued by the love affair and respect that existed between Paul and Julia, and how that continued and deepend as their lives progressed. I thank you for writting this lovely post. Anyone who is not fake, and is the same publicly as they are privately has my admiration. God bless Paul and Julia Child for the incredible contribution they made to others who want to live out their passions and dreams.

    *I have always loved French cooking, but Julia makes me love it much more!!*

    • I agree with you completely — especially how wonderful it is that another life can inspire us in such a way. I felt very privileged to be in their company, not because of Julia’s fame but because the brief time spent was so filled with life. They made me feel special. Made the moment itself feel special. I left with a little bounce in my step. And wanted to take the next plane to Paris! Thanks for writing – Hank

  3. Interesting! Thank you Mr. Whitmore, for reprinting your article. I have begun a journey into the lives of Julia and Paul Child. It started, for me, with her two volume “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” which I recieved for Christmas 2010. I finally got around to cooking from in the summer. Then, urged by friends, I watched Julie and Julia. I was not expecting much but was thrilled. For me, Stanley Tucci’s potrayal of Paul Child really moved me to dig a little. I then read Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme’s “My Life in France”. Still not satisfied by the information on Paul, I read “Appetite for Life”, the Biography of Julia Child by Noel Riley Fitch. Now I have ordered copies of Paul’s poem collection “Bubbles in the Stream” and his twin brother Charlie Child’s book “Roots in the Rock”.

    I am enthralled by this man, Paul Child. A Judo black belt, self made intellectual, multi-lingual, United States Diplomat, professional photographer, painter, cabinet maker, somallier and…. above all, a man who did it all behind the scenes. It seems he never saught fame. Not even in the state department. Just substance, meaning, quality of life and love. He hosted (along with Julia) some of the most important people in the world, yet he gladly stooped and washed the dishes behind her set. He carried her tools, stayed in the background, and was a selfless supporter. I want to learn from him in so many ways.

    • You’re welcome for sure. And I’d say you have it exactly right. Thanks for this insightful comment. And best wishes on your journey. – Cheers from Hank

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