“Julia & Paul” – My Lunch with Julia Child and her husband Paul

Before starting this running Memoir I had put up the following article on Hank Whittemore’s Shakespeare Blog — clearly an inappropriate place for it.  The article, which I wrote for PARADE magazine in 1982, was about my lunch with Julia Child (formerly Julia Carolyn Williams) and her husband Paul Cushing Child at their home in Santa Barbara, CA.

PARADE - Feb 28, 1982

I was sent there by editor Walter Anderson to interview Julia as she was about to become food editor of the magazine; and to my surprise, when I walked in, she called me (with that unmistakable voice) into the kitchen while she made lunch for us.  What a treat!

So I’ve taken the liberty of placing the same article here, where it actually belongs.  I hope you like the piece, which I’ve reproduced below in addition to including an image of it:

JULIA AND PAUL

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 soup 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.

“L.e 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, 1 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 cabinetmaker.

“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

PS – I thoroughly enjoyed the movie Julie & Julia with Meryl Streep (Julia) and Amy Adams (Julie), along with Stanley Tucci as Paul; in fact, after seeing it I dug into my files to find the PARADE article.

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://hankmemoir.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/julia-paul-my-lunch-with-julia-child-and-her-husband-paul/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for posting your article online. After reading “My Life in France,” I find Julia and Paul’s relationship so inspiring. It reminds me of my own marriage and I hope to have as lively a love affair as they did for many years to come. Happy 98th Birthday, Julia.

    • Your comment is much appreciated. You are so right and I wish you well. I think one of the themes is to “keep up the romance” by just going out of our way to do special things, small as well as large. Dance in the living room, light a candle, write a poem of two lines, go out for an ice cream cone — whatever! I call this “working from the outside-in,” that is, just getting into motion and allowing the activity itself to automatically affect our insides, our moods and emotions and overall feelings about life and love in positive ways. It works! Thanks – Hank


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: