Julia Child: Eat Well, Live Big, Bloom Late!

by Debra Eve | @DebraEve

Julia Child: Eat Well, Live Big, Bloom Late! by Debra Eve

Recently I convinced my hubby to watch Julie & Julia. He suggested that Leto and a bottle of wine would make better company.

(Leto is our 20-lb male Maine Coon cat who watches chick flicks with me and cries at appropriate scenes. He’s very sensitive.)

After the movie, my hubby turned to me and said, “That was really good.” And it was.

How can you not love Julia Child (1912-2004)? She was over 6′ of  bonhomie, exuberant passion, in love with food and with life. And she found it all at age 36 with her first meal in France:

We began our lunch with a half-dozen oysters on the half shell . . . Rouen is famous for its duck dishes, but after consulting the waiter Paul had decided to order Sole Meunière . . . perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley on top . . . Then came the salade verte with a slightly acidic vinaigrette . . . Our first lunch together in France had been absolute perfection. It was the most exciting meal of my life.

In the About page, I write “Late blooming isn’t about a particular age. It’s about the aha! moment that transforms everything that follows.” There’s Julia’s moment. At 36. It’s breath-taking.

Nothing in Julia’s sheltered upbringing prepared her. Not her elite girls’ school, not Smith College (where she was enrolled at birth), and certainly not her rich, conservative Pasadena family.

Her father had invested early in California real estate and her mother was a paper-company heiress. Julia grew up eating “broiled mackerel for Friday dinners” and the “occasional pan-fried trout when camping in the Sierras.” She was a golf and tennis country club girl.

Too Tall and Insubordinate To Boot

After graduating from Smith, Julia’s plan to become a famous novelist didn’t pan out. She tried her hand at copywriting in New York for a few months. Then she worked in advertising, but was fired for insubordination. “And rightly so,” she commented later, but none of her biographies provide the juicy details.

When World War II broke out, Julia applied for the Women’s Air Corps, but they rejected her for being too tall. She joined the Office of Strategic Services (now the CIA), hoping to become a spy. Her height perhaps went against her again (how can a 6′ tall woman look nondescript?) and she ended up as a file clerk in Ceylon, where she “processed highly secret material from our agents.”

There she met Paul Child, a member of the chart-making division, but more importantly, an artist and gourmand (or “foodie” as we say now). He sounds like a remarkable person:

Paul was ambitious for his painting and photography, which he did on evenings or weekends, but even those ambitions were more aesthetic than commercial… Naturally, he would have loved recognition as an Important Artist. But his motivation for making paintings and photographs wasn’t fame or riches: his pleasure in the act of creating, “the thing itself,” was reward enough.

Julia Child in Paul's Valentine card

One of Paul’s handmade Valentine’s cards

Paul and Julia married after WWII, but her father “was bitterly disappointed that I didn’t marry a decent, red-blooded Republican businessman.”

The State Department sent Paul to France in 1948, where Julia had her awakening at 36. They were stationed in Paris. She headed straight for France’s most famous cooking school.

At 9:00 A.M. on Tuesday, October 4, 1949, I arrived at the École du Cordon Bleu feeling weak in the knees and snozzling from a cold. It was then that I discovered that I’d signed up for a yearlong Année Scolaire instead of a six-week intensive course.

Julia dove right in. Paul became a “Cordon Bleu Widower.” But he had a bit of solace.

They adopted a local alley cat they named Minette. She “liked to sit in Paul’s lap during meals, and paw tidbits off his plate when she thought he wasn’t looking.”  (I’m pretty sure Minette ate better than I do.)

The Path To Success Was Not Paved With Butter

If you saw the movie, you’ll recall that the madame who ran the school disliked Julia and ensured she flunked her first exam.

Julia later teamed up with two members of her gourmet club to write a French cookbook for Americans. It took almost 10 years, only to be rejected by the publisher who contracted it.

By the time Mastering The Art Of French Cooking finally appeared in 1961, Julia and Paul had moved to Boston. She promoted it on a local public book show. TV producer Russell Morash saw her and thought: “Who is this madwoman cooking an omelet on a book-review program?” He hired her to become The French Chef.

And then, right before filming, WGBH’s studio burned to the ground. Julia’s personal copy of Mastering (with all her notes)  “went up in smoke.”

But Julia’s bonhomie prevailed again. The New Times says,

…she became a darling of audiences and comedians almost from the moment she made her debut on WGBH in Boston in 1963 at the age of 50.

Julia spent the next four decades  instructing and entertaining food lovers the world over, remaining faithful to public television even after the series became a hit.

Julia with knife and chickens

Love this woman!

In  2000, at age 88, she received the French Legion Of Honor and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Julia retired to Santa Barbara the following year and succumbed to kidney failure in 2004. (Paul, ten years her senior, had passed away ten years earlier.)

Her autobiography, My Life In France, was published posthumously. It’s the source of the quotes here and the basis for her half of Julie & Julia. I highly recommend it.

So that’s how a gangly Pasadena girl with vague literary aspirations brought French cooking to America,

…found my true calling, experienced an awakening of the senses, and had such fun that I hardly stopped moving long enough to catch my breath.

By the way, my hubby wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the movie. Leto also gave it his seal of approval, which Julia would appreciate. After Minette, she and Paul always had a cat. One of her favorite sayings:

Une maison sans chat, c’est la vie sans soleil! (A house without a cat is like life without sunshine!)

Oh yes, and “Bon appetit!”

What Later Bloomers Can Learn From Julia Child

  • In her own words: “Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”

Sources

  • Julia’s autobiography, My Life In France and her NY Times Obituary.
  • Here’s a less-famous clip of Julia upstaging David Letterman when he failed to provide a working hot plate. I laughed so hard I cried. (If you’ve received this by email or RSS, click here.)

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Leave a Comment

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Patricia @ Pollywog Creek

I LOVED this, Elle. I watched “Julie and Julia” for the first time just a couple of months ago and fell in love with Julia in the process. I need to get “My Life in France” – I’ll check with the library today. Thanks for the reminder. And that clip….hysterical.

What you say in your “about” page that being a late-bloomer is the “aha” moment is so very true. Thank you for the inspiration.

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Debra Eve

Thanks Patricia! Definitely check out “My Life In France.” It’s so well written — she transports you to Paris in the 1950s. It’s one I’ll read again and again.

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Lisa

I loved “Julie & Julia”. She was inspirational in her tenancity to “keep moving foward”. I’m still waiting for that “aha” moment of my own. But I’m a firm believer that it will come soon!

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Debra Eve

I know you’ll find it. You were always the creative talent. Thanks for stopping by, sis!

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David Stevens

Hi ElleB,
Another inspiring story with appetising detail. Thank you.
be good to yourself
David

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Debra Eve

Thanks for stopping by, David! Julia’s just a universal inspiration, isn’t she?

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Michael Walden

Brilliant! I used to watch her show simply for the laughs and I’m not by any stretch of the imagination a cook. ;) I still think she was way before her time :)

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Debra Eve

I read somewhere in my research that stand-up comedians study her clips for inspiration, even today. It’s easy to see why… Thanks for stopping by, Michael!

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Marianne

Hi Elle,

Great story! Very interesting. Very funny video! I haven’t seen Julia and Julia yet. I’ll put it on my list to view. Thanks for sharing.

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Debra Eve

Hi Marianne, definitely put Julie and Julia on your list. It will make you smile. Thanks for stopping by!

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Dave Doolin

Maine Coon – Awesome cat!

I am *ecstatic* you are going the distance with LB. Here in Silicon Valley, we’ve been informed that “Old people suck at startups.” Yeah, right.

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Debra Eve

Hi Dave! Great to see you. Yup, I’m going the distance and a long distance it will be :) — but what else is there? The Silicon Valley in no way represents reality, but you know that. Thanks for stopping by!

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iuliana

I recently watched julie and julia movie. It was a great think for me to discover Julia Child and her personality. It could be a big opportunity to follow her life exeperience

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Debra Eve

I just love her, Iuliana. She’s such a wonderful role model for those of us following our passions later in life. Thanks for stopping by!

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Karen

My Life in France is such a wonderful book! Enjoy! I’m presently reading “Aways, Julia”. It’s letters between Julia and Avis Devoto! another wonderful book!

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Debra Eve

I finished it and absolutely loved it, Karen! I’ll look up those letters, because I think she’s a wonderful writer. Thanks for stopping by!

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Anne R. Allen

What a wonderful post! Julia was a spectacular person and a perfect example of a radiant later-bloomer.

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Debra Eve

Thanks, Anne! She make me smile everytime I think of her.

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Madeleine Kolb

I loved this. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I was and still am a big fan of Julia Child. When I lived in Cambridge, MA, I watched her show and used to see her from time to time at a farm stand in Lexington. She really was a natural teacher and performer and had a wicked sense of humor.

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August McLaughlin

Fantastic post, Debra! I’ve loved Julia Child since I saw the film featuring her story. Her tip on trying new recipes and allowing for mistakes is useful for cooking, writing and gosh, life. I may just bake something new in her honor today. ;)

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Debra Eve

Thanks, August. I love that saying of hers, too! Her later cooking books are much more accessible than The Art of French Cooking.

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Debra Eve

Thanks, Madeleine! One of my friends said she plans to edit the movie to just include the “Julia” part, since she was so interested in “Julie.” I have to agree with her there. “My Life in France” would have made a fine biopic on its own. But you’ll still love the movie.

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Cathy | Treatment Talk

I loved the movie as well, Elle and it was fun to be reminded of Julia and all that she contributed. I haven’t read “My Life in France,” but will put that on my list. Thanks for sharing!

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Debra Eve

I absolutely loved “My Life in France,” Cathy! Julia was a phenomenal writer. So much talent discovered later in life!

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David Stevens

Lovely story…made me feel as though I was there. Thankyou
be good to yourself
David

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Debra Eve

Thanks, David!

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florence fois

Debra, this is another all inspiring post. I mean didn’t you love to watch her? Julia was truly a free spirit … they both were … and a cat for a life bonus !! Thanks so much for brining us to her again.

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Debra Eve

Thanks, Florence! Most of Julia’s old PBS shows are still on YouTube and every once in a while I have to watch for nostalgia’s sake. She truly was an original.

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Jennette Marie Powell

I had no idea Julia Child was a “later bloomer.” I guess I just figured she’d always been a chef! Thanks for another fun and interesting installment!

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Debra Eve

Nope, she could barely boil broccoli until age 37 (and never stopped to think that maybe one shouldn’t boil broccoli)! Amazing, isn’t it. Thanks for stopping by, Jennette!

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Karen McFarland

I’m so glad they made that movie. Julia Child deserved the recognition. She was just a lovely woman. I have had the privilege to go to Paris several times and the food is just amazing. Everything tastes fresh and wonderful. I can see why it inspired Julia to cook. But I had no idea that she aspired to be a writer Debra. That was new to me. You do dig up some interesting facts about the most fascinating people. I think I will try to fix something new for the hubby and I. Bon Appetite! :)

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Debra Eve

I agree, Karen, Paris could inspire anyone! I think it’s fabulous that she aspired to be a writer — and a spy. Shows how much imagination and creativity she had. Thank goodness she found such a wonderful outlet for it!

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Chris Edgar

Definitely inspiring stuff — I can relate to what seems like Julia’s experience of not fitting into the more “conventional” career paths people were telling her to pursue, despite her efforts to follow those paths. My sense is that “late blooming” (which I’m in the process of doing myself) occurs in people who have a strong desire to please their parents but an unconventional temperament, and the conflict between those two drives keeps them locked in a second-best situation for many years until finally they have a “breakthrough” like what you’re describing.

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Debra Eve

Chris, that is the most insightful observation I’ve encountered regarding late blooming. Beyond Malcolm Gladwell, there have been no real studies. What you’ve observed definitely holds true for me. I must explore this in depth on the blog sometime soon, and will definitely give you credit!

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Darlene Foster

I love this post as I love Julia Child. My hubby and I also enjoyed Julie & Julia. BTW I featured a Maine Coon cat in my latest book, Amanda in England – The Missing Novel. His name is Rupert and he lives in a bookstore on the Isle of Wight. I consider myself a late bloomer too.

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Debra Eve

Thanks, Darlene. Sorry I missed your comment earlier. I’ll definitely check out Amanda in England. Love those Maine Coons!

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Kourtney Heintz

Thanks for this wonderful look at Julia Child’s journey. :) Made me smile and think I can do this–not with cooking, but with writing.

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Debra Eve

You’re welcome, Kourtney! You’re right — there’s no “use by” date on writing.

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Billy @ Best Knife Sharpener Guide

She was very inspiring, and it is never too late to find out what you are passionate about. It also is a good reminder that just because something doesn’t come easy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue it.

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Amber Jones

love this.

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Debra Eve

Thanks, Amber! I adore Julia, too. She was so unabashedly herself.

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Willie Cuthbert

Hello,
I’m making a video to go on facebook and I want to use the article “Julia Child: Eat Well, Live Big, Bloom Late by Debra Eve. Thank you.

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