It’s rare for someone to emerge in America who can change our attitudes, our beliefs, and our very culture. It’s even rarer when that someone is a middle-aged, six-foot three-inch woman whose first exposure to an unsuspecting public is cooking an omelet on a hot plate on a local TV station. And yet, that’s exactly what Julia Child did. The warble-voiced doyenne of television cookery became an iconic cult figure and joyous rule-breaker as she touched off the food revolution that has gripped America for more than fifty years.
Now, in Bob Spitz’s definitive, wonderfully affectionate biography, the Julia we know and love comes vividly — and surprisingly — to life. In Dearie, Spitz employs the same skill he brought to his best-selling, critically acclaimed book The Beatles, providing a clear-eyed portrait of one of the most fascinating and influential Americans of our time — a woman known to all, yet known by only a few.
At its heart, Dearie is a story about a woman’s search for her own unique expression. Julia Child was a directionless, gawky young woman who ran off halfway around the world to join a spy agency during World War II. She eventually settled in Paris, where she learned to cook and collaborated on the writing of what would become Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a book that changed the food culture of America. She was already fifty when The French Chef went on the air — at a time in our history when women weren’t making those leaps. Julia became the first educational TV star, virtually launching PBS as we know it today; her marriage to Paul Child formed a decades-long love story that was romantic, touching, and quite extraordinary.
A fearless, ambitious, supremely confident woman, Julia took on all the pretensions that embellished tony French cuisine and fricasseed them to a fare-thee-well, paving the way for everything that has happened since in American cooking, from TV dinners and Big Macs to sea urchin foam and the Food Channel. Julia Child’s story, however, is more than the tale of a talented woman and her sumptuous craft. It is also a saga of America’s coming of age and growing sophistication, from the Depression Era to the turbulent sixties and the excesses of the eighties to the greening of the American kitchen. Julia had an effect on and was equally affected by the baby boom, the sexual revolution, and the start of the women’s liberation movement.
On the centenary of her birth, Julia finally gets the biography she richly deserves. An in-depth, intimate narrative, full of fresh information and insights, Dearie is an entertaining, all-out adventure story of one of our most fascinating and beloved figures.
Bob Spitz is the award-winning author of The Beatles, a New York Times best seller, as well as seven other nonfiction books and a screenplay. He has represented Bruce Springsteen and Elton John in several capacities. His articles appear regularly in magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times Magazine; The Washington Post; Rolling Stone; and O, The Oprah Magazine, among others. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From our Q&A with the author
Q: What drew you to Julia as a subject?
A: As an avid cook, I always suspected that Julia was somehow responsible for my stovetop enthusiasms. I watched her TV show at my mother’s elbow when I was a teenager, and always consulted Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and especially The Way to Cook, while preparing family dinners. But in 1992, while I was on assignment for various magazines in Italy, I got the chance to meet and travel through Sicily with Julia, which is when I developed a huge crush. She was, well, Julia Child!—larger than life and full of all the personal traits one associates with her: straight talk, passion, encouragement, wit, and insight. I knew immediately that I would write a biography of her and received her blessing. And after her lovely memoir, My Life in France, I recognized that the rest of her life needed to be fully captured. Once I was finished with The Beatles, I was able to achieve that goal.
Q: Is there anything you discovered about Julia that you think we will be surprised to learn?
A: Everything about Julia was a revelation. I never realized that she felt so lost in her early life—that she considered herself nothing more than a dilettante or “social butterfly” and was headed for nothing more remarkable than a secretary of, if possible, a housewife. In college, she was a rebel and cared more about finding a speakeasy during Prohibition than her classes at Smith College. I also never understood exactly how involved she was in the spy business. She wasn’t an actual spy, but she knew the placement and classified movements of every US spy in Southeast Asia during World War II and had given each their code names. It floored me that, at the age of 40, she finally found her calling, at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and muscled her way through the school to become the authority on French cooking in America. But most of all, I was surprised to learn that Julia was not only the first educational TV star, but that the entire network of what we now know as PBS was built from The French Chef.
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