We saw “Julie & Julia” this past weekend, and it is a wonderful movie, well-acted, funny, transporting.
(This being film-crazy Portland, people applauded at the end and waited politely until the credits finished rolling before leaving.)
Along with the rave reviews, the movie has spawned some good features on Child, including this one in Vanity Fair.)
The movie and articles explain the culinary revolution Child fomented, but what interests me more (and what came across beautifully in the film) is the nature of the marriage of Julia McWilliams and Paul Child. It was, by all accounts, a very close partnership in all senses of that word.
They married when Julia was 32, an old maid by the standards of the day, and Paul a decade older, a dashing bachelor by standards of the day. They’d met while serving in the Office of Strategic Services.
Laura Shapiro’s book, “Julia Child,” published two years ago (and excerpted in Boston Magazine) characterized the later years of the Child marriage this way:
“Whenever she talked about her career, she said ‘we,’ not ‘I,’ and she meant it literally. Paul attended all business meetings and participated in all decisions… In the firmament of useful, devoted spouses who serve celebrity without a trace of malevolence, he was one of the few husbands. Every morning they liked to snuggle in bed together for a half hour after the alarm went off, and at the end of the day, Paul would read aloud from the New Yorker while Julia made dinner. ‘We are never not together,’ Paul said once, contentedly.”
Despite this feminism-infused marriage, like many women of her era who broke through gender fences, Julia Child did not like being associated with the “women’s lib” of her heyday. Also, as Shapiro reports, Child was more than a little homophobic, voicing particular disdain for effeminate men and bafflement about lesbian couples.
She was, however, also someone who never stopped learning and growing. When friends began dying of AIDS, she was shocked out of her old prejudices, and said so. She gave the $2.3 million proceeds from sale of her Cambridge, Mass., house to her alma mater, Smith College, by then a very militant Grrrl hothouse. She funded scholarships and plugged cookbooks for both women and men, putting her formidable influence where it counted.
She proved that cooking, and marriage, at their best, are joy-filled things.