Featured Essay: Author Bob Spitz on Dearie
Because Julia Child is such a familiar and beloved presence in our culture, it is amazing how much there was left to learn about her. Julie and Julia, along with Julia's lovely memoir My Life in France only scratched the surface of this remarkable and fascinating woman who actually launched PBS (really!) and defined the American palate. For much of her adolescence and throughout her twenties, Julia was something of a lost soul. She burned with a desire to have an impact on the world but had no idea how to make that happen or what field she might excel in. It disappointed her that she was nothing more than what she called "a social butterfly," without a goal. "I felt I had particular and unique gifts," she wrote in her diary, "that I was meant for something, and was like no one else." How right she was! But she weathered many misadventures before those gifts began to materialize.
Oddly, everything began to coalesce for Julia in Ceylon, of all places. At the outbreak of World War II, still without a sense of purpose, she volunteered for government service and was shipped overseas as a member of the OSS, America's burgeoning spy agency that later became the CIA. She worked in its Registry, under "Wild Bill" Donovan, and was responsible for the location and movements of every U.S. spy operating in the Southeast Asia theater.
In Ceylon, Julia also met her future husband, Paul Child, who worked in a capacity similar to hers. Initially, Julia had had a hard time finding true love--it took her awhile. Back home, the heir to the Los Angeles Times had proposed to her on several occasions, but he struck Julia as too bland for her outsized spirit. She was a big person (over 6'3") with a big personality and couldn't be contained in the expected role of "the little woman." I found it very moving when she finally found true love, although she was still adrift about what her life purpose would be.
A lunch in France changed everything. It was a powerful moment when she hit on her true calling at the age of forty. In the book, I delve into the extraordinary path Julia followed to create eye-poppingly delicious food and introduce it to an American public that was starving for a new, imaginative and creative way to cook. From there, it was through engaging force of her once-troublesome outsized personality that she went on to have a profound impact on the way people eat--and live.
"A biography perfectly suited to its subject -- as lively, fascinating, and singular as Julia Child herself."
–Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
“It’s a revelation.”
– Lev Grossman, Time Magazine
“Spitz captures another side of [Julia’s] complex personality: her fierce diligence in mastering the science as well as the art of cooking through detailed experimentation and her concern to translate the preparation of complex French recipes for readers in America . . . An engrossing biography of a woman worthy of iconic status.”
– Kirkus Review (starred)
“A rollicking biography that captures the vision, pluck and contagious exuberance that were the essence of Julia Child”
– People Magazine
“In this affectionate and entertaining tribute to the witty, down-to-earth, bumptious, and passionate host of The French Chef, Spitz (The Beatles) exhaustively chronicles Child’s life and career from her childhood in California through her social butterfly flitting at Smith and her work for a Pasadena department store to her stint in government service, her marriage to Paul Child, and her rise to become America’s food darling with the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her many television shows. . . Released to coincide with Child’s centenary, Spitz’s delightful biography succeeds in being as big as its subject.”
– Publishers Weekly (starred)
“The most engaging celebrity biography we’ve read in years . . . Spitz manages to convey the vigor, curiosity, confidence and booming voice of a truly remarkable woman as if she is sitting at the kitchen table with you. . . Spitz is a fantastic writer.” – LA Weekly
“A much-appreciated, well timed gift to us all . . . Julia has never been more alive in the hearts and minds of those who grew up with her and drank her dreams.” – The Huffington Post
“In what is by far the most substantial new book on Child, Bob Spitz draws a lively, affectionately detailed portrait . . . [with] the kind of language, slangy and salty, that Child would have enjoyed and might have used herself.” – Wall Street Journal
"Spitz gives us plenty of the wacky one-liners that endeared Child to her television audience, and a warm, nuanced portrait. But his bigger achievement is in setting her career against the most significant movements of the 20th century, from McCarthyism to the sexual revolution to the greening of America. He reveals how she helped redefine domesticity in the media age, transforming the way we cook, eat and think about food. . . A consideration not only of her life but of her place in 20th century American history, the book makes a strong case for Child as a 'cultural guerrilla' on par with Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan and Helen Gurley Brown." – Newsday
“After wiping your drool off the page, you might wonder where Spitz uncovered such narrative gold . . . Author and subject almost become one, as Spitz channels the spirit of Child in his own words. . . His detailed research into mid-century American cooking helps us understand why exactly Child was such a big deal” – Becky Krystal, Washington Post