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Julia Child’s Spouse of 50 Years Was a ‘Feminist Husband’ Who Crawled at Her Feet When She Was a Star

Gaone Pule
Feb 14, 2022
12:20 A.M.
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Julia Child, a famous TV chef known for “The French Chef,” had many passions in her life: writing, her relationship with her husband, Paul Child, and serving her country. Julia lived a long life and died at age 91. She seemed to love every minute of it. 

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Julia Child was a cooking teacher who brought French cuisine to the American public. She was always careful to use “we” rather than “I” in talking about her career.  

Her spouse, Paul Child, was her original inspiration and mentor, contributing to her success. The author later said she and Paul were a team. Here are the details about her fascinating love story with her husband.  

(L) American chef Julia Child standing with a cut of meat in her kitchen, late 20th century. (R) Julia Child and her husband Paul Child at their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Photo: Getty Images

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Julia once said, “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” In her cookbook “The French Chef Cookbook,” she thanked her beloved spouse, Paul:

“Paul Child, the man who is always there: porter, dishwasher, official photographer, mushroom dicer, onion chopper, editor, fish illustrator, manager, taster, idea man, resident poet, and husband." 

The TV personality later added, “Not everybody realizes that Paul and I are a team and that we work together on developing menus and dishes.” 

Julia Child and husband, Paul Child, enjoying a convivial glass of wine in outdoor setting. Photo: Getty Images

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HOW JULIA MET HER HUSBAND OF 50 YEARS 

The couple met in 1944, and Paul had already lived in France and Italy, was a black belt in judo, and relished in fine cuisine. As for his future wife, Julia had never lived abroad, though she worked as a copywriter in New York after graduating from Smith College.  

Julia joined the Office of Strategic Services, the United States’ intelligence agency, during World War II against her wealthy family’s wishes. After a period in Washington D.C., Julia got sent to Sri Lanka, where she met Paul. 

Julia Child slices a leg of lamb as her husband, Paul Child, photographs for a book illustration over her shoulder. Photo: Getty Images

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The civil servant was not impressed by the “Baking with Julia” star from the beginning. In letters he wrote to his brother, Paul described Julia as an “extremely sloppy thinker” with “an unbecoming blond mustache” who was “unable to sustain ideas for long.” 

Yet when they eventually fell in love, he took it upon himself to explore the world with her. They first jetted to China when they were stationed in Kunming. Then after the war in France, they moved in 1948.  

Chef Julia Child and her husband, Paul giving informal recital in their home, circa 1975 in Massachusetts. Photo: Getty Images

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The first day the pair stepped off the boat in France, Paul brought Julia to La Couronne, the country’s oldest restaurant, and ordered what she once called “the most important meal” of her life.  

Her grand-nephew, Alex Prud’homme, who has written three books about her, once shared that he compared the duo’s relationship with that of “My Fair Lady.” 

American author, and television personality Julia Child (center) and her husband, Paul Cushing Child look at a small sculpture held by an unidentified woman in a kitchen, May 1978. Photo: Getty Images

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He stated Julia, in this case, was the willing student like Eliza Doolittle, and Paul was the sophisticated older man who taught her in culture and art politics: 

“Paul was the leader of their relationship during the first half, and when he retired, everything flipped. It was intentional.” 

An undated picture of cooking teacher Julia Child posing with assorted rolling pins while smiling. Photo: Getty Images

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JULIA HAD A ‘FEMINIST HUSBAND’ 

Until Julia met her spouse, she had never given much thought to food. The California native learned to cook only to please Paul. The TV star wished she had started cooking at age fourteen, but that never came to be.  

Later in life, she enrolled in a professional cooking school called the Corden Bleu and then started her school. When Julia finally realized that the path made her happy, she set out to write a book that would “make cooking make sense.” 

Television personality and the "Mastering of Art of French Cooking," Julia Child cooking. Photo: Getty Images

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That idea was soon crushed when Houghton Mifflin rejected the book categorizing it as “too formidable.” It was an enormous blow. By the time Paul left the diplomatic corps in 1961, Julia had been working on “Mastering the Art of French Cooking for nine years.  

Later, the twosome relocated to their new home in Cambridge with little money, but Julia was optimistic about their circumstances, telling a friend they would live modestly.  

That was because she had a bright idea of giving two cooking lessons a week at the cost of about $40 a throw, which was how they would make money.  

Julia Child prepares scallops in her kitchen in Cambridge on October 16, 1975. Photo: Getty Images

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Her darling husband designed the kitchen himself and strategically raised the counters to save money. Aware of Julia’s passion for order, Paul managed to figure out a perfect place for every pot and pan and drew its outline on the pegboard. 

Julia revealed that she liked to hang things up, so he made a diagram of where everything else went. Paul moved a used Garland stove into the kitchen and arranged for her knives on magnetic strips.  

The New Jersey diplomat had always helped out his wife in the kitchen as they would plan a menu and shop together when they hosted dinner parties.  

Paul and Julia Child set up for a cooking demonstration at the Shoreham Hotel on April 28, 1976. Photo: Getty Images

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Julia would cook while he chopped vegetables, set the table, made cocktails, poured wine, and helped with serving; at the end of an evening, they would share pot scrubbing, trash removal, and mop the floor. She once revealed

“We always finished our tasks at the same time because, I suppose, we did everything that was to be done together. Two are so much faster than one.” 

While the pair were always there for each other, they also knew when to give one another space which worked out well for them. Julia once shared she and Paul agreed just about anything.  

Alice Waters of Chez Panisse gives chef Julia Child a bouquet of roses from her garden during a charity pre-birthday dinner at the Fifth Floor restaurant on August 1, 2002 in San Francisco, California. Photo: Getty Images

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Moreover, she was more social than her spouse and enjoyed big parties when he did not. However, that did not make them but heads, and notably, they liked the same friends.  

Speaking of her union with Paul, Julia said, “We had a happy marriage because we were together all the time.” In their years of living abroad, they were rarely apart.  

When she reached success in her career, Julia took the leading role in their marriage, and Paul was content with the arrangement and took care of the less glamorous side of things. 

American former diplomat Paul Child and TV host Julia Child at the Kabuki Theatre on March 1974 in San Francisco, California. Photo: Getty Images

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He was a dedicated gardener and was handy with broken lamps, leaky toilets, and caulking around the furnace. As a quiet observer, he trained himself to be an effective public speaker, writer, and editor.  

Paul was ten years older than Julia. He was exceptionally proud of his wife’s success and glad that she was the team's public face while he remained in the background.  

One time, he even crawled at her feet while she was busy teaching her loyal public television viewers to make beouf bourguignon because he held up signs to help his spouse during filming.  

Julia Child dries lettuce at her home in Cambridge Massachusetts on October 19, 1972. Photo: Getty Images

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Julia was 51 when she began filming her cooking show at WGBH in Boston, and Paul continued assisting her from the onset well into his late 60s. 

Filmmaker Julie Cohen, who co-directed a documentary centered around the couple’s marriage, once commented on the couple’s dynamic in their relationship: 

“I think the existence of the supportive, loving, feminist husband playing a role in the success of these two women is not a coincidence.” 

“And it’s not just that Paul helped out and was on set. It’s that he was willing to support and cheer Julia on in decisions that might sometimes make his career take a back seat to hers,” Cohen continued to explain.  

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Paul Child with his wife Julia Child at the Kabuki Theatre on March 1974, in San Francisco, California. Photo: Getty Images

WHY THE COUPLE DID NOT HAVE KIDS 

Though they were the ultimate power couple, the pair did not have any children. There were times when Julia longed to have kids and grandkids, as her siblings did. 

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Yet the TV legend acknowledged that had she conceived, she would have devoted her time and energy to raising her brood and not had the career she did.  

Julia Child chopping squash as her husband, Paul photographs her for an upcoming cookbook. Photo: Getty Images

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Her professional obligations dictated how and where she and Paul spent their time. She worked twelve to sixteen hours at home or in the TV studio.  

Julia rose before dawn to perform live cooking demonstrations, undertook book tours, went on transatlantic cruises on the Queen Elizabeth, and made visits to the White House.  

Julia Child accompanied by Paul Child, mingles at a Santa Barbara food festival in Santa Barbara, California.

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She once denied being goal-oriented, stating that she was not ambitious. “I’m not driven. I’m enjoying what I do, and I don’t have any great ambitions,” said Julia. 

“The Way to Cook” author further noted that she was fortunate to have a profession that she dearly loved: “I’m lucky to be in this profession that I just adore.” 

Julia Child and her husband, Paul picking out lobsters in Massachusetts, circa 1975. Photo: Getty Images

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ROMANCE WAS ALWAYS THERE   

Furthermore, she and Paul were romantics at heart as they sent loving letters to one another. But in public, they rarely showed affection.  

Julia’s niece, Phila Cousins, first got to know her and Paul while still a student at Radcliffe. Cousins revealed her relatives were not known for being “lovey-dovey,” while explaining

“But they had a strong bond together. She would pat his hand. Their relationship was sexual; there was no question about that, but they weren’t huggy and kissy.” 

Pictured: Julia Child at the Jane's Bar And Grill in New York City, New York. Photo: Getty Images

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In the final year of her life, Julia read aloud from those letters while working on her memoir, “My Life in France,” with the aid of Prud’homme. According to Prud’homme, her letters were short, consisting of a page or two – typewritten with lots of capital letters, exclamation points, and a big heart at the end.   

He explained that she liked Paul’s letters best because his letters were beautiful with five, six, or seven pages with calligraphy and some journalistic details. His messages were similarly romantic as he once sent her a sonnet for her 33rd birthday.  

 

Julia Child during City Meals on Wheels Hosts Its 4th Annual Women's Power Lunch at The Rainbow Room in New York City, New York. Photo: Getty Images

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Julia remained loyal to her husband until his death in May 1994, following years of health struggles. Naturally, she cared for him before he passed, nursing him as she wrote cookbooks and hosted television programs.  

Julia had always felt a strong obligation to be a wife, and once Paul died, she never talked about negative feelings and chose to move forward.  

“But she was sad without Paul. I think she felt, in some ways, like half of her was missing. He was the love of her life,” Cousins added. Julia later passed away in August 2004.  

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