Posted by: njbrown | January 4, 2010

More about Julia and Paul

January 4, 2010

My Christmas presents were Julia books and videos and the time between Christmas and now has been spent reading about 1,000 pages on Julia and Paul.  Her autobiographical, My Life in France, is my favorite by far.  Her grand-nephew interviewed her and used her papers, and it is a delight.  While the title seems to indicate it focuses on the years covered by Julie and Julia, in fact it spans most of her life, since she had a home on Simca’s property for many years where she spent months each year.  Backstage with Julia by Nancy Verde Barr fills in what it was like to be part of Julia’s TV, book and traveling life from the time Julia was 68 to 84.  Appetite for Life, the biography written by Noel Riley Fitch is a more scholarly work, and has used many of the resources that Julia’s grand-nephew later used.  It covers Julias’ life in great detail.  The bottom line is that what we saw with Julia on TV was essentially the real Julia.  In person, she could be earthier, but little different otherwise.  My suspicions of face-lifts were confirmed – she had two – and she did wear a wig at times.  Her cancer experience was covered in about two sentences, and apparently, she just soldiered on after her surgery.  (She needed no radiation or chemotherapy.)

Julia truly had a privileged background, and seemed absolutely untouched by the Depression.  Paul’s background was New England aristocratic, but his father died when he was very young, and his mother was described as “Bohemian.”  Paul began unskilled jobs in his teens, and eventually without having attended college, taught French and art at Avon Old Farms School.  While Julia had given the impression that he had not married because he was a ladies’ man, in truth, he was in a long-term affair with a woman almost twenty years older who died just before WW II.  I think Julia offered him the warmth, stability and loving extended family that he craved.  His government jobs were not high-level, and it was Julia’s inheritance, family support prior to her father’s death, and then her book sales that enabled them to live very comfortably.  (Today her net worth is given as $38 million.)

In earlier posts, I had committed errors, I found.  Paul did not illustrate Mastering – an illustrator was hired.  He did do the drawings and photographs in From Julia Child’s Kitchen, and apparently photographed for a number of her other books.

As I was reading about the last twenty years of Julia’s life (the first ten of which were marked by Paul’s decline and finally his death) and the second ten years when her career was less successful, I was feeling quite sad.  But then I remembered that Julie and Julia was gaining momentum just before Julia died, and the book and movie have resulted in a wonderful new host of fans for Julia, so even after her death her career goes on.

For those who want to check my facts – and I encourage you to since I was reading quite fast – please don’t hesitate to correct me.




  1. I was reading about Julia Child too and was just shocked to find out she didn’t have cancer at all! That’s why she didn’t need any cancer killing chemo! Can you imagine back then finding a lump in your breasts and then just having ’em whacked off without a confirming diagnosis? Julia must’ve been just besides herself after the mastectomies when the biopsies came back negative! Ouch! I don’t think that type of thing would happen today. Women are more educated on such things and doctors are a more responsive to patients needs. I met Julia at a book signing and asked her about it. She refused to comment.

  2. Julia was gracious to all journalists, but for 30 years said ‘no’ to any officially authorized biography. She and her agent/lawyer finally said ‘yes’ to a literary biography by an established serious and accomplished biographer and nonfiction book author, Noel Riley Fitch Ph.D. And actually, she allowed no one to go through the private papers in her own home, only the papers she had given to the Schlesinger Library!

    Even so, it was the initial work of Biographer Fitch that established the organized and compiled information that makes it so easy for others who came later to access and use! They even used her book “Appetite for Life” in the movie Julie & Julia! -and not “My Life in France” and that speaks volumes in and of itself.

    While Paul’ s nephews son Alex participated in compiling the “autobiography” of Julia Child, his efforts came 5 years or better after Ms. Fitch’s, and therefor, he referenced her source/resources, not the other way around.

    Both books are delightful for bringing to us, in different voices, the woman that we all love and adore. Without her, the 3 second rule would never have been expanded to the 10, maybe 20 second rule, after as sip of wine!

    mangi bene!

  3. Nancy, very interesting, but you have a glaring error in your facts when you write “Appetite for Life, the biography written by Noel Riley Fitch…has used many of the resources Julia’s grand-nephew used.” This statement is factually incorrect.

    The book ‘Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child’ by Noel Riley Fitch is not only the first, but also the only real, authentic, exclusive ‘Julia authorized’ biography written on Julia Child. This work began in the 1990s when Julia Child gave personal and professional permission and exclusive access to world acclaimed author Noel Riley Fitch to embark on the journey of writing her biography.

    Noel Riley Fitch established the original sources and resources on all things Julia, which she set forth in “Appetite for Life.”- She did this by meticulous search, research and fact finding on her subject, including an unprecedented open access to Julia’s home, private writings, personal friends, family and most importantly, a thriving, active, mentally alert, Julia.

    Any other book since then about Julia Child that claims factual biographical status and accuracy uses at its foundation the materials gathered and compiled by Noel Riley Fitch, whether she used in them in ‘Appetite for Life’ or not. This includes “My Life in France”, which was not authored by Julia Child at all, rather compiled by son of a nephew, Alex, with Julia’s late life permission.

    Basically, Noel Riley Fitch established the very foundation upon which every other written work on this subject, or any other forthcoming in the future, relies, references and uses. It is because of Noel’s initial work that we have today such a plethora of intimate and mundane information on Julia Child, which others are using as the :go to: source for their own written works.

    So, I would correct your sentence to more factually read “Appetite for Life, the biography written by Noel Riley Fitch is a more scholarly work, and is one of the resources Julia’s grand-nephew used.”

    It is just not possible for any author today to write a factual book on Julia Child without consulting “Appetite for Life” by Noel Riley Fitch, which came first.

    Merci et bon appetit!

    • We Julia fans have great passion! Page X of the Foreward to My Life in France describes how Julia decided to write the book with Alex’s help, and the process of talking, reading family letters, and listening to her stores. At first Alex taped their conversations, but changed to taking notes instead when she found the taping distracting. On page 7 of the Introduction, Julia says, “In collaborating on this book, Alex Prud’homme and I have been fortunate indeed to have spent hours together telling stories, reminiscing, and thinking out loud. Memory is selective, and we have not attempted to be encyclopedic here, but have focused on some of the large and small moments that stuck with me for over 50 years.” She goes on to talk about all of the letters, datebooks, photographs, sketches, poems, etc. that they used. Prior to this book, I think Julia was very gracious about letting people have access to her documents and materials. Obviously, Ms. Fitch was a meticulous researcher and deserves great credit for portraying Julia’s life so well and in such detail.

      Thank you for writing.


      • I have altered the concerning sentence to be clearer. It is lovely to have such a well-informed reader.


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