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Julia Child, Superspy
August 13, 2008 8:55 PM   Subscribe

Julia Child apparently liked to mix cooking and covert operations. What did the beloved chef have in common with Arthur Schlesinger and baseball's Moe Berg? A career with the OSS, that's what. The CIA precursor's papers have recently been released, revealing Child's involvement in the agency.

Unfortunately, Julia's secret service could not be mentioned in her autobiography, My Life in France, which is currently being adapted into a movie starring Meryl Streep.
posted by mynameisluka (46 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's impressive, I'm not even mad!
posted by sir_rubixalot at 9:01 PM on August 13, 2008


(her Birthday is on Friday. Raise a glass, smother something in butter.)
posted by device55 at 9:15 PM on August 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh So Social
posted by hortense at 9:17 PM on August 13, 2008


Not much of a story here. Wikipedia has known that Mrs. Child was a spy for a while. The AP article says little more than that she did work for the OSS. Hopefully the declassified documents will give the recipe for shark repellent she developed.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:22 PM on August 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


This is wonderful. This makes me want to rewatch her cooking shows all over again to look for covert signals.

"Put it in a 350 degree oven" could well mean "Gerry has our Berlin operative," after all.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:30 PM on August 13, 2008 [6 favorites]


well, let's face it - she had to keep the bugs out of her kitchen somehow
posted by pyramid termite at 9:30 PM on August 13, 2008


smother something in butter

I planted a variety of rose in my front yard last year called "Julia Child".

They're butter-colored.
posted by padraigin at 9:47 PM on August 13, 2008


*coats his entire body in butter*

What? Am I not delicious? I mean, look at me. I'm covered in butter.
posted by loquacious at 9:54 PM on August 13, 2008 [8 favorites]


My Life in France and Julie & Julia (your "a movie" link) are totally different works, actually. Julie/Julia is the one that's being made into a movie with Meryl Streep. No such luck with My Life in France, though it wouldn't really be the same with anyone but Julia herself. And My Life in France did discuss, in no uncertain terms, her work with the OSS, though perhaps these new documents will tell us more about what she did there? She didn't mention that in the book, it's true; I'm definitely curious to know more.

They have a bunch of the old The French Chef shows, from way back, on Netflix. I think they start in Season 2, where she was working in a borrowed kitchen (from the power company? I don't remember) and everything was still black and white. The mister and I watched it a while back, including the omelette episode. She made, I think, a cheese omelette? by putting butter in the pan, and then the eggs, and then the cheese, and folding; then plating, and then she said, now you sprinkle some cheese, as she did so. And the mister and I said, simultaneously and jokingly, "and now you drizzle butter!" and then Julia picked up a PAN OF MELTED BUTTER WITH A SPOON IN IT, and said "and now you drizzle some butter over your cheese omelette" and proceeded to ladle at least two tablespoons of melted butter over this omelette made of like five eggs and stuffed AND topped with cheese.

I miss that lady.
posted by librarina at 9:55 PM on August 13, 2008 [6 favorites]


Crap, librarina, I got mired down in links and forgot to include the Julie and Julia distinction/link! Thanks for pointing that out.
posted by mynameisluka at 10:02 PM on August 13, 2008


She must have been doing something right; she made it to age 91.
posted by Class Goat at 10:04 PM on August 13, 2008


The one thing I know about Julia Child is that she met her husband in Ceylon while working for the OSS in WWII. (I have no idea how I know this, but I heard about it back when she was still on TV.)

So, I think this is more "confirms" rather than "reveals".
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 10:14 PM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


secret ingredient
posted by infini at 10:16 PM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


This claim sounds half-baked to me. The CIA cooks up all sorts of schemes, and this clearly isn't one of them. It's lacking a certain dash of credibility, you know? Spreading rumors like this is a recipe for disaster.
posted by spiderwire at 10:31 PM on August 13, 2008 [4 favorites]


middleclasstool writes "'Gerry has our Berlin operative,'"

Oddly enough, it's spelled "Jerry" if it's Brit slang for "German"
posted by orthogonality at 10:31 PM on August 13, 2008


I mean, I'm not saying that she wouldn't rise to the occasion, but doesn't anyone else think that this story has all the ingredients of a biographer trying to spice up the tale to make it easier for mass consumption?
posted by spiderwire at 10:36 PM on August 13, 2008


spiderwire, I don't know if anyone's going to bite.
posted by scody at 10:58 PM on August 13, 2008


I caught the cooking bug from a guy named Bruce. I rented a room from him for a couple of years when I first set off on my own. A great cook, he told me he started cooking while in grad school living in an apartment 1000 miles away from his family furnished with milk crates, cinderbocks, and 2x4's. One night, while sitting on the floor hungry, Julia Child came on the television. He watched her show and thought, "if this broad can do all that, I bet I manage to cook myself a decent meal for myself." He rolled up his sleeves and gave it a try, and then kept at it.

While it sounds corny, honesty anytime I hold a chef knife or turn on a broiler I'm aware that most of my knowledge and technique came from a couple of PBS shows and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. So here's to Julia Child! Let her name bring happiness and satisfaction to the hungry and those who aspire to feed them.
posted by peeedro at 11:04 PM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Amen
Sorry Alton
posted by device55 at 11:11 PM on August 13, 2008


Yes, it has been common knowledge that Julia and her husband were with the OSS during WWII. Here she is hiding in plain sight, about to attack.
posted by longsleeves at 11:26 PM on August 13, 2008


smother something in butter

Julia Child did just that to an Italian double agent in 1942.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:28 PM on August 13, 2008 [4 favorites]


She was a hell of a chef. I remember seeing a clip of her dropping a whole cooked chicken on the floor during a show. She picked it up, dusted it off, and said "That's what you'd do at home anyway," or words to that effect.

Plus, hey, butter.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:52 PM on August 13, 2008


Julia met Paul in Asia while both were working for the OSS. That's been common knowledge for a long time. She says that she was basically a file clerk. Who knows? After the War, she was in France learning to cook and Paul had some vaguely defined job with the US Embassy there that involved taking a lot of photos. It's not clear to me that Julia kept spying during these years but I bet Paul did.
A little while before she died, I saw Julia Child on Charlie Rose. She tried to express her huge excitement and enthusiasm during the War years and how everything after was just not quite so much fun. She tried to get Charlie Rose to admit some degree of excitement over involvement in great events, too. "Vietnam?" she asked. Charlie sadly shook his head.
posted by CCBC at 11:53 PM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Upon reading the news of Julia's covert past, I got a mish-mashed visual image in my brain of Dan Aykroyd doing his Julia Child skit while wearing his "Spies Like Us" outfit.
posted by amyms at 11:55 PM on August 13, 2008 [2 favorites]


Upon reading the news of Julia's covert past, I got a mish-mashed visual image in my brain of Dan Aykroyd doing his Julia Child skit while wearing his "Spies Like Us" outfit.

"Just a dollop of sherry ... and a little for me ..."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:01 AM on August 14, 2008


Not as badass as Dr Ruth, Israeli Sniper.
posted by PenDevil at 12:26 AM on August 14, 2008


I met her randomly last summer. She's pocket-sized!
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:45 AM on August 14, 2008


"Whole cooked chicken": the secret code for potato pancake.
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:45 AM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I remember seeing a clip of her dropping a whole cooked chicken on the floor during a show. She picked it up, dusted it off, and said "That's what you'd do at home anyway," or words to that effect.

Snopes says that the chicken (or turkey) incident never happened.
posted by iviken at 2:57 AM on August 14, 2008


Unfortunately, Julia's secret service could not be mentioned in her autobiography, My Life in France...

Odd that this article from 2003, a year or so before her autobiography was started, described in some detail Julia Child's OSS career.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:48 AM on August 14, 2008


Not much of a story here. Wikipedia has known that Mrs. Child was a spy for a while.

Yeah, I'm from the DC area. This fact is even mentioned in advertisements I see on the Metro for the International Spy Museum.
posted by jonp72 at 5:15 AM on August 14, 2008


Snopes says that the chicken (or turkey) incident never happened.

I have a memory of her dropping something or other, picking it up, and saying "it's your kitchen, you can do whatever you want."
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:42 AM on August 14, 2008


The 1999 Child biography "Appetite For Life" talks about Julia and Paul's time together in Ceylon in some detail. She called herself a "file clerk", but apparently she was more of a paymaster.

I agree completely with CCBC that Paul Child continued spying when they were in France. He was a "cultural attache" responsible for putting on pro-US cultural programs throughout Europe. If that isn't a cover job for a spy, I don't know what is.
posted by briank at 5:44 AM on August 14, 2008


I wrote about unlikely spies for the Daring Book For Girls, and Julia Child's life as a spy was definitely the biggest surprise for me (other than discovering that Girl Guides were used as spies).
posted by mothershock at 5:46 AM on August 14, 2008


Quantum of Nutmeg
posted by cowbellemoo at 6:27 AM on August 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


Neil Coward was a spy too. I can see them spying together and having a grand old time.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:14 AM on August 14, 2008


A gay old time, surely?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:25 AM on August 14, 2008


My Life in France and Julie & Julia (your "a movie" link) are totally different works, actually. Julie/Julia is the one that's being made into a movie with Meryl Streep. No such luck with My Life in France, though it wouldn't really be the same with anyone but Julia herself.

They are indeed different works, but are being combined into one for the Meryl Streep film, with the action cutting between Amy Adams as Julie the food blogger-cum-author and Streep as Julia in post-war Paris. Seems like they couldn't get a whole movie's worth out of either book, so they just mashed them together.
posted by briank at 7:26 AM on August 14, 2008


I've known Child was associated with the spy game...

Did you know Dr. Ruth was a sharpshooter for proto-Israeli?
posted by edgeways at 7:28 AM on August 14, 2008


Old news. Where have you been.
posted by nax at 8:49 AM on August 14, 2008


This book, apparently originally published in 1988 and reissued in 1998 (maybe Amazon has the dates wrong on one of those?) has at least some stories about Julia in WWII with the O.S.S. Also, lots of interesting stories about other women spies, if you like that kind of thing. Doesn't seem like this is really news in the sense of being, uh, new.
posted by dellsolace at 8:56 AM on August 14, 2008


You never know about people. I just found out that an elderly cousin of mine worked on Enigma for the Navy in WW2.
posted by scalefree at 9:22 AM on August 14, 2008


Old.
posted by Zambrano at 9:30 AM on August 14, 2008


They are indeed different works, but are being combined into one for the Meryl Streep film, with the action cutting between Amy Adams as Julie the food blogger-cum-author and Streep as Julia in post-war Paris. Seems like they couldn't get a whole movie's worth out of either book, so they just mashed them together.

That's actually how the book Julie & Julia was formatted. They may have used "My Life in France" as source material too, but Julie Powell's book intersperses scenes of Julia Child's life, meeting Paul Child, their romance, their days in Paris as she took up cooking, with her own story of taking on the cooking/blogging project.
posted by padraigin at 9:41 AM on August 14, 2008


Snopes says that the chicken (or turkey) incident never happened.

I have a memory of her dropping something or other, picking it up, and saying "it's your kitchen, you can do whatever you want."


No doubt this false memory was implanted by Mrs. Child as part of her work for the OSS, some sort of early form of CIA mind control.

Anyone who remembers this event is obviously a sleeper agent, awaiting the trigger to activate their programming.

Bon app├ętit!
posted by formless at 10:18 AM on August 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


I remember seeing a clip of her dropping a whole cooked chicken on the floor during a show. She picked it up, dusted it off, and said "That's what you'd do at home anyway," or words to that effect.

Snopes says that the chicken (or turkey) incident never happened.


The OSS can make video clips disappear, you know. So, just sayin'...
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:24 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


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