Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University
In the culinary world, few figures loom larger than Julia Child. Even though she never cooked in a professional kitchen, Child changed the way that Americans look at food forever and left an indelible mark on television, cookbooks, and gastronomy at large. But even if you’ve seen every single episode of The French Chef, we bet that there are some things you didn’t know about Julia Child.
Wikimedia Commons/ US Army
At six feet, two inches, Child was too tall for the Women’s Army Corps, so she instead joined the Office of Strategic Services as a typist. She was quickly promoted to the role of top-secret researcher for the head of the OSS, and then assisted developers of a shark repellent that kept sharks away from underwater mines. She was later transferred to Asia, where she managed communications for the OSS’s secret stations there.
Believe it or not, the publisher passed on the manuscript because they thought it read too much like an encyclopedia. When the 726-page book was finally published by Alfred A. Knopf, it was nearly immediately regarded as a seminal work.
Wikimedia Commons/ Cyclone Bill
In 1972, her show became the first in the history of television to include captioning for the hearing impaired. As opposed to “closed captioning,” which needs to be activated by the viewer, her show was “open captioned,” meaning that all viewers could see the subtitles.
Wikimedia Commons/ John Sullivan
Child was criticized for her use of butter and cream in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it was believed that margarine was healthier than butter, and she hated this criticism. Child was convinced that this “fanatical fear of food” would destroy the country’s dining habits, and that paying too much attention to nutrition ruins the experience of eating good food. “We should enjoy food and have fun,” she told The New York Times in 1990. “It is one of the simplest and nicest pleasures in life.”
Dan Aykroyd parodied Child in a 1978 sketch, portraying her as a bumbling chef who profusely bleeds after cutting her thumb, eventually dying from her wound while muttering “Save the liver.” Child loved the sketch, and even saved a copy of it to show to friends at parties.
Wikimedia Commons/ Kevin Burkett
After moving to a retirement community in 2001, Child donated her house and office to Smith College and her kitchen — which served as a set for several of her television series — to the Smithsonian Museum’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
Wikimedia Commons/ Jeffrey W
Child passed away from kidney failure at her retirement home, Casa Dorinda in Montecito, California, on August 13, 2004, shortly after eating French onion soup, made from one of her own recipes by her longtime assistant.