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The name is Child, Julia Child

August 15, 2008 |  4:58 pm

Getprev1Since this week’s release of the list of celebrities who worked for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, the old saw about Julia Child being a spy has been resurrected once again. This has been around forever, but is always greeted as a revelation by newcomers to the world of Child.

There’s not much truth to it, depending on what you mean by the word “spy.” Julia was certainly not involved in any covert acts. In the first place, can you picture a 6-foot-2 woman with Julia’s voice operating undercover (of all places, in China, where she was stationed)? Furthermore, can you imagine an intelligence agency hiring a spy fresh out of college whose only work experience has been writing advertising copy for a department store?

Julia certainly did work for the OSS, but, she was always very quick to point out, in a clerical position. (Of course, the conspiracy-minded reply, isn’t that just what a spy would say?) Seriously, she always credited her time in the OSS with being a life-changing experience, getting her out of the rather cloistered, privileged world of Pasadena and Smith College that she was brought up in and introducing her to the greater world outside. Even more important, it introduced her to a colleague, Paul Child, who became the love of her life and her husband for 48 years.

She did love to tell stories of that period. Sometimes they were about the thrill of exploring a foreign country and cuisine. Sometimes they were funny episodes. I’ll always remember her telling about her office’s frustration with the Navy’s refusal to help develop a shark repellent “because we couldn't get the Navy to admit that sharks ate Navy men. They didn't like to say, 'Dear Mrs. So-and-So, your son was eaten by a shark.' They'd much rather say: 'Your gallant son was lost at sea.' Then one day, a shark was caught and they opened him up and found he had some undigested parts of people in his stomach. One of them still had fingerprints, and it turned out to be a Navy man. There was such glee in our office that they had finally proven a Navy man could be eaten by a shark."

The best thing to come out of all of it is a reminder that today would have been Child’s 96th birthday. What a great lady, and how we miss her.

-- Russ Parsons

(Julia Child photo from the Los Angeles Times files)

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