Popular TV chef and author. Julia Child was born Julia McWilliams, on August 15, 1912, in Pasadena, California. The eldest of three children, Julia was educated at San Francisco’s elite Katherine Branson School for Girls, where—at a towering height of 6 feet, 2 inches—she was the tallest student in her class. In 1930, she enrolled at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Upon her graduation, she moved to New York, where she worked in the advertising department of the prestigious home furnishings company W&J Sloane.
In 1941, at the onset of World War II, Julia moved to Washington, D.C., where she volunteered as a research assistant for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a newly formed government intelligence agency. She and her colleagues were sent on assignment to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), an island off the coast of India. In her position, Julia played a key role in the communication of top secret documents between U.S. government officials and their intelligence officers. In 1945, she was sent to China, where she began a relationship with fellow OSS employee Paul Child. Following the end of World War II, the couple returned to America and were married.
In 1948, when Paul was reassigned to the U.S. Information Service at the American Embassy in Paris, the Childs moved to France. While there, Julia developed a penchant for French cuisine and attended the world-famous Cordon Bleu cooking school. Following her six-month training—which included private lessons with master chef Max Bugnard—Julia banded with fellow Cordon Bleu students Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle to form the cooking school L’Ecole de Trois Gourmandes (The School of the Three Gourmands). With a goal of adapting sophisticated French cuisine for mainstream Americans, the trio collaborated on a two-volume cookbook titled Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). Published in the U.S., the 800-page book was considered a groundbreaking work and has since become a standard guide for the culinary community.
Then living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Julia promoted her book on the Boston public broadcasting station. Displaying her trademark forthright manner and hearty humor, she prepared an omelet on air. The public’s response was so enthusiastic that she was invited back to tape her own series on cookery for the network. Premiering on WGBH in 1962, The French Chef TV series, like Mastering the Art of French Cooking, succeeded in changing the way Americans related to food, while also establishing Julia as a local celebrity. Shortly thereafter, The French Chef was syndicated to 96 stations throughout America. For her efforts, Julia received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award in 1964 followed by an Emmy Award in 1966.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Julia made regular appearances on the ABC morning show Good Morning, America. Her other endeavors included the television programs Julia Child and Company (1978), Julia Child and More Company (1980), and Dinner at Julia’s (1983), as well as a slew of bestselling cookbooks that covered every aspect of culinary knowledge.