Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Jules and Julia

A new memoir by an old friend, Jules Feiffer, and a belated look at a movie about another, Julia Child, recall a time when we were all young and the world was opening up for us like a Cinemascope screen.

Julia and Jules grew up on separate planets before ascending into the celebrity firmament.

A sunny ultra-WASP California childhood led her to volunteer for service in World War II and, after rejection for being too tall, to join the OSS to work at spying in Asia, where she was cited for her "drive and inherent cheerfulness."

His darkly unhappy New York Jewish upbringing, in which his mother gave away the only puppy he ever had while he was at school one day, preceded a bizarre Catch-22 stint as a Korean War draftee ("I was insane for two years, during which I faked a breakdown").

He dreamed of fame to escape that miserable childhood; she never thought of celebrity, marrying a man she would love for the rest of her life and learning to cook when they lived in Paris to please him and fill her spare time.

As polar opposites, they both became American icons, united by one quality--passion. In those days, before shamelessness was a qualification for media attention, Americans responded to authentic feeling--Julia's love of French food, Jules' satirical honesty about personal neurosis and political duplicity in cartoons, plays and movies.

At the 1968 Democratic Convention, he and I as delegates had fought in vain for an anti-Vietnam war plank. To console me, he suggested we retreat to Hugh Hefner's for drinks and steak but, as young protesters were being clubbed, we got off the delegate bus to join them in Grant Park, where we were separated by a cloud of tear gas. I ended up alone with a room-service sandwich and burning eyes.

In Julia's Cambridge kitchen, now in the Smithsonian, she made a never-to-be-forgotten asparagus quiche for our first meal together and once burned the breakfast toast while leaning in to join an animated political discussion I was having with her husband Paul, who was hounded by McCarthy era suspicions during his last years in the diplomatic service.

In Nora Ephron's movie, there is a touching scene in which Paul consoles Julia for their childlessness. In midlife, Jules wrote the misogyny classic, "Carnal Knowledge," which led to the breakup of his first marriage, a bitter novel by his former wife and a lunch during which she railed about Jack Nicholson's influence on him.

Now 81, Jules is in a long, happy marriage to the granddaughter of the minister who wrote "The Power of Positive Thinking," composing charming children's books for his adored children and their children.

At an age when I indulge myself by watching happy endings of old movies over and over again, I can picture Julia (born almost two decades earlier) as Jules' mother, preparing holiday feasts in scenes that he would later draw with Norman Rockwell joy.

Bon app├ętit!

1 comment:

Fuzzy Slippers said...

This post is a thing of literary elegance and beauty. *sigh*