Sunday, August 09, 2009

Mastering the Art of Marriage

Nora Ephron's new movie recalls the morning Julia Child burned my breakfast toast.

In the 1970s, her husband Paul and I were in their Cambridge kitchen talking heatedly about politics while Julia sort of tended the broiler but was more interested in leaning over to hear what we were saying. When smoke started pouring from the oven, she pulled out a tray and dumped the charred contents into the sink.

"Ah, well," she said smiling and slicing more bread, just like the French Chef dropping a chicken on TV, brushing it off and telling viewers: "Don't forget, if you're alone in the kitchen, no one will know."

Now, Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci are reenacting their lifelong love story in "Julie and Julia," the kind of marriage new generations know from old black-and-white movies like "The Thin Man" mysteries, with a couple totally devoted to each other in a life of good food, good drink and good times with friends

In a decade as Julia's editor when she wrote for McCalls, I knew the childless Childs, although they didn't look like movie stars (she towered over him), as the real thing. They didn't solve murders as a sideline, like Myrna Loy and Wllliam Powell, but they had had an adventurous life, meeting during World War II while working for the precursor of the CIA, the OSS, he as a cartographer and she helping cook up a shark repellent for underwater explosives to keep them away from bombs meant to blow up German U-boats.

It's part of the Julia Child legend that she learned to cook to please him after they married when Paul was working in Paris for the State Department. She spent the rest of her life cooking and pleasing him.

Even our professional parting was involved with the closeness of their marriage. When Paul suffered the first of a series of strokes that would result in enormous medical bills until his death more than a dozen years later, Julia stopped writing columns for me after nine years to lend her name to a Sunday supplement offering a king's ransom for it.

When we met again in her last years, she was still the tireless, life-affirming Julia Child, but part of her heart was gone.


Anonymous said...

These personal memoirs of yours are priceless. Nobody else could write about Julia Childs this way. Thanks, Mr. Stein.

Dan Leo said...

Very nice. Thanks, Robert.

Melanie said...

What a lovely piece about the Childs. Being a Foodie I recommend Julie and Julia on many levels.