April 5, 2011

Julia Child and her husband revealed, once and for all


Julia Child and her husband, Paul, in a Valentine's Day card they sent to friends in 1956 in response to FBI questioning of Paul's sexuality

A new book may answer, once and for all, the question raised by several other books and, of course, that movie that was half great, half awful: Was Julia Child a spy?

In an interview with USA Today, Jennet Conant, author of A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS, says “No.”

She says that, while Child and her artist husband Paul were indeed in the OSS,

They weren’t spies in the operational sense. Julia filed cables and other documents. Paul designed and built war rooms. But they were entrusted with secrets, worked with spies and were friends with spies.

Jane Foster, one of their best friends during the war (Paul was infatuated with Jane before falling for Julia), would later be charged with spying for the Soviet Union.

And Paul would be swept up in what Conant calls “the witch hunt” led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. The FBI would question Paul’s loyalty to the United States, and his sexuality, as a kind of smear.

Paul had nothing to hide, Conant says.

Which explains the photo.

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.