A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS
Among the bright young Americans who served their country in the Office of Special Services were Julia Child and her husband, Paul.
The “immensely tall, exceptionally lively” Julie McWilliams – daughter of a wealthy Californian land manager – was in her early 30s before she finally found a place on this planet where she seemed to fit. And although the slightly awkward yet very engaging young woman would go on to become Julia Child, one of the world’s most beloved celebrity chefs, the first cozy life nook she found was not in the kitchen. On the contrary, the life experience that first helped Julie McWilliams to find herself was espionage.Skip to next paragraph
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In A Covert Affair, journalist Jennet Conant (author of “The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington”) takes another deep dive back into English-language spy circles of the mid-20th century. This time she examines the experiences of Julia and Paul Child – the man who would become Julia’s husband – and several of their American colleagues, all employed by the US Office of Special Services (a precursor to the CIA) during and after World War II.
“The war made me,” Julia Child would remember later in life. Although she was employed by the OSS in Washington, India, Ceylon (where she met her husband), and China, the woman who would become the French Chef was never really much of a spy. A skilled organizer with a tidy mind, she kept files and handled personnel and logistics matters in sometimes rugged conditions, serving as a discrete and able administrator.
She fitted in because her privileged background made her much like the others employed by the US’s fledging surveillance group, a cluster of youngish Americans drawn largely from “the Ivy League and the Junior League” – “Smith girls with gumption who could also type,” “a wide variety of PhDs,” and “an assortment of creative types.”
Among the many bright young Americans with whom Paul and Julia Child shared dodgy accommodations, late-night drinks, and tight collegial ties was Jane Foster, a Californian society girl on the run – not unlike Julia – from a stifling life with her wealthy family.