Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Julia Child's "The French Chef"

The first episode of The French Chef aired on WGBH on February 11, 1963, starring Julia Child. To celebrate the show's 50th anniversary, curator Paula Johnson highlights related objects in the collection. 

In the 1950s, public television programming consisted mainly of lectures, book discussions, science demonstrations, and classical music performances. Julia Child marched into this rarefied atmosphere in 1962 for a book review show on Boston's WGBH-TV with her new book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She also brought her husband Paul and a copper bowl, balloon whisk, apron, and eggs. The enthusiastic response to her demonstration of how to make an omelette launched WGBH's hit series, The French Chef.  

 

Copper bowl. Gift of Julia Child.
Copper bowl. Gift of Julia Child.

Like all good teachers, Julia Child used a variety of methods on her television show to grab and hold her students' attention. High drama and low comedy, sight gags, and the artful use of props—from tickling a live lobster to marking out cuts of meat on her own body—combined to make her cooking lessons memorable as well as fun to watch.

On her first shows, Julia hung these French restaurant signs advertising the plats du jour (daily specials), some of them offering things—like tripe—that she knew her American audience would find funny and strange. 

Julia Child's French restaurant sign. Gift of Julia Child.
Julia Child's French restaurant sign. Gift of Julia Child.

 

Julia Child's French restaurant sign. Gift of Julia Child.
Julia Child's French restaurant sign. Gift of Julia Child.

Paul Child designed the insignia badges for L'École des Trois Gourmandes, the cooking school organized in 1952 by Julia and her French associates, Simone (Simca) Beck and Louisette Bertholle, for Americans in Paris. Julia later wore her badge at cooking demonstrations in the United States and during her first television series, The French Chef. 

 

Badge designed by Paul Child. Gift of Julia Child.
Badge designed by Paul Child. Gift of Julia Child.

Julia Child was nominated for an Emmy Award for "Individual Achievement in Educational Television" as "Hostess" of The French Chef.  She was the first public television personality to win an Emmy when she won this award in 1966.

 

 Emmy Nomination Letter, 1966. Gift of the Cousins and McWilliams families.
Emmy Nomination Letter, 1966. Gift of the Cousins and McWilliams families.

Paula Johnson is Curator in the Division of Work and Industry. She has also blogged about baking Julia Child's French bread.