In Julia Season One Episode Four, directed by Erica Dunton, Julia Child (Sarah Lancashire) struggles to figure out how to deal with fame as a woman in the early 1960s. At the same time, associate producer Alice Naman (Brittany Bradford) attempts to broadcast The French Chef in markets outside of Boston. The Boston Globe publishes a piece praising Julia’s The French Chef but ignoring all the other WGBH public television shows, including I’ve Been Reading. Host P. Albert Duhamel’s (Jefferson Mays) feathers are ruffled because a silly cooking show hosted by a woman receives all the praise. Julia decides to speak as an honored guest at her Smith College reunion to avoid the naysayers.
Julia feels pleasure and discomfort with all the praise she hears at Smith College because of her newfound fame. The chef yearns for a simpler time before all these fans wanted a piece of her. As the now sole producer of I’ve Been Reading, Alice struggles to acquire famous authors for the show. The producer wishes to be back working on The French Chef leading to her cold call public television channels all over the United States. Alice wants them to air The French Chef. She finally convinces San Francisco to pick up the cooking show on their public television channel.
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc book editor Judith Jones (Fiona Glascott) continues to feel split in two. Her boss Blanche Knopf (Judith Light), wants her to drop Julia’s second cooking book. Julia asks Judith to find Alice, a famous author, to interview for I’ve Been Reading to placate Alfred’s ego. Judith impresses John Updike with her notes so much that he agrees to an interview on Alfred’s show. John and Alfred click on I’ve Been Reading while discussing the author’s novel Rabbit, Run.
INNOVATIVE CAMERA TECHINQUES
Daniel Goldfarb and the other writers on Julia Season One effectively reveal the artistic innovation that existed on the sets of early cooking shows like The French Chef. For example, Avis DeVoto (Bebe Neuwirth) stands in for her best friend Julia while director Russ Morash (Fran Kranz) and the camera operators figure out how to film the whisking of eggs. The crewmembers built this special camera rig to capture the whisking, and Avis stands on an apple crate to mimic her best friend’s height. An old television is plugged into the camera to allow Russ to see what is being filmed in real-time. The cameraman operates the custom camera rig as Avis whisks, attempting to film the eggs in the large bowl.
Russ orders Avis around while a fast-moving samba song highlights the fast pace of the television set. The camera operator can’t figure out how to film inside the bowl because Avis’ head is always in the way, no matter how high or low she holds up the bowl. Finally, Avis has enough with cameras in her face and hot stage lights causing her to sweat. She asks for a time-out. The cinematographer explains that they can’t film through somebody’s head. Russ feels discouraged until he sees Avis looking into a pocket mirror as she fixes her makeup. The mirror inspires him to experiment.
The next day, Russ whispers to Avis that he wants to show Julia the “mirror shot.” Avis muses the term sounds “so Hollywood.” After the crew sets up, Russ tells Julia that he has something to show her. He orders Avis to “hit it.”
The three cameras point to the ceiling while Avis whisks the eggs. Julia looks up, spotting a giant mirror reflecting the inside of the bowl where the eggs are being whisked. She grins in awe of the innovation. She jokes that the mirror trick seems like something that Russ came up with based on the honeymoon suite in Niagara Falls. Everybody bursts into laughter. Julia congratulates both Avis and Russ on their invention. These two “Petit Fours” sequences demonstrate how films sets are places of experimentation, especially when figuring out how to shoot something new like a cooking show.
AMBIGUITY AROUND QUEERNESS
“Petit Fours” captures a moment that leaves Julia’s view of queerness ambiguous. Homophobia was quite common in the early 1960s since one could be locked in a mental hospital for being lesbian or gay. As a result, everybody stayed in the closet. This is the historical backdrop for the scene where Julia’s old college basketball friend Iris Wallace (Robin Weigert) comes out to her.
The pair stumble through campus in the dark, totally exhausted by all the hills they walked up. Julia jokes that she could fit the equally tall Iris in her pocket. The two friends share a laugh. Iris talks about how her heart started to palpitate when she saw Julia on The French Chef. The comment makes Julia uncomfortable, perhaps because she remembers a hot summer night that Iris mentions later in the scene. She quickly changes the topic.
Iris tells Julia about her romantic relationship with a woman named Carol, essentially coming out as a lesbian. The camera focuses on Iris walking, so the audience can’t see how the chef feels about her friend’s queerness. She tells Julia that she doesn’t think she would have come to realize her sexuality if not for their friendship. Julia stops walking. She looks genuinely puzzled but not angry or upset. Julia asks Iris about what her comment references. Iris describes their senior year spring break when she and Julia slept under the blankets together naked after skinny dipping. There is some implication that they slept together or at least fooled around.
Julia turns on a poker face, not revealing her feelings at all. The chef says, “Memory can be so fickle,” implying that she doesn’t remember them sleeping together. The two friends stand still for a couple of minutes, not talking to one another. Finally, Iris and Julia continue to walk, wearing confused expressions on their faces.
Julia doesn’t say anything homophobic or dismissive of Iris’ relationship with Carol in the conversation. At the same time, she refuses to recognize that she experimented with Iris. Since Julia only expresses confusion, it’s unclear if she doesn’t remember sleeping with Iris or refuses to admit she may not be entirely heterosexual. When Julia returns to her hotel room, she calls her husband, Paul Cushing Child (David Hyde Pierce), to complain about being famous, implying that she blames her television show for that uncomfortable encounter. The scene makes it unclear if Julia’s viewpoints on queerness align with the times or are at least a little bit progressive. She doesn’t out Iris to anybody else, but that doesn’t clarify her view of lesbians. Either view would be understandable, but the sequence leaves one confused, as Julia seems to be. Though based on the site SFist, the real Julia Child was homophobic. In 1992, she blocked “gay San Franciscan … Daniel Coulter” from the executive director position at an organization she founded called the American Institute of Wine and Food. Throughout Julia’s documented life, she referred to gay men as “fags.” Perhaps the writers made Julia’s thoughts on queerness ambiguous to make her more palatable to modern television viewers without pretending she was an outright ally.
“Petit Fours” is a story about accomplished intelligent women figuring out how to function in inherently sexist workplaces that lead them to appease men who feel threatened by their success. Let us know your thoughts on Julia Season One Episode Four in the comments below.