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Got a call from an old college buddy of mine who now lives in Hawaii. He apparently turned on CNN’s new Julia Child documentary (it premiered May 30) and got a surprise. It seems there is a scene — which now has more than 1.1 million views on YouTube — in which Ms. Child talks about her love of Mcdonald’s french fries . . . and how disappointed she was when Mickey D’s stopped using lard to cook them.
I know that clip well, because I was Julia’s interviewer. It was 1995 and the clip was from my self-named PBS series Malone. We filmed it in the empty nightclub upstairs in SF’s Fairmont Hotel. We sat at a tiny round table — and Julia was so tall (and I’m 6’1″) that we basically interleaved our knees.
Before the shoot, when we were asked if we wanted something to drink, Julia immediately asked for a martini. After seeing her handler make a cut-throat motion to me over her shoulder I quickly diverted her to water with the promise of a drink later (It seems that at her age, Ms. Child tended to fall asleep after a cocktail).
The interview went well, not least because I asked her about Wild Bill Donovan and the OSS (she was his secretary). That, and my father’s career in the CIC, then the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, gave us a common “Spook” lineage.
It was about halfway through the interview when I asked Julia about Mcdonald’s. Here’s the video:
Try not to laugh at my 35 years younger self, complete with a ‘fro and a three-piece suit.
After the interview, as we were still sitting at the table, the chef came out and announced that it would be an honor to serve a fine wine to “the great Ms. Julia Child”. This time we both accepted. After the chef poured our cabernet, I grabbed my glass by the bowl and took a sip. “Oh no, no, no, Michael” Julia said in her inimitable voice, “Never like that. Hold it by the stem, by the stem.”
I felt like a hillbilly at that moment. In the years since, the french fry clip has taken on a life of its own. After forty years in the media, at least in total impact, it appears to be the most consequential thing I’ve ever done.
But, at least I can say that my drinking habits were corrected by Julia Child herself . . .Published in