How Julia Child's Business Partner Really Felt About Julia's Success

The new documentary "Julia" shines a light on the life of Julia Child and her closest friends and family throughout the decades. As the film explores Child's journey, one that took her beyond simply appreciating fine French cuisine to actually learning the exacting techniques firsthand, we meet Simone "Simca" Beck. 

Beck was Child's collaborator and business partner for their groundbreaking cookbook "Mastering The Art Of French Cooking." The close friends first taught French cooking together at their own cooking school, then spent 12 years writing and exhaustively testing recipes for their cookbook while they lived in Paris. After Child moved to Marseilles, the duo continued collaborating via mail. When the cookbook was finally published in 1961 it was a huge victory for Child and Beck, but the event also threatened their friendship. 

Child and her husband Paul Child moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts that same year, and Beck briefly visited the U.S. to promote "Mastering" with Child at book signings. Soon after, Child appeared on the television show "I've Been Reading" and made a last-minute decision to demonstrate on-air how to make an omelet. The network was flooded with phone calls from viewers who wanted to see more of Child's cooking lessons, and her landmark cooking show "The French Chef" soon followed. Child's popularity quickly grew and she became a household name in the states. Back in France, however, Beck was not experiencing a similar level of fame.

This moment almost ended their friendship

In the documentary, Simone Beck's nephew Jean-François Thibault says that despite the success of "Mastering The Art Of French Cooking," it was never translated into French, so Beck was not celebrated in France like Julia Child was in America. Thibault remembers asking his aunt if Child's popularity abroad upset her, but Beck dismissed Child's success, saying, "She's a businesswoman now." 

When publishers wanted a second volume of the "Mastering" cookbook, tensions between Beck and Child increased. Child insisted on receiving a larger percentage of royalties since it was her American audience of "The French Chef" driving the demand. Author Anne Willan shares that both Child and Beck had formidable personalities, strong opinions, and could be difficult to get along with. In the end, Beck reluctantly agreed to let Child have a greater share of the profits. Later, relations between the friends all but ended after magazine photo sessions at the homestead they shared in Provence, France known as La Pitchoune, according to The Julia Child Foundation. Thibault says that Beck felt overlooked by photographers. In an excerpt from one of her letters Child wrote that at the session, "Simca burst into tears and sobs."

Somehow, Child and Beck's friendship survived all this turmoil. Though they didn't collaborate on future books, Beck published a few of her own, according to Penguin Random House, and the friends continued to spend time together each year at La Pitchoune in Provence.