The Real Reason Paul Child Was Summoned To Meet In DC In 'Julia'

The new HBO Max series "Julia" takes a unique look at Julia Child by focusing on the moments that marked the start of her celebrity: Her first appearances on TV station WBGH in 1962 and the birth of her cooking show, "The French Chef." The series takes liberties with the storytelling and sequence of events in order to explore the obstacles that Child faced. The show also looks at the real and imagined struggles of those closest to Child, most notably her husband Paul. 

When the series begins, the Childs are entertaining at home in Oslo, Norway, one of several cities they lived in while Paul worked abroad as a U.S. diplomat. Julia and her guests are celebrating the news that Knopf Publishing has agreed to publish her cookbook, "Mastering The Art Of French Cooking," when Paul receives a phone call. He's been summoned to Washington D.C. for a mysterious meeting, and the Childs excitedly hope that they'll get to return to Paris. 

Child writes about this summons in her biography, "My Life In Paris," although it happened at an earlier date than implied in the series. It was not, in fact, good news at all, but an ambush: Paul Child ended up being interrogated by U.S. agents, who accused him of being a Communist. 

The incident changed Julia and Paul Child forever

According to Julia Child's biography "My Life In Paris," Paul Child's Washington D.C. meeting actually happened in 1956, several years earlier than it's depicted in the "Julia" series. Child writes that they hoped the meeting would result in a promotion, but instead her husband was interrogated for hours by government officials. They accused him of being a communist sympathizer and grilled him about his friends, sexual orientation, and reading preferences. 

Per Britannica, these incidents were typical of the era and of "McCarthyism," when numerous people and businesses were subjected to baseless government investigations and accusations of communist ties. Child writes that many of their friends had also been investigated and saw their lives nearly ruined as a result. Though Paul was cleared of any wrong-doing, Child writes that "[t]his shameful episode left the taste of ashes in our mouths, and we would never forget it."

This incident doesn't come up again until later in the series, when Paul frustratingly reflects on the humiliating event after an aggravating dinner with his conservative father-in-law. Though this investigation gets only brief references in "Julia," these scenes help to broaden viewers' understanding of Paul Child: A man who was deeply devoted to and supportive of his wife, but who struggled to find purpose for himself after retiring, and outlets for his own passions and talents.