11 Director's Cuts That Changed a Movie's Plot

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Whether because of a dispute with the studio or just a plethora of unused material, a director often feels the need to re-release a classic (or not-so-classic) film. Often these directors’ cuts or extended editions are just more bloated versions of the original, but on occasion they represent a departure from the entire original. Here are 11 movies that look a lot different when you watch the version the director intended.

1. BLADE RUNNER (1982)

Blade Runner has actually gone through many iterations. There was the theatrical cut released in 1982 with a “happy ending” shoehorned in by the studio. Both director Ridley Scott and star Harrison Ford hated it, and Ford has even confessed that he wasn’t giving it his all when recording a voiceover that he called “not an organic part of the film.” Then came the “directors cut” in 1992 that Scott also disowned.

Finally, Warner Bros. worked with Scott in 2007 to release the Final Cut of Blade Runner, the only version over which Scott had complete control. It contained several changes (particularly to the score) and new scenes, but perhaps the most significant was the confirmation—or close to it—that Ford’s character Deckard actually was a replicant. Instead of the “happy ending” that shows Deckard and Rachel driving through a beautiful landscape, Scott’s ending is more ambiguous and simply shows them leaving Deckard's apartment. Plus the appearance of an origami unicorn in front of Deckard’s door hints that he is, in fact, a replicant (a similar calling card had been used earlier in the film to denote replicants). In interviews about the new release, Scott confirmed that Deckard was a replicant in his version, although Ford said he believed the character was human.

2. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

Despite the cult success of the mind-bending film, Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly repeatedly apologized for the theatrical release of the movie, stating it was not his original film. To make up for it, he convinced 20th Century Fox to release a directors cut in 2004 that he felt would be more cohesive and easier for viewers to understand. The most notable change he made was literally adding in text from the fictional The Philosophy of Time Travel, which had previously been a DVD extra. Fans were split: some loved the explanations that filled in previous plot holes, others hated the notion that they needed to be spoon-fed the story.

3. METROPOLIS (1927)

Although it’s considered a masterpiece of cinema, the plot of Metropolis can still be a bit difficult for some viewers to understand. But a recent extended version that uses footage from prints discovered after some 80 years in Argentina and New Zealand helps remedy that—by filling in plot details as director Fritz Lang had intended. Film historians had long been looking for the extended footage from Metropolis, which was cut before its original release to ensure a 90-minute running time.

Mostly, the new footage (which is intercut with title cards and still images to fill in for damaged or missing frames) serves to smooth out plot details, including a crucial scene in which the sorcerer Rotwang explains his plan to use robots to stir a labor revolt. But historians said it also helped them learn about how the legendary film was made, including the fact that it had been tinted by hand.

4. SALT (2010)

There sure are a lot of different versions of this film floating around. On the DVD release, director Phillip Noyce included an extended version and a director's cut that adds more intrigue to the film. In the original, a Russian sleeper agent played by Liev Schreiber follows the U.S. President to his secure bunker, then knocks him unconscious. But in the director’s cut, Schreiber’s character goes even farther and assassinates the president. In a voiceover on the director's cut, it is revealed that the new president is also a Russian agent waiting to be activated, which would make a sequel a serious bummer.

5. PAYBACK (1999)

In the theatrical release of this Mel Gibson film, almost the entire third act differs from director Brian Helgeland’s original vision, which was unresolved until the release of a 2006 director's cut. The most notable change, however, comes at the very end of the movie. In the theatrical release, Gibson’s character kills two top mob figures, then drives off happily with the female lead, Rosie, and his dog. In Helgeland’s version, Gibson is shot in a train station showdown. Rather than driving off happily with Rosie, she picks him up while he is bleeding and his fate is left up in the air.

6. LÉON: THE PROFESSIONAL (1994)

In the original film, the relationship between the hitman Léon and his 12-year-old neighbor Mathilda was already a little dicey, what with the two of them collaborating on a series of murders. But the directors cut adds a whole new level of discomfort. In it, Mathilda—played by Natalie Portman in her film debut—is shown to be far more involved in the assassinations of a crew of drug dealers. She also sexually propositions Léon and plays a game of Russian roulette to force Léon to say that he loves her. Those scenes were in the original European release, but were cut because producers were concerned about how American audiences would react.

7. SUPERMAN II (1980)

Due to a number of disputes between him and the film’s producers, director Richard Donner left the set of Superman II without completing filming (he had been filming both the original and the sequel simultaneously). Notably, the producers refused to include any footage of Marlon Brando as Jor-El in the sequel because of the massive cut of the box office gross he was requesting. The studio then brought in Richard Lester to replace Donner, forcing him to reshoot some scenes, rewrite others, and edit out most of Donner’s work. That left a movie with roughly 25 percent of Donner’s footage and 75 percent new work (and zero percent Brando).

The 2006 “Richard Donner Cut” brought back the director’s original vision, although the editing was choppy and Donner had to use some unfinished test footage to fill in the holes. But fans generally agree it makes more sense. For example, the theatrical release never fully explains how Superman gets his powers back after voluntarily giving them up, but the Donner cut shows that Jor-El “dies” again to restore the powers. The new version of the sequel also ends with Superman flying around the world to undo the damage of the supervillains and purge Lois Lane’s memory of the fact that he is Clark Kent. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that scene was written into the end of the original once it became clear it wouldn’t be used in the sequel.

8. ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (2001)

A 2003 “special edition” release of the much-lampooned Kevin Costner vehicle doesn’t contain many earth-shattering changes. But it does introduce a new backstory for the Sheriff of Nottingham by revealing that he is, in fact, the son of the evil witch Mortianna (who murdered the real son of the original sheriff and replaced him with her own). Sadly, the special edition doesn’t do anything to fix Costner’s uneven English accent.

9. KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (2005)

By adding some 50 minutes of footage, director Ridley Scott said his new cut of Kingdom of Heaven also adds a whole heap of context for the violence in his Crusades epic. For example, a priest that the blacksmith Balian kills at the beginning is revealed to be his half-brother, making their feud more about family relations than religion. The new cut also introduces an entirely new character, Baldwin V, who even becomes king before his family discovers that he has leprosy. Although the director’s cut was widely praised (unlike the theatrical release), at three-and-a-half hours, it never really took off with viewers who already hated the original release.

10. AND 11. EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (2004) AND DOMINION: PREQUEL TO THE EXORCIST (2005)

These aren’t directors cuts per se, so much as two directors using the same script and lead actor to make the different movies. Paul Schrader was hired to direct Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist and managed to finish a final cut of the film. But producers at Morgan Creek weren’t happy with the result—too much religion, not enough blood—and decided to scrap that cut. But rather than get rid of the investment, they hired on Renny Harlin to retool the script and film a new version with star Stellan Skarsgård staying on board as Father Merrin.

Harlin’s version was released in theaters as Exorcist: The Beginning. But Schrader soon won the rights to release his own version, leaving audiences with two Exorcist prequels that both starred Skarsgård. Neither was well-received and both followed the same basic plot. But critics looked slightly more favorably on Schrader’s, which includes a love interest (that does not get possessed by a demon) and deals more with Merrin’s loss of faith.

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2011.

13 Delicious Facts About Hannibal

Brooke Palmer, NBCUniversal Media
Brooke Palmer, NBCUniversal Media

In 2013, producer Martha De Laurentiis, writer Bryan Fuller, and a talented cast and crew set about crafting a new version of the Hannibal Lecter story. It was a daring proposition after the character and his world had been so clearly defined by Sir Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal of the character and Hannibal’s presence in four novels and five feature films, but Fuller had an idea no one else had approached yet. He wanted to tell the story of the cannibal psychiatrist and the empathetic profiler who ultimately caught him as the story of two lives linked by mutual insanity. Audiences could not have seen it coming, but what they got was one of the most stylish, visually arresting, and psychologically complex horror shows to ever hit television.

Hannibal only lasted three seasons, but in its short time on the air it amassed loads of critical acclaim and a ravenous fan base known as “Fannibals,” many of whom are still holding out hope for the show’s return. With the show’s influence and impact still fresh in our imaginations more than five years after it made its debut, here are 13 facts about the making of Hannibal.

1. BRYAN FULLER GOT THE JOB BECAUSE OF A FATEFUL PLANE RIDE.

Bryan Fuller is a lifelong fan of horror, and a longtime fan of Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter novels, but he did not set out to snag the Hannibal job. In fact, he wasn’t even necessarily aware of the job until it found him, on a flight to New York City where he happened to be seated near an old friend: Katie O’Connell, who was the then-new CEO of the Gaumont Film Company’s U.S. television division. O’Connell told Fuller she was developing a Hannibal series, and asked him if he thought there was a show there—not to offer him the job, but just to get his feedback. In response, Fuller asked if Gaumont had the rights to Will Graham, the protagonist of Harris’s novel Red Dragon, because he was fascinated by one line in that novel that signified a much deeper relationship between Graham and Lecter that audiences and readers had never quite seen.

“Because I had read the books, I knew how much more psychologically complex Will Graham is in the literature than he is in the film. I thought, Wow, there’s a great opportunity to deliver on that line from Red Dragon that Hannibal Lecter says, which is, ‘You caught me because you’re as insane as I am.’ There’s a whole world in that explores their friendship,” Fuller said. “If we are dealing with the Hannibal Lecter who’s a practicing psychiatrist and a practicing cannibal, then he’s out in the open amongst us, a wolf in psychiatrist’s clothing, and wouldn’t that be such a terrifying thing for someone like Will Graham, who is uniquely vulnerable to his own psychology, to have somebody there with access to the buttons of his mind.”

Fuller’s thoughts on Hannibal and Will Graham set in motion an idea for a kind of Red Dragon prequel that would also serve as a mash-up of all of Harris’s writings on the character. That in turn led to a meeting with Martha De Laurentiis of the Dino De Laurentiis Company, which in turn led to a meeting at NBC which got the show greenlit.

2. THE SERIES BEGAN LIFE AS A CLARICE STARLING STORY WITH MGM.

Hugh Dancy and Julian Richings in 'Hannibal'
Brooke Palme, NBCUniversal Media

Before Bryan Fuller entered the picture, and even before Gaumont Television began working on developing the series, Martha De Laurentiis was considering some kind of new Hannibal Lecter project, but wasn’t interested in making yet another film based on the works of Thomas Harris. While Fuller’s concept ultimately latched onto the dynamic between Lecter and Graham, De Laurentiis said that before that happened there was the idea of revisiting The Silence of the Lambs pairing of Lecter and FBI agent Clarice Starling.

“We actually were toying with the idea—with MGM, who has the Clarice character, from the library of Orion Pictures that did Silence of the Lambs—and we were talking about doing something Clarice and Hannibal in the time period after Silence of the Lambs, but we really didn’t take it very far,” De Laurentiis said. “In fact, I felt that perhaps Hannibal would be a very, very minor character and then perhaps just disappear, and I didn’t feel that was right for the character of Hannibal Lecter.”

So, through working with Katie O’Connell at Gaumont, De Laurentiis was connected with Fuller, and the collaboration that would bring us Hannibal began.

3. FULLER ORIGINALLY DEVELOPED A SEVEN-SEASON PLAN.

Though Red Dragon was a major inspiration on the direction of the show because of its depiction of the Lecter/Graham dynamic, Fuller and company set Hannibal in the years leading up to that story in order to show audiences what Lecter was like as “a practicing psychiatrist and a practicing cannibal,” as Fuller put it. That meant reading between the lines of Harris’s novel to develop the relationship that would ultimately lead the two characters down the path of Red Dragon, and lead Hannibal as a character into his life as documented by Harris, when he was a captured serial killer and then an escaped fugitive. In the end, the mash-up quality of the series allowed Fuller to play with many of those elements of Lecter’s life outside of Harris’s chronology, but as the series was first taking shape, Fuller imagined a seven-season plan that would ultimately adapted Harris’s first three Lecter novels and then go beyond them.

“Well, when you get into season four, you get into the literature. And so season four would be Red Dragon, season five would be The Silence of the Lambs era, season six would be the Hannibal era, and then season seven would be a resolve to the ending of that book," Fuller said. "Hannibal ends on a cliffhanger. Hannibal Lecter has bonded with Clarice Starling and brainwashed her and they are now quasi-lovers and off as fugitives, and so that’s a cliffhanger. It might be interesting to resolve that in some way and to bring Will Graham back into the picture. So once we get two more seasons, say, of the television show, those are the aren’t-novelized stories, and then we would get into expansions of the novels after that and kind of using the novels as a backbone for season arcs that would then be kind of enhanced.”

Of course, plans change, and the adaptation of Red Dragon ultimately came in the second half of the show’s third season, but it’s clear Fuller had big ambitions to chart the full course of Hannibal’s criminal career.

4. A REAL CHEF DESIGNED ALL THOSE CANNIBAL RECIPES.

Mads Mikkelsen in 'Hannibal'
NBCUniversal Media

Hannibal Lecter isn’t just a cannibal—he is a cannibal gourmand and gourmet, a lover of the finer things who doesn’t just want to eat human flesh, but prepare it in exquisite and refined ways. Fuller knew this, and he also immediately knew he needed someone with tremendous food expertise to help him make the series. So he turned to a chef of whom he was already a fan: José Andrés, owner of the restaurant The Bazaar in Beverly Hills.

"I have a limited knowledge of the culinary. And Hannibal Lecter has to be smarter than I am in the kitchen," Fuller said. "José gives insight into his expertise; he's omnipresent in every food scene."

When work on the series began, Fuller and Andrés began a series of conversations in which the chef explained that every part of the human body is in some way edible, right down to the bones, which can be ground up and used as thickener. With this in mind, Fuller sought to not just write scenes in which Hannibal is cooking human body parts, but to craft elaborate metaphors in each dinner scene (for example, the scene in which he serves “lamb tongue” to Dr. Frederick Chilton), on which he heavily consulted Andrés during the writing process. Andrés would develop a recipe, which food stylist Janice Poon would then prepare and arrange on set, complete with the elaborate tablescapes which came to dominate so much of the look of the show. The “food porn” Fuller insisted on became so popular with fans that Poon started a blog about the process, and even eventually produced a cookbook.

5. SEVERAL ROLES WERE RACE- AND GENDER-SWAPPED.

In writing Hannibal, Fuller considered Harris’s writing—particularly Red Dragon—to be a kind of guiding Bible, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t take liberties. He aged up the title character, which among other things removes Lecter’s traumatic childhood experiences during World War II from consideration, but perhaps the most notable changes came in casting. Several key roles in the series were ultimately given to actors of different races and even genders than they were previously depicted, in an effort to increase the diversity of the cast. So, Hannibal gave us black actors in the roles of previously white characters Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) and Reba McClane (Rutina Wesley), and the previously male characters Alan Bloom and Freddy Lounds became Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) and Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki).

“Because it’s a more accurate representation of the world, and if we just did Red Dragon again, it’d be a sausage party with a bunch of white guys,” Fuller told Bloody Disgusting. “I mean, when I first started writing, my protagonists were always young women, and there’s something about that point of view ... you can do some things with a female character that you can’t do with a male character. Like, I always think that, to make a character female gives you so many more opportunities of expression.”

6. DAVID TENNANT ALMOST PLAYED HANNIBAL.

David Tennant in 'Jessica Jones'
Myles Aronowitz, Netflix

Hugh Dancy was the first star cast in the series, joining Hannibal as Will Graham in the spring of 2012, but casting the title role took a little bit longer. After all, how do you recast a part that Anthony Hopkins basically owned thanks to three films and one Oscar? Ultimately, Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen won the role, but he wasn’t the only star considered. At one point, Fuller was meeting with Doctor Who and Jessica Jones star David Tennant about the role.

“I met [Hannibal executive producer] Bryan Fuller a couple of times, and we talked about it,” Tennant told Entertainment Weekly. “But I think they quite wisely chose Mads Mikkelsen, I think he was a perfect choice for it, and I think he did things with that character that I wouldn’t have managed, so I think the right man got the job.”

7. CENSORS WERE ACTIVELY INVOLVED IN THE CREATIVE PROCESS.

For a show like Hannibal, elaborate crime scenes full of mutilated bodies were always going to be part of the process, which adds even more credence to the idea that such a series might be better suited to cable than a broadcast network. At NBC, though, Fuller took a very hands-on approach to crafting the various gruesome murders with the help of the network's standards and practices department. Rather than script or shoot something and then get into a fight with network censors about what he couldn’t show, Fuller would reach out directly with his ideas first, and then work with them to depict the best possible NBC-friendly version of the scene. As a result, he learned a few tricks to get around broadcast TV’s violence limitations.

“The redder the blood and the brighter the blood the less you can show,” he said. “So if you darken the blood and throw it into shadow, then you can be much more graphic than your normally would be able to.”

As it happens, dark shadowy blood matches Hannibal’s overall aesthetic perfectly, so that particular note worked out for everyone.

8. ONE EPISODE NEVER AIRED ON NBC.

It was never any secret that Hannibal would be the kind of show that dealt with graphic and heinous crimes. Its two main characters are a serial killer and a man who hunts serial killers, after all. Still, even Fuller has his limits, and after a particularly violent few months in America in late 2012 and early 2013, he asked NBC to pull the fourth episode of the show’s first season. “Oeuf,” the episode in question, involved a woman (Molly Shannon) brainwashing children into killing their own families. Fuller felt that “given the cultural climate right now in the U.S., I think we shouldn’t air the episode in its entirety,” and cited in particular the Sandy Hook school shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing as examples. “Oeuf” was still teased via a series of clips released to NBC’s website, and the episode is now available on Blu-ray and through streaming services.

9. THERE WAS ONE ELABORATE MURDER THE SHOW WASN’T ALLOWED TO FILM.

Despite working closely with the network’s standards and practices to show as much as possible within the limits of broadcast TV, Hannibal was still a series airing on one of the big four broadcast networks, and not cable. That meant limitations were always inevitable, and at one point Fuller and the writers’ imaginations reached further than NBC was willing to allow.

So, what’s the one big murder scene NBC said no to? According to Fuller, it would have come in the Season 1 episode “Roti,” in which Graham is pursuing escaped killer Dr. Abel Gideon (guest star Eddie Izzard). The scene would have involved Lounds being lured into a room where one of Gideon’s victims was waiting, still alive, with a slit in his stomach. Lounds would have then flipped a switch that triggered a ceiling fan, and it would have been revealed that the fan was actually attached to the man’s intestines through the cut in his stomach. As the fan began to spin, it would disembowel him.

“That was the only one where NBC was like, ‘I just don’t know how you’re going to do it,'” Fuller said. “We would have pushed back if we also hadn’t been told that financially we didn’t know how we could afford to produce such a gag, because you have intestines swinging around a ceiling fan,” he adds.

10. THE SHOW’S BIGGEST CRIME SCENE USED REAL (LIVING) HUMAN BODIES.

Hugh Dancy in 'Hannibal'
NBCUniversal Media

The first case of Hannibal’s second season involved “The Muralist,” a serial killer who abducted and killed various people of different ethnic backgrounds, preserved their bodies with silicone and resin, and then sewed them together in a massive and intricate pattern in the bottom of a silo to form the shape of a human eye (victims with paler skin made up the white, while victims with darker skin were the pupil). It’s an intense and captivating visual even by Hannibal’s standards, and while the production used a computer program called Form Z to design the layout of the bodies beforehand, when it came time to actually film the scene there was no substitute for the real thing. Several dozen background artists were employed and asked to lie in an elaborate pattern on the floor of the set for two days of shooting, usually nearly nude.

“Forty-plus human bodies. They warmed the bottom of the floor for the backgrounds artists so they wouldn’t succumb to the cold,” Fishburne recalled. “And you walk into that room and you’re hit immediately with all the scent of human flesh and the pheromones that are coming off everybody and all you want to do is lay down and go to sleep with them.”

11. IT INCLUDES A WONDERFALLS CROSSOVER.

It’s a bit of a tradition among Bryan Fuller TV series that some connective tissue is established between whatever the current series is and the shows that came before it, establishing what fans call the “Fullerverse.” This carried over into Hannibal, which shares a very brief connection with Fuller’s single season Fox series Wonderfalls. In Hannibal’s second episode, “Amuse-Bouche,” a woman named Gretchen Speck (Chelan Simmons) goes to the pharmacy to pick up her insulin, at which time it’s revealed that she was previously Gretchen Speck-Horowitz, but she has since divorced. Speck is one of the potential victims of that episode’s serial killer, a pharmacist who gives diabetic patients the wrong medication to place them into a coma, then half-buries them and uses their bodies as mushroom farms in the forest. Speck was meant to be his next victim, but she’s saved before he can carry out his plan. Gretchen Speck-Horowitz was one of Wonderfalls’s recurring characters, and because she managed to escape death in Hannibal, she’s still around for another Bryan Fuller series.

12. DAVID BOWIE WAS ALMOST A GUEST STAR.

In addition to a stellar main cast, Hannibal was also always packed with interesting guest stars, from Eddie Izzard to Gillian Anderson to Lance Henriksen. One particular guest star, though, was always just out of reach for the series. For the second season, Fuller offered the role of Hannibal’s uncle Robert Lecter to legendary musician and actor David Bowie, but Bowie was unavailable and the role was left uncast—though not without the hope that Bowie could eventually make time for the series.

“We were told by his people, when we got the pick-up for the third season, to make sure to ask again about his availability,” Fuller said. “So, once we have our dates, we are going to ask again.  I think the man walks on water, so I would love to be in his orbit, in some way.”

Bowie, of course, never made it to Hannibal, and we now know he spent the final 18 months of his life battling liver cancer and working on his final musical projects before he passed away on January 10, 2016.

13. A REVIVAL FOCUSING ON THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS IS STILL POSSIBLE.

Hannibal was canceled in June of 2015, just weeks into third season, after three years of critical acclaim but consistently low ratings. “Fannibals” immediately began requesting that the series continue elsewhere, and Fuller teased discussions with various streaming services to do just that. At one point, it seemed a deal to bring the series to Amazon for a fourth season was close, but the timeline ended up not working out due in part to Fuller’s commitment to the Starz series American Gods. Three years later, we still haven’t seen any more Hannibal.

That doesn’t mean it’ll never happen, though. Fuller has consistently broached the possibility of a fourth season or a even a miniseries to reunite the show’s cast, and both Mikkelsen and Dancy have expressed interest in returning. If the show did come back, Fuller would aim to focus on some form of the Silence of the Lambs storyline, having adapted Red Dragon in season three, while also resolving the very literal cliffhanger at the end of the series’s NBC run.

So, when could it happen? Last year, Fuller said that the rights have finally reverted back to De Laurentiis, who has begun “conversations” about the future of the franchise. We still have no idea what that future holds, but even three years later, Fannibals aren’t letting their favorite cannibal go.

Additional Sources:
“Hannibal Reborn” featurette, 2013
“A Taste for Killing” featurette, 2013
The Art and Making of Hannibal the Television Series by Jesse McLean, 2015

15 Fascinating Facts About Julia Child

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

Julia Child was much more than just a bestselling cookbook author and chef. Over the course of her life, she was also a breast cancer survivor, a TV trailblazer, and a government spy. It's the famed chef's spy game that will be the focus of Julia, a new series being developed by ABC Signature and created by Benjamin Brand.

The project will draw its inspiration from Child's PBS program Cooking for the C.I.A. “I was disappointed when I learned that in this case, the C.I.A. stood for the Culinary Institute of America,” Brand told Deadline. “Cooking Secrets of the Central Intelligence Agency always seemed like a more interesting show to me. Many years later, when I read a biography of Julia Child and learned about her experiences during World War II, working for the Office of Strategic Services—the precursor to the C.I.A.—the story of Julia quickly fell into place.”

Though Julia (which has yet to confirm a premiere date) will be a work of fiction, here are 15 facts about the beloved cook, who was born on this day in 1912.

1. SHE MET THE INVENTOR OF THE CAESAR SALAD WHEN SHE WAS A KID.

As a preteen, Julia Child traveled to Tijuana on a family vacation. Her parents took her to dine at Caesar Cardini’s restaurant, so that they could all try his trendy “Caesar salad.” Child recalled the formative culinary experience to The New York Times: “My parents were so excited, eating this famous salad that was suddenly very chic. Caesar himself was a great big old fellow who stood right in front of us to make it. I remember the turning of the salad in the bowl was very dramatic. And egg in a salad was unheard of at that point.” Years later, when she was a famous chef in her own right, Child convinced Cardini’s daughter, Rosa, to share the authentic recipe with her.

2. THE WAVES AND WACS REJECTED HER BECAUSE SHE WAS TOO TALL.

Like so many others of her generation, Child felt the call to serve when America entered World War II. There was just one problem: her height. At a towering 6'2", Child was deemed “too tall” for both the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) and Women’s Army Corps (WAC). But she was accepted by the forerunner to the CIA, which brings us to our next point.

3. SHE WAS A SPY DURING WORLD WAR II.

Child took a position at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was basically the CIA 1.0. She began as a research assistant in the Secret Intelligence division, where she worked directly for the head of the OSS, General William J. Donovan. But she moved over to the OSS Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section, and then took an overseas post for the final two years of the war. First in Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) and later in Kunming, China, Child served as the chief of the OSS Registry. This meant she had top-level security clearance. It also meant she was working with Paul Child, the OSS officer she would eventually marry.

4. SHE HELPED DEVELOP A SHARK REPELLENT FOR THE NAVY.


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

While Child was in the Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section, she helped the team in its search for a suitable shark repellent. Several U.S. naval officers had been attacked by the ocean predators since the war broke out, so the OSS brought in a scientist specializing in zoology and an anthropologist to come up with a fix. Child assisted in this mission, and recalled her experience in the book Sisterhood of Spies: “I must say we had lots of fun. We designed rescue kits and other agent paraphernalia. I understand the shark repellent we developed is being used today for downed space equipment—strapped around it so the sharks won’t attack when it lands in the ocean.”

5. SHE GOT MARRIED IN BANDAGES.

Once the war ended, Julia and Paul Child decided to take a “few months to get to know each other in civilian clothes.” They met with family members and traveled cross-country before they decided to tie the knot. The wedding took place on September 1, 1946. Julia remembered being “extremely happy, but a bit banged up from a car accident the day before.” She wasn’t kidding; she actually had to wear a bandage on the side of her face for her wedding photos. The New York Review of Books has one of those pictures.

6. SHE WAS A TERRIBLE COOK WELL INTO HER 30S.

Child did not have a natural talent for cooking. In fact, she was a self-admitted disaster in the kitchen until she began taking classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, where she and Paul lived for several years. Prior to her marriage, Child simply fed herself frozen dinners. It was probably the safest choice; one of her earliest attempts at cooking resulted in an exploded duck and an oven fire.

7. A LUNCH IN ROUEN CHANGED HER LIFE.

Child repeatedly credited one meal with spurring her interest in fine foods: a lunch in the French city of Rouen that she and Paul enjoyed en route to their new home in Paris. The meal consisted of oysters portugaises on the half-shell, sole meunière browned in Normandy butter, a salad with baguettes, and cheese and coffee for dessert. They also “happily downed a whole bottle of Pouilly-Fumé” over the courses.

8. IT TOOK HER NINE YEARS TO WRITE AND PUBLISH HER FIRST COOKBOOK.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking revolutionized home cooking when it was published in 1961—but the revolution didn't happen overnight. Child first began work on her famous tome in 1952, when she met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. The French women were writing a cookbook aimed at teaching Americans how to make French cuisine, and brought Child on board as a third author. Nine years of research, rewrites, and rejections ensued before the book landed a publisher at Alfred A. Knopf.

9. SHE GOT FAMOUS BY BEATING EGGS ON BOSTON PUBLIC TELEVISION.

Child’s big TV break came from an unlikely source: Boston’s local WGBH station. While promoting Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child appeared as a guest on the book review program I’ve Been Reading. But rather than sit down and discuss recipe semantics, Child started cracking eggs into a hot plate she brought with her. She made an omelette on air as she answered questions, and viewers loved it. The station received dozens of letters begging for more demonstrations, which led WGBH producer Russell Morash to offer Child a deal. She filmed three pilot episodes, which turned into her star-making show The French Chef.

10. ALL HER ESSENTIAL UTENSILS WERE KEPT IN A “SACRED BAG.”

According to a 1974 New Yorker profile, Child carried a large black canvas satchel known as the “sacred bag.” Rather than holy artifacts, it contained the cooking utensils she couldn’t live without. That included her pastry-cutting wheel, her favorite flour scoop, and her knives, among other things. She started using it when The French Chef premiered, and only entrusted certain people with its care.

11. SHE SURVIVED BREAST CANCER.

Child’s doctors ordered a mastectomy in the late 1960s after a routine biopsy came back with cancerous results. She was in a depressed mood following her 10-day hospital stay, and Paul was a wreck. But she later became vocal about her operation in hopes that it would remove the stigma for other women. She told TIME, “I would certainly not pussyfoot around having a radical [mastectomy] because it’s not worth it.”

12. HER MARRIAGE WAS WELL AHEAD OF ITS TIME.

As their meet-cute in the OSS offices would suggest, Paul and Julia Child had far from a conventional marriage (at least by 1950s standards). Once Julia’s career took off, Paul happily assisted in whatever way he could—as a taste tester, dishwasher, agent, or manager. He had retired from the Foreign Service in 1960, and immediately thrust himself into an active role in Julia’s business. The New Yorker took note of Paul’s progressive attitudes in its 1974 profile of Julia, noting that he suffered “from no apparent insecurities of male ego.” He continued to serve as Julia’s partner in every sense of the word until his death in 1994.

13. SHE WAS THE FIRST WOMAN INDUCTED INTO THE CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA'S HALL OF FAME.

Child spent her early years working for what would become the Central Intelligence Agency. In 1993, she joined another CIA: the Culinary Institute of America. The group inducted Child into its Hall of Fame that year, making her the first woman to ever receive the honor.

14. SHE EARNED THE HIGHEST CIVILIAN HONORS FROM THE U.S. AND FRANCE.

Along with that CIA distinction, Child received top civilian awards from both her home country and the country she considered her second home. In 2000, she accepted the Legion D’Honneur from Jacques Pépin at Boston’s Le Méridien hotel. Just three years later, George W. Bush gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

15. HER KITCHEN IS IN THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 2001, Julia donated the kitchen that Paul designed in their Cambridge, Massachusetts home to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Although it’s not possible to walk directly through it, there are three viewports from which visitors can see the high counters, wall of copper pots, and gleaming stove. Framed recipes, articles, and other mementos from her career adorn the surrounding walls—and, of course, there’s a television which plays her cooking shows on loop.

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