PBS
PBS

How Julia Child Got a White House State Dinner on Television

PBS
PBS

Julia Child’s list of accomplishments is almost comically lengthy: She was the first woman inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Hall of Fame. She received the highest civilian honors from both the U.S. and France. She was a bestselling author, a wildly successful TV personality, and a secret spy for the Allies during World War II. But the opening chapter of her latest biography details another achievement. In The French Chef in America (the “sequel” to My Life in France), author Alex Prud’homme explains how his great-aunt was the first person to put a White House State Dinner on television.

Child’s 1968 TV special, White House Red Carpet with Julia Child, was born out of a failed pitch to the Public Broadcasting Library (PBL). PBL had approached Child about doing a newsy half-hour special in 1966 while she was on hiatus from her cooking show, The French Chef. She initially hoped to document Paris’s legendary Les Halles food market, but PBL deemed the project too expensive. So she proposed a behind-the-scenes look at a White House State Dinner instead. When PBL passed again, National Educational Television (NET) agreed to air the special.

No camera crew had ever been permitted to film a state dinner before. But Julia was able to get the White House on board with countless letters, telegrams, and phone calls from herself and her producers at WGBH, her “home” station in Boston. Once she had approval, Child spent several days interviewing presidential staffers—including the White House executive chef, Henry Haller.

Haller had replaced the Kennedys’ renowned chef René Verdon in 1965, after Verdon quit over creative differences with the Johnsons. (“You do not serve barbecued spareribs at a banquet with ladies in white gloves,” he once protested.) Haller did not share Verdon’s aversion to spareribs, but he did share his training in classic French cuisine. This obviously endeared him to Child, who raved about his seafood vol-au-vent as she covered his kitchen prep for the cameras. She was especially glad to hear he used butter and not that “other spread” she hated: margarine.

The dinner’s guest of honor was Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Satō, but the 190 attendees also included foreign dignitaries, local politicians, and actors like Kirk Douglas—as well as MLB commissioner William Eckert and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson. (Satō was a big fan of baseball.) The cameras captured the guests’ arrival and the exchange of gifts between Johnson and Satō. (Satō got a Tiffany desk set; Johnson got a portable TV camera and tape recorder.) Then it was time to eat.

The seafood vol-au-vent came first. It was a puff pastry stuffed with lobster, bay scallops, shrimp, and fish dumplings, all topped with sauce Americaine. The main course consisted of a sautéed lamb filet with artichoke bottoms, asparagus, and a fluted mushroom cap. Guests also sampled salad, small-batch American wines, cheese, and grapes before the dessert: a Bavarian cream mousse with fresh strawberries. Child declared that it was “one of the best dinners I’ve eaten anywhere.”

The night took a tense turn when Johnson gave his toast, which addressed criticisms of America's involvement in Vietnam. But the atmosphere eased after Tony Bennett, Satō’s choice of entertainment, grabbed the mic.

White House Red Carpet with Julia Child aired on April 17, 1968. The reviews praised Child for her usual ebullience, but the chef didn’t stick around to hear them. On the night of the telecast, she had already escaped to her small vacation home in Provence, France, where she and her husband Paul had gone to rest, relax, and, of course, cook.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Sylvia Plath's Pulitzer Prize in Poetry Is Up for Auction
Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

A Pulitzer Prize in Poetry that was awarded posthumously to Sylvia Plath in 1982 for her book The Collected Poems will be auctioned on June 28. The Los Angeles-based Nate D. Sanders Auctions says bidding for the literary document will start at $40,000.

The complete book of Plath’s poetry was published in 1981—18 years after her death—and was edited by her husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes. The Pulitzer Prize was presented to Hughes on Plath’s behalf, and one of two telegrams sent by Pulitzer President Michael Sovern to Hughes read, “We’ve just heard that the Collected Plath has won the Pulitzer Prize. Congratulations to you for making it possible.” The telegrams will also be included in the lot, in addition to an official congratulatory letter from Sovern.

The Pultizer’s jury report from 1982 called The Collected Poems an “extraordinary literary event.” It went on to write, “Plath won no major prizes in her lifetime, and most of her work has been posthumously published … The combination of metaphorical brilliance with an effortless formal structure makes this a striking volume.”

Ted Hughes penned an introduction to the poetry collection describing how Plath had “never scrapped any of her poetic efforts,” even if they weren’t all masterpieces. He wrote:

“Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity. So this book contains not merely what verse she saved, but—after 1956—all she wrote.”

Also up for auction is Plath’s Massachusetts driver’s license from 1958, at which time she went by the name Sylvia P. Hughes. Bidding for the license will begin at $8000.

Plath's driver's license
Nate D. Sanders Auctions
nextArticle.image_alt|e
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0
New 'Eye Language' Lets Paralyzed People Communicate More Easily
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0

The invention of sign language proved you don't need to vocalize to use complex language face to face. Now, a group of designers has shown that you don't even need control of your hands: Their new type of language for paralyzed people relies entirely on the eyes.

As AdAge reports, "Blink to Speak" was created by the design agency TBWA/India for the NeuroGen Brain & Spine Institute and the Asha Ek Hope Foundation. The language takes advantage of one of the few motor functions many paralyzed people have at their disposal: eye movement. Designers had a limited number of moves to work with—looking up, down, left, or right; closing one or both eyes—but they figured out how to use these building blocks to create a sophisticated way to get information across. The final product consists of eight alphabets and messages like "get doctor" and "entertainment" meant to facilitate communication between patients and caregivers.

Inside of a language book.
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

This isn't the only tool that allows paralyzed people to "speak" through facial movements, but unlike most other options currently available, Blink to Speak doesn't require any expensive technology. The project's potential impact on the lives of people with paralysis earned it the Health Grand Prix for Good at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity earlier in June.

The groups behind Blink to Speak have produced thousands of print copies of the language guide and have made it available online as an ebook. To learn the language yourself or share it with someone you know, you can download it for free here.

[h/t AdAge]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios