Julia Child

Julia Child

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Julia Child: Cooking Up Spy Ops for OSS

Julia Child is probably best known for bringing French cuisine into America’s mainstream. But, few know that she had a dynamic career as an intelligence officer before she became a cooking icon.

She was born in Pasadena, Calif., on Aug. 15, 1912. Arriving at Smith College in 1930, Julia was an active student throughout her college career. She was a member of the Student Council, played basketball, and worked for the Dramatics Association. Julia experienced her first culinary moments at Smith, as chair of the Refreshment Committee for Senior Prom and Fall Dance. After graduating from Smith in 1934, Julia wrote advertising copy for W. & J. Sloane, a furniture store in New York City.

Soon after the United States entered World War II, Julia felt the need to serve her country. Too tall to join the military (she was 6𔃼″), Julia volunteered her services to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was the forerunner of today’s Central Intelligence Agency. She was one of 4,500 women who served in the OSS.

She started out at OSS Headquarters in Washington, working directly for General William J. Donovan, the leader of OSS. Working as a research assistant in the Secret Intelligence division, Julia typed up thousands of names on little white note cards, a system that was needed to keep track of officers during the days before computers. Although her encounters with the General were minor, she recalled later in life that his “aura” always remained with her.

Julia then worked with the OSS Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section, where she helped develop shark repellent. The repellent was a critical tool during WWII, and was coated on explosives that were targeting German U-boats. Before the introduction of the shark repellent, curious sharks would sometimes set off the explosives when they bumped into them.

Cartoon from the Naval Aviation Training Division guide, Shark Sense. March 1944.

From 1944-1945, Julia was sent overseas and worked in Ceylon, present day Sri Lanka, and Kunming, China. During these last two years in the OSS, Julia served as Chief of the OSS Registry. Julia — having top security clearances — knew every incoming and outgoing message that passed throughout her office, as her Registry was serving all the intelligence branches.

During her time in Ceylon, Julia handled highly classified papers that dealt with the invasion of the Malay Peninsula. Julia was fascinated with the work, even when there were moments of danger.

Not only did Julia contribute to the efforts of the OSS, but during her time of service, she met her husband. Paul Child was also an OSS officer. He was well traveled, and it was he who opened Julia’s eyes to appreciate fine French cuisine. The two married in September 1946.

Paul was assigned with the U.S. Information Agency in France in 1948, and this is where Julia’s studies of the culinary arts began at one of France’s most prestigious cooking schools, Le Cordon Bleu. Julia became interested in cooking because she was looking for something to do while her husband was away on work.

Julia’s cooking career has a place in American history, as many remember her as an enthusiastic and opinionated chef. With her many television series and cookbooks, her legacy still lives on.

Her contributions and eagerness to serve her country are well remembered and appreciated by the OSS family. Julia died at the age of 91 in 2004, two days before her 92nd birthday.

Julia Child’s Recipe for a Thoroughly Modern Marriage

By the time I met Julia Child, her husband, Paul, was little more than a ghost of a man, so diminished by old age and its attendant diseases that it was impossible to discern the remarkable artist, photographer and poet he once had been. It broke my heart, because the more I knew Julia, the more I wished I had known Paul. “He’s responsible for everything I did,” she once told me. When I look at Julia’s kitchen, it is Paul who comes to mind.

From This Story

Video: Julia Child Makes Crepe Suzette

Julia Child preferred simplicity: a farmhouse table, bought in Oslo a 20-inch “fright knife” she brandished on TV cooking shows her favorite enamel saucepan. (Greg Powers) Until she met her future husband, Child had never given much thought to food. On her own she made do with frozen food. (Jim Scherer) To save money, Julia's husband Paul designed the kitchen himself. (Rick Friedman / Corbis)

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“For us the kitchen is the soul of our house,” she told the Smithsonian curators who traveled to her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as her kitchen was being packed up for the National Museum of American History in 2001. She spoke as if her husband were still alive, although by then he had been gone for more than seven years. That reminded me of what it was like to spend time with Julia, how it always seemed as if Paul were in the next room, that he would appear at any minute, pull up a chair and join you at the table.

“If we could just have the kitchen and the bedroom, that would be all we need,” she told the curators wistfully, and listening to that I felt a thrill of recognition, for that one sentence tells you everything about the woman who changed the way America cooks. Until she met her future husband, Julia had never given much thought to food (on her own she made do with frozen food). She learned to cook to please Paul, attempting to seduce him with her kitchen prowess she liked to tell the story of how she had, in her early attempts at cooking, exploded a duck and set the oven on fire.

Much later Julia said she wished she’d started cooking at 14, but that was never in the cards. Girls of her class did not cook—there were servants to do that—and they certainly did not do it professionally. “Middle-class women did not have careers,” Julia said.“You were to marry and have children and be a nice mother. You didn’t go out and do anything.”

At 6-foot-2, however, husbands were not easy to find, and after graduation from Smith College, Julia McWilliams ended up in New York, sharing an apartment with two friends, writing ad copy. “I was a Republican until I got to New York and had to live on $18 a week,” she said. “It was then that I became a Democrat.”

When her mother fell ill, Julia dutifully returned to Republican Pasadena, Cali­fornia, keeping house for her father. She played a great deal of golf and joined the Junior League. For someone with her drive, intelligence and energy, this little life must have been a nightmare, and when the war came along she happily joined the OSS, propelled as much by boredom as by patriotism. By then she was already in spinster territory—the dread 30s. Although she lamented to a friend that she had never been a spy (merely “in charge of all the files”), the posting to Ceylon must have seemed like a ticket to adventure.

But the real adventure began when she met Paul. It changed her life—and, by extension, ours. It was her passion for French food that initially enthralled us, but I have no doubt that if the State Department had posted Paul and his new wife to Rome instead of Paris, she would have taught us spaghetti instead of soufflés. Paul loved highly spiced and garlicky dishes, and she was never one to do things by half measures.

She enrolled in a professional cooking school—the Cordon Bleu—and then started a school of her own. “I have,” she said with remarkable prescience in 1952, “finally found a real and satisfying profession which will keep me busy well into the year 2,000.” Exhilarated by her new career, she set about writing a book that would “make cooking make sense.”

In one of the greatest blunders in publishing history, Houghton Mifflin rejected the book as “too formidable.” It was an enormous blow. By the time Paul left the diplomatic corps in 1961, she had been working on what would become Mastering the Art of French Cooking for nine years, and the couple moved into their new house in Cambridge with little money and few expectations. “We shall,” Julia told a friend, “be living quite modestly. But I figure if I can give 2 cooking lessons a week at about $40 a throw, that will bring in a tidy sum.”

To save money, Paul designed the kitchen himself. Mindful that his tall wife had been stooping in their tiny European kitchens (a picture he took in their Paris kitchen shows her stirring a pot almost at the level of her knees), Paul raised the counters. Aware of her passion for order, he figured out the perfect place for every pot and pan and drew its outline on the pegboard a blind person could cook in this kitchen. “I like things to hang up,” Julia said, “so Paul made a diagram of where everything goes. It’s nice to have them back where they belong.” He moved a used professional Garland stove (purchased for $429) into the kitchen, and arranged Julia’s knives on magnetic strips so she could grab one without scrabbling through a drawer. “It’s very important that you train yourself with your knives,” she said. “Once you’ve used it and washed it, you put it away.”

An admitted knife-freak, Julia had dozens, most of them well used. But the one here, which she called her “fright knife,” was mainly a prop. “I love great big things,” she always said, and she certainly understood how hilarious that big knife looked when she brandished it on television. “Doing television,” she said, “you want amusing things, something fun and unusual. I think also on the television you want to do things loud people love the whamming noises.”

It was this instinct that got Julia on the air in the first place. Invited to appear on a book review show called “I’ve Been Reading,” she showed up at the WGBH studios with a hot plate, some eggs and a giant whisk, and whipped up an omelet for the startled host. The audience begged for more—and got it over the next three years the station produced almost 200 shows and turned Julia Child into a national icon.

Working nearly until her death at almost 92, Julia went on to produce a stunning number of books and television shows. She is largely responsible for the fact that food is now part of American popular culture, and although she passed away in 2004, her influence keeps growing. A whole new generation fell in love when Meryl Streep played her in the movies.

Part of Julia’s appeal was that she was so down-to-earth. Although she had a battery of heavy copper pots (purchased at Paris’ legendary Dehillerin), Julia preferred a little enamel saucepan that she used for 50 years. I once asked her about her favorite frying pan, and she pulled out an ordinary no-stick aluminum pan. “You get it at the hardware store,” she said. “It’s perfect for omelets. I could not live without that.”

When she said that she was sitting at her handsome Norwegian table in the center of the kitchen. Julia usually kept it covered with a yellowish orange and white-striped Marimekko cloth, and on top of that was a sheet of plastic it made it easier to clean. Although the house also had what she called a “beautiful, big dining room,” it was the kitchen where Julia most often entertained you. And if you were very lucky, you’d look underneath the table to find a hidden message.

One mischievous morning Paul, an incurable lover of bananas, peeled off a couple of stickers and left them, the sly signature of a man who had no need to make a public mark.

Paul Child was 60 years old when he retired to Cambridge. He could, according to his besotted wife, “do just about anything, including making a French-type omelet. Carpenter, cabinet-builder, intellectual, wine-bibber, wrestler. A most interesting man and a lovely husband.” Up to this point in their union, his career had dominated their lives as Julia followed him from one State Department posting to the next. His intention, on coming home, was to retire into the world of art and do the work he loved best.

But after the success of Julia’s book, the two reversed roles and he threw himself into her life with the same enthusiasm with which she had shared his. In a letter to his brother he wrote, “How fortunate we are at this moment in our lives! Each doing what he most wants, in a marvelously adapted place, close to each other, superbly fed and housed, with excellent health. ”

That attitude was, for its time, truly remarkable. Mastering was published just a couple of years before The Feminine Mystique. Women all over America were feeling oppressed—and with good reason. I cannot count the women of my mother’s generation who paid heavily for their success. Their husbands resented it their children did too. But Paul Child was a supremely confident man. “Whatever it is, I will do it,” he told Julia, becoming her manager, photographer, recipe-tester and taster, proofreader, illustrator. When she went on the road to promote her books, he went along. Few men of Paul Child’s generation would have been able to enjoy their wife’s success as he did.

And so when I look at this kitchen, I see more than just the practical simplicity that immediately meets your eye. And I see more than the place that welcomed so many Americans into the joys of cooking. When I look at this kitchen I see the legacy of a remarkable couple who were not only creating a food revolution, but also redefining what a modern marriage might be.

The French Chef: Education and Career of Julia Child

Television has been a key player in fueling the popularity of celebrity chefs. Before the information generation of today was exposed to a steady stream of cable TV food celebrities, a few pioneers put the culinary craft on display for public television viewers. Julia Child was one of these early pioneers. In fact, she played such a key role in food television that the Smithsonian Institution received permission to relocate her original kitchen to an American History exhibit.

Child’s characteristic voice and affect was so unique that it has been parodied many times. Her passion for cooking was undeniable and made her an endearing personality to anyone who ever picked up a spatula. Her delivery at times was hilariously funny, so even her most pedestrian demonstrations made for good television.

Chef Child’s boiled down French gourmet cooking was available in most American households in the early 1960s, when she became standard public television fare with her now famous program, The French Chef.

Child’s first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, opened American’s eyes to what had previously been an intimidating area of cooking. The book brought accessibility to French cuisine that had not been put forth in previous publications on the subject. Once Child began illustrating her techniques on TV, she became the go-to resource for anyone who wanted to expand his or her culinary horizons.

To a student chef, Child’s onscreen exploits can be an education in themselves. Her techniques are fundamentally sound and they provide the foundation on which many modern culinary innovations are built. Many episodes of The French Chef can be viewed online for nothing, so students should not overlook Julia Child’s iconic culinary message.

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.

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.”

Smithsonian curator Paula Johnson addresses many of the questions visitors ask about America’s beloved cooking teacher and her kitchen

When Julia Child was asked about the design of her home kitchen in 2001, she explained: “It’s certainly the soul of our house, and that’s one reason Paul [her husband] designed it the way he did with nice colors. It’s an attractive room, I think. It’s a work room that’s good looking.”

Many people heartily agree. Over the years, visitors to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., where Julia Child’s kitchen now resides as a popular exhibit have inquired about the exact names of the blue and green hues of the cabinetry. Not surprisingly, passionate admirers of America’s most popular and preeminent celebrity chef want to paint their kitchens in honor of their culinary hero.

The specific names of the blue and green paint and the manufacturer that the Childs used were sadly lost to history. But after the museum’s intrepid designers examined the cabinets and compared them to paint chips from various manufacturers, they determined that the blue-toned cabinets are close to Benjamin Moore’s “Covington Blue” and the green-toned pieces align with Benjamin Moore’s “Sherwood Green,” or possibly “Stem Green.” Assuming that the cabinets were likely affected by kitchen steam, cooking oils, cleaning solvents and, perhaps even fading due to the room’s abundant seasonal sunlight, we still couldn’t know with 100 percent certainty.

Julia Child's kitchen (above, click to discover more) was “certainly the soul of our house," she said. "And that’s one reason Paul designed it the way he did with nice colors." (Jaclyn Nash, NMAH)

Then, in 2013, as luck would have it, a craftsman who had refinished the kitchen’s butcher-block countertops at the Childs’ home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, visited the American History Museum with his wife. He reported that in the late 1980s, he and a local painter worked together in the kitchen, sprucing it up for a special occasion. I seized upon the opportunity to find out if the painter had remembered the precise paint colors used on the cabinetry. He said he’d try to find out. He also admitted with a twinkle in his eye to having tucked his lunch-time McDonald’s burger wrappers in behind Julia’s stove and wondered if we’d come across them. We hadn’t.

Several weeks later I received an e-mail with a most appreciated nugget of information: the painter had used Benjamin Moore Satin Impervo oil base paint and made up the color on the spot using cobalt blue with some yellow tint and a few drops of raw sienna. He added that, were he to do it again, he would have used an eggshell finish.

Julia Child visits her kitchen after it was moved to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in August 2002. (Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)

Visitors often ask about the machine beneath the telephone on the counter. In large bold letters, it is marked “Do Not Move This Machine.” A small dishwasher, perhaps? The unit is an icemaker, an especially important machine used in the 1990s when the kitchen became a set for the chef’s three television series: “In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs” (1993-1995), “Baking with Julia” (1996-2001), and “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home” (1998-2000). Television crews recorded multiple episodes over the course of a few intense weeks. Throughout the shoot there was a lot of food to keep fresh, thus the need for a reliable source of ice.

Among the artifacts that Julia donated to the Smithsonian is a photo album containing snapshots. These were taken in February and March 1998 when she and Jacques Pépin taped 26 of the many shows they did together. The photographs reveal the chaos of her home when the show was being produced—piles of dishware, coolers of food and stacks of cookware, linens and cutlery. The prep work was done in the cellar, while the formal dining room became the control room. Some 25 crew members filled the house performing their roles in making sure the set was dressed, the ingredients were at hand, the talent had hair and makeup in place, and the equipment was ready to roll. The snapshots of food—from fish to vegetables to various cuts of meat—provide ample evidence of the need for lots of ice.

When the curatorial team, Rayna Green, Nanci Edwards, and I first visited the 89-year-old Julia in August 2001, we didn’t know what to expect. Many visitors have asked, did she cook for us? We knew she was still very much involved in her own work, and we wanted to keep our disruption of her routine to a minimum. Besides, she already had other commitments for lunch and dinner during our visit, so the three of us headed out for lunch in the neighborhood and, at day’s end, happily had dinner in Cambridge.

In 1977, when this photograph of Julia Child was taken, she was working on a new television series, “Julia Child & Company.” The celebrity chef was very much in the public eye, having been featured on the cover of People magazine in 1975. (NPG, gift of the Estate of Hans Namuth © Hans Namuth Ltd.)

Things were a bit different when we returned that September to interview Julia along with her video crew from New York. We arrived at her home on September 11, 2001, just as the terrorist attacks were taking place in New York, Washington, D.C. and later on an aircraft flying over Pennsylvania. As Julia entered the kitchen where the interview was to take place, she encountered all of us, shocked and shaken, and wondering how to contact our families in Manhattan and D.C. Ever the professional, Julia suggested we continue the work we came to do, and recommended we take breaks whenever needed.

The kitchen soon started feeling a bit cozier, a bit homier, a bit safer and more secure as the aroma of something cooking enveloped the room. A pot of veal stew had been put on a low burner and by lunchtime, it was ready to eat, along with a green salad, and a crusty bread with butter.

As we sat around the formal dining room table (alas, the kitchen was filled with our equipment), Julia explained that the delicious lunch was actually leftovers from a special meal made in her honor the previous evening. The meal, prepared by members of a professional culinary and education organization, Les Dames d’Escoffier, including several female chefs from Boston and Providence, restored us and helped us to complete our work on that difficult, dreadful day. And it was Julia’s calm demeanor, her steady and engaging conversation, and her enormous good will that nourished us in ways we would never forget.

The exhibition,“Food: Transforming the American Table,” home of Julia Child’s Cambridge kitchen, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., will be closed for renovations September 3 through October 24, 2019. New displays coming this fall include stories on migration and food, America’s brewing history, a history of diets and dieting, and the emergence of Mexican-American vintners.

About the Author: Paula Johnson is project director and co-curator of the exhibition, "FOOD: Transforming the American Table" at the National Museum of American History, where she has helped shape the museum’s research, collecting, exhibitions and programming around food history. Johnson, a folklorist and public historian, has conducted field research on many topics and published two books on the Chesapeake Bay. Read more articles from Paula Johnson

Julia Child Episodes, ‘Trading History’ Coming to PBS Living Channel in June

PBS Living subscribers will have access to three classic Julia Child series and “Trading History” on the PBS Living Prime Video and Apple TV channels in June.

The subscription rate for PBS Living is $2.99 per month with an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscription. PBS Living is also available on Apple TV Channels in the Apple TV app at a subscription rate of $2.99 per month with no additional annual fees.

Coming June 18 are three seasons of “Baking With Julia Child.” In the series, Julia Child and pastry chefs, bakers and cookbook authors share tips and recipes on home baking. Child bakes chocolate truffle cake, walnut bread, tiramisu, a tropical napoleon, sourdough bread, and a French apple tart with many respected pastry chefs, as well as a wedding cake with Martha Stewart and more.

Season one of “In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs” starts streaming June 22. Child takes an in-depth look at contemporary American cooking along with 26 nationally recognized chefs. Inviting the master chefs into her kitchen, she cooks with the pros, detailing their techniques and dishes for the home cook. She makes lobster with Jasper White, shrimp in spicy coconut sauce with Madhur Jaffrey, a jicama salad with Rick Bayless, and many more recipes with many other chefs.

Debuting June 29 are 16 season one episodes of “Julia Child: Cooking with Master Chefs.” Julia visits 16 nationally acclaimed master chefs in their own kitchens. Each chef demonstrates distinct techniques, regional recipes and culinary tips which guide home cooks through their favorite recipes. Child makes lobster soufflé with Jacques Pépin, tapenade with Alice Waters, and risotto with wild mushrooms with Lidia Bastianich, among other recipes­.

Due June 15 are six episodes of “Trading History.” The series uncovers intriguing family history through the prism of auction house artifacts and dedicated research teams that go behind the scenes to confirm the authenticity of the item, uncovering biographical information about the finder, the owner and the maker. Each story is told through rare archival materials and is packed with history and facts.

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Paul, who worked for the State Department, was soon posted to France. En route to Paris, Paul took Julia to the oldest restaurant in the country, La Couronne. This was her first experience with classical French cuisine and she fell in love. “The whole experience was an opening up of the soul and spirit for me . . . I was hooked, and for life, as it turned out.” Eager to learn how to make this food, Julia enrolled in the famed Cordon Bleu. Between classes, she studied French and roamed the open air markets, talking with fish mongers, bakers and fruit sellers. She and Paul scoured the neighborhoods of Paris for friendly bistros, and under her husband’s patient tutelage, Julia’s palette grew more and more sophisticated.

It was in Paris that Julia met two French women, Simca Beck and Louisette Bertholle, who were writing a cookbook aimed at an American audience. They needed an American collaborator. Julia was perfectly suited for the job. She began testing recipes. For nearly ten years, she devoted herself to writing, testing and re-writing. She confided to her sister-in-law: “Really, the more I cook the more I like to cook. To think it has taken me 40 yrs. To find my true passion (cat and husb. excepted).”

Simca emerged as her principal collaborator. As Paul and Julia were posted from Paris to Marseilles to Bonn to Oslo and on to Washington, they kept up a furious correspondence, typing hundreds of letters with six carbon copies. Julia kept meticulous notes and spent months perfecting recipes for one ingredient. She made so many egg dishes that she finally wrote to Simca, “I’ve just poached two more eggs and throw them down the toilet.” When the women finally submitted their manuscript, the publisher turned it down. They made major revisions. Again, the publisher turned it down. “Hell and damnation,” Julia wrote to Simca. After repeated rejections, the book was finally picked up by a new publisher, Alfred Knopf and nurtured by a young and talented editor, Judith Jones. In 1961, Julia finally held in her hands the book titled “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” It had taken ten long years of relentless toil to produce. But it was not clear how the book would be received in America.

A Brief History of Closed Captioning

Whether you've encountered its unmistakable white text on black background at the gym, in a bar, or on the couch, you're familiar with closed captioning. Here's a brief history of the technology that has provided a (mostly accurate) transcript of television programming for more than 40 years, and made its network debut 35 years ago.


The nation's first captioning agency, the Caption Center, was founded in 1972 at the Boston public television station WGBH. The station introduced open television captioning to rebroadcasts of The French Chef with Julia Child and began captioning rebroadcasts of ABC News programs as well, in an effort to make television more accessible to the millions of Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing.


Captions on The French Chef were viewable to everyone who watched, which was great for members of the deaf and hard of hearing community, but somewhat distracting for other viewers. So the Caption Center and its partners began developing technology that would display captions only for viewers with a certain device.

"The system, called 'closed captioning,' uses a decoder that enables viewers to see the written dialogue or narration at the bottom of the screens," reported The New York Times in 1974. "On sets without the decoder, the written matter is invisible."

The technology, which converts human-generated captions into electronic code that is inserted into a part of the television signal not normally seen, was refined through demonstrations and experiments funded in part by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In 1979, the Federal Communications Commission formed the National Captioning Institute (NCI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and providing access to closed captioning. The first closed-captioned programs were broadcast on March 16, 1980, by ABC, NBC, and PBS. CBS, which wanted to use its own captioning system called teletext, was the target of protests before agreeing to join its network brethren in using closed captioning a few years later.


In 1990, a law—the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990—was passed mandating that all televisions 13 inches or larger manufactured for sale in the U.S. contain caption decoders. Sixteen years later, the FCC ruled that all broadcast and cable television programs must include captioning, with some exceptions. The exceptions include ads that run less than five minutes and programs air between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. According to, nearly all of the commercials that aired during this year's Super Bowl XLIX were captioned (the cost of captioning a 30-second spot is about $200, which is just a fraction of the approximately $4 million it costs to buy the ad space).


Prerecorded captioning is applied to prerecorded programming, such as sitcoms, movies, commercials, and game shows. It can take up to 16 hours to caption a one-hour prerecorded program, as the process involves more than transcribing a program's script. Using special software, the captioner must set the placement of the caption on the screen, as well as set when the caption appears and disappears. In the early days of captioning, scripts were edited for understanding and ease of reading. Today, captions generally provide verbatim accounts of what is said on the screen, as well as descriptions of sounds in the background.

Real-time captioning, which was introduced in 1982, provides a means for the deaf and hard of hearing community to enjoy live press conferences, local news, and sporting events on television as they happen. Real-time captioning is typically done by court reporters or similarly trained professionals who can type accurately at speeds of up to 250 words per minute. While captioners for prerecorded programs typically use standard keyboards, a real-time captioner requires a steno machine.


A steno machine contains 22 keys and uses a code based on phonetics for every word, enabling skilled stenographers to occasionally reach typing speeds of more than 300 words per minute. Words and phrases may be captured by pressing multiple keys at the same time, and with varying force, a process known as chording. Real-time captioners, or stenocaptioners, regularly update their phonetic dictionaries, which translate their phonetic codes into words that are then encoded into the video signal to form closed captions.


For live newscasts, closed captioners often receive the script that appears on the teleprompter in advance, but not every anchor follows this script as religiously as Ron Burgundy. Whereas court reporters generally aren't concerned with context and can clean up the first draft of their transcript at a later time, context matters for real-time captioners, who have one shot to accurately record what is being said. Given the speed at which they work, homonyms can prove especially difficult for stenocaptioners, as can unfamiliar or unusual names.

According to Jeff Hutchins, a co-founder of VITAC, one of the nation's leading captioning companies, there's more to being a closed captioner than knowing how to type. "There's a certain pathology to the process that we recognize," he told The New York Times in 2000. "A young lady will come in here, pretty good court reporter, very confident about her abilities, excited that she's going to get into captioning, and she will begin the training process very fired up, excited. Generally we know that in two to four weeks that she is going to be walking around with stooped shoulders, totally dejected, feeling like, 'I'll never get this.'"

Stenocaptioners can make more than $100,000 a year, but the work is stressful. In 2007, Kathy DiLorezno, former president of the National Court Reporters Association, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the job is akin to "writing naked, because a million people are reading your words. You can't make a mistake."


While a faulty decoder or poor signal can produce captioning errors, more often than not they are the result of human error, particularly during live programming. Though stenocaptioners prepare for broadcasts by updating their phonetic dictionaries with phonetic symbols for names and places that they expect to hear, even the most prepared and accurate stenocaptioner can make a mistake from time to time. For instance, all it takes is a single incorrect keystroke to type the phonetic codes for two completely different words. Mistakes aren't limited to words, either. In 2005, American Idol displayed the wrong phone number to vote for contestants in the closed captioning of its broadcast. Media companies are experimenting with automatic error-correcting features, voice-to-text technology, and innovative ways to provide captions for multimedia on the Internet. Though captioning continues to become cheaper, faster, and more prevalent than it is today, the occasional mistake will likely always remain.

Julia Child - HISTORY

This show features:
Working women, Culinary history, Television History, Marriage Partnership

Anyone who enjoys ethnic cooking or fine dining can thank the ebullient Julia Child for opening up America's kitchens and minds. Her popularization of French cooking through books and television began a food revolution whose effects are felt to this day.

Julia set the standard and format by which all cooking shows would be subsequently judged and taught us to look outside our country for culinary inspiration. But she was far more than an outstanding cook. She was a tremendous scholar, teacher, and innovator whose joie de vivre captured the hearts of all who met and saw her.

The show "Julia Child - Queen of Cuisine" pays tribute to the incredible energy, passion, and sense of playfulness with which she approached her greatest loves: her husband and her cooking.

The program highlights Julia's early search to find her life's calling. It provides fascinating insight into her struggles at Le Cordon Bleu, to develop and publish "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", and finally to create the groundbreaking "French Chef" television show. Using audience members to portray Julia's beloved husband Paul and her co-authors Simca and Louisette, it's a lively recipe for fun.

Comments from audience members:

Michael Field, playwright, speechwriter for the President of Johns Hopkins University

Watch the video: Julia Child - Favorite Moments from The French Chef (January 2022).