We got a little over-excited during this morning’s FYI when we discovered that Julia Child had been a spy for the United States’ Office of Secret Services — the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency — during World War II. Come to find out that’s old news, but what’s new is the opening of her service record, along with the identities and records of her OSS colleagues:
The OSS files offer details about other agents, including Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, baseball player Moe Berg, historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and film actor Sterling Hayden.
Other notables identified in the files include John Hemingway, son of author Ernest Hemingway; Kermit Roosevelt, son of President Theodore Roosevelt; and Miles Copeland, father of Stewart Copeland, drummer for the band The Police.
While it’s still too early to run many details from Child’s service record (they just opened the files today, after all), we did find a little bio on the CIA website that included some of her publicly known work:
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.
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.
It’s really a shame these records were unsealed after Child’s death. She could have shared some barracks recipe secrets or given some insight into that shark repellent. Well, perhaps some of that stuff will be uncovered as the newly public records get their closeup.
The Lady Was a Spy [NPR]
A Look Back … Julia Child: Life Before French Cuisine [CIA]
Julia Child, spy? [Chicago Tribune/wire report]
[Photo: via Wikimedia]