Episode 6 of Julia, directed by Melanie Mayron, is about both baking French baguettes and cooking sweetbreads. Instead of looking at what’s happening with Julia (Sarah Lancashire) in this episode, I want to talk about the supporting characters around her.
A theme of Julia is how her success and celebrity depended on the support of others. Especially the support of women. I mentioned how important Paul’s (David Hyde Pierce) support was to Julia Child, but let’s look at her women supporters.
The Avis and Alice Show
Let’s start with two who believed in Julia from very early on.
Avis (Bebe Neuwirth) was Julia’s friend and cheerleader. She knelt at Julia’s feet (literally) to help with the production of every episode of The French Chef.
Episode 6 occurs several months after episode 5. We know this because Russ Morash (Fran Kranz) is now an exhausted new father. In the intervening months, Alice Naman (Brittany Bradford) has managed to syndicate the show in several new markets.
That means The French Chef is making money. Alice decides the station can hire paid professional assistant producers. This is the job Avis has been doing as a volunteer with Julia’s other volunteer supporter Dorothy (Lindsey Broad). Instead of offering to pay Avis, Alice attempts to “fire” her. Someone would be hired to do what Avis and Dorothy were doing.
That was a knife to the heart for Avis, who rightly felt proprietary about Julia Child. I can’t help but think that these two will mend themselves soon, but it’s the first misstep Alice has made in her staunch support for a cooking show led by Julia Child. Julia let Alice know that her idea wasn’t her best, too.
Alice still struggles with the white male patriarchy at the station, who don’t even recognize her importance to the show. It’s maddening.
The support went both ways, because when Julia made the deal with boss Hunter Fox (Robert Joy) for a second season, one of her conditions was Alice Naman be made a full producer.
Judith Jones (Fiona Glascott) was Julia’s editor at Knopf. Not only did she have to struggle with the head of the publishing company Blanche Knopf (Judith Light), to be able to work on Julia’s cookbooks, but she used her vacation time to go cook with Julia.
In episode six, she spent a week in the kitchen with Paul trying to work out a baguette recipe while Julia was in the studio filming an extra episode.
Judith Jones was behind the publication of The Diary of Anne Frank. She edited John Updike and other famous writers. Yet she had to push and push to get anyone to listen to her about the value of books by Julia Child.
Russ Morash was still pushing for more “important” material on pubic television even as he saw The French Chef exploding all around him. I’d like to say in the years since Julia Child got her start in the 1960s, men had learned to listen to and believe women. I’d like to say that, but I can’t.
Julia Child, Avis DeVoto, Alice Naman, and Judith Jones were pioneers, each in their own way. They pushed against the patriarchy, against sexism, against racism. They were determined and steadfast. They helped each other. And they won, leading the way for many woman who followed behind them. Alice Naman is a fictional character, while the others are real. But she represents many women who were real.
Enjoy this preview in a tweet from the series creator, Daniel Goldfarb.