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Appetite for Life: A visit with Julia Child’s biographer

Noel Riley Fitch with Julia Child in Biot, France, planning last meal in Paris, 1991

Noel Riley Fitch with Julia Child in Biot, France, planning last meal in Paris, 1991

As Julie and Julia debuts in theaters around the country this weekend, there’s a role in the film viewers may not immediately notice but without which the movie might be completely different. It’s Noel Riley Fitch’s biography of Julia Child titled Appetite for Life. Riley Fitch’s book, while never outright mentioned in the film, was a resource for writer Julie Powell for her blog about cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her book Julie and Julia 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen. Powell drew on several sources including Appetite for Life as she was imagining the scenes between Julia and her husband Paul for her book. Powell’s blog and book became the basis for Nora Ephron’s movie, which stars Amy Adams as Julie and Meryl Streep as Julia Child.

Riley Fitch, who had earned her PhD in American Studies from WSU in 1969 was already an accomplished biographer when she met Child at an American Institute of Food and Wine conference in 1990. Child, a voracious reader who loved material about Americans in Paris, had already read a few of Riley Fitch’s books.

How did you convince Julia Child to let you be her biographer?

She had said, “I say no to everybody who asks me that. I’m a very busy woman and I don’t have time to tell you about my life.” I said “Well, I’ve never written about a person who is still living, so I don’t really need all your time. I know how to research a person’s life without having met them or talked to them.”