Feature

Julia Child, international spy

The U.S. unveils its high society of spies at the CIA’s forerunner.

What happened
The National Archives released the personnel records of nearly 24,000 people at the Office of Strategic Services, the World War II–era spy shop that preceded the CIA. The spies included future celebrity chef Juila Child, future Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, a young Arthur Schlesinger, filmmaker John Ford, actor Sterling Hayden, Red Sox catcher Moe Berg, and the sons of Ernest Hemingway and Theodore Roosevelt. (AP in The Washington Post)

What the commentators said
“Julia Child: celebrity chef by day, superspy by night,” said Judy Berman in Salon’s Broadsheet blog. She was already a national treasure for having “pretty much single-handedly introduced fresh, high-quality ingredients to midcentury American tables,” but a “mind-blowingly cool” double life, too? “You can’t get more awesome than that, right?”

True, she was “secretly more awesome than you already thought,” said Ryan Tate in Gawker, but actually her work in an “administrative capacity” at the OSS was already known. It’s “interesting to get confirmation,” though, and there are some great new details, like that she said on her OSS application that “her weakness was that she was ‘impulsive,’ because she quit a department store job once.”

Certainly “there was nothing covert about Julia,” said Robert Stein in his blog Connecting.the.Dots. In fact she “reveled” in telling confidantes about “her most dramatic exploit,” cooking up a shark repellant for underwater mines aimed at German U-boats. Her delight in that makes you wistful for “that innocent time when secretly working for your country was a source of pride.”

Child isn’t the only high-profile OSS member already identified as an operative, said Nick Gillespie in Reason’s Hit & Run blog. The “main takeaway” from these new documents appears to be the sheer size of the OSS. People previously thought maybe there were 13,000 employees.

The number of “notables” was also kind of surprising, said Andrea Stone and Emily Bazar in USA Today. The list of OSS agents “resembles a cocktail party guest list rather than a spy network.” With so many “actors, financiers, and socialites,” the internal joke was that OSS stood for “Oh So Social.”

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