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At a Screening of 'Julie & Julia,' Friends Remember Julia Child

Still, Child's friends marveled at Streep's achievement. She got the voice right. Somehow, the 5-foot-6-inch Streep gave the sense of Child's 6-foot-2 frame.

And Streep making an omelet? "Entirely accurate, exactly as Julia did it on TV," said Nick Malgieri, a New York pastry chef and author who appeared on "Baking With Julia," one of Child's shows.

Child's niece, Phila Cousins, said later in a phone interview that Streep's characterization was unnervingly real. Cousins, a clinical psychologist in Colorado, said she visited the studio during filming to watch a scene between her famous aunt and her mother.

"It's a pretty surreal experience seeing your dead relatives come to life," Cousins said. "Meryl is inches smaller than my aunt. She said her characterization was based on the voice and getting the movements of a big person right. It's an amazing feat."

Powell said in a telephone interview that she understands objections to the parallels in Nora Ephron's screenplay between her life and Child's.

"I didn't do anything all that special," Powell said. "I did what thousands of women did: I cooked Julia Child's recipes."

Powell said she sought to honor Child's legacy, not to exploit it. "I'm not religious; I don't believe she's up there in heaven with Paul [her husband] eating sole meuniere," Powell said. "The extent to which a person lives on is in the minds of other people."

Still, it is difficult to settle on a single version of someone's life, or to agree on how to honor a legacy, especially for someone as much in the public eye and yet also as private as Child.

Nearly a half-dozen biographies of Child are completed or in the works, each presenting its own view of her. Child wrote her own book with Prud'homme late in her life, precisely because she did not want to reveal herself earlier, her friends said.

She was extremely protective of her name as a brand and refused to endorse products. And she never confessed even to close friends a fact revealed after her death: that she worked as a spy for the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the CIA.

"Each time we talked about it, she said, 'I just pushed paper! Can you imagine me, with my height, my voice -- a spy?' " Pépin said.

Despite her secret life, many Americans felt they knew her intimately because of what she did for food on television. The 1950s were a low point for American cooking, said Judith Jones, the editor who first published Child, in a telephone interview. Supermarkets had no fresh garlic or herbs, no shallots, no leeks, no lettuce other than iceberg.

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