The Night ‘Julia Child’ Bled to Death on ‘Saturday Night Live’
Imagine coming home from a lovely dinner date with your spouse, turning on the TV and watching a parody version of yourself bleed to death as the Saturday Night Live audience roars with laughter.
That's exactly what happened to Julia Child on Dec. 9, 1978, as Dan Aykroyd lovingly parodied the celebrity chef in the instantly famous "The French Chef" sketch.
The skit features Aykroyd's Child hosting a typical cooking segment before accidentally "cutting the dickens" out of her finger, releasing staggeringly large spurts of blood all over the set. Ever the professional, she tries to educate her audience on various ineffective DIY first aid solutions, constantly insisting that they save the chicken liver for future snacking. After finally realizing the gravity of her situation and attempting to call 911 for help on what turns out to be a prop telephone, the chef begins hallucinating about her childhood before collapsing face down in a pool of her own blood.
The good news is, the real-life Child wasn't offended in the slightest.
"We came home late one night, and just turned on by the TV and just happened to run into that show," Child later told Gino TV. "It was terribly funny, that bleeding to death and saying 'save the liver.' They sent us a cassette of that, so we have it, it's very funny. It really was hilarious."
The sketch was inspired by a real-life incident. A few weeks earlier, Child had accidentally cut the tip of her finger off minutes before appearing live on the The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder. She quickly dressed the wound and not only insisted on going on with the appearance, but asked that the host not mention the accident, so as to keep the audience's focus on the meal she was preparing.
However, as recounted in Alex Prud'Homme's book The French Chef in America, Snyder couldn't help himself from blurting out, "Julia, do you mind if I tell people you just cut your finger?" in the middle of the segment as the camera operator zoomed in on her hand. News of the on-set accident quickly made the rounds, with Johnny Carson asking Child about it a week later on The Tonight Show.
When Saturday Night Live writer Tom Davis got word of the story, he and coworker Al Franken quickly wrote "The French Chef," hoping to get Walter Matthau to portray Child when he hosted SNL's December 2nd episode. When they couldn't get the blood-spurting hose working right, they pushed the sketch back another week and turned to Aykroyd.
Despite the fact that he was a big fan of Child, and that his aunt Helen Gougeon was a noted chef who wrote cookbooks and hosted cooking radio shows in Canada, Aykroyd didn't fully understand why he was chosen for the role over female castmates such as Gilda Radner, Jane Curtain and Laraine Newman. "For some reason they asked me to read the part," he told Prud'Homme, while noting that his costume made him look "like a busty version of my mother."
"I had to convince Aykroyd to do it," Franken noted in Live From New York. "It's really a consummate Danny performance. I mean, it's live TV and just the timing of the spurts, it's beautiful. I was so admiring of that performance." (Franken is complimenting himself as well, as it was him who was hidden under the chef's table manually pumping the blood out of the tube on Aykroyd's arm.)
"[I] had no idea it would become a classic," Aykroyd later noted in The French Chef in America. "It came from a place of total respect for Julia Child. I was a huge fan of hers, of course, it was a tribute." The book notes that Child treasured her tape of the skit and would occasionally play it for friends at parties. According to Baking With Julia co-author Dorie Greenspan, Child even acted the sketch out herself for friends at one particularly rowdy party, crying out "Save the liver!'" at the top of her lungs.
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Gallery Credit: Corey Irwin