Editor who published Julia Child and Anne Frank’s diary

Obituary: Judith Jones, editor, born March 10th, 1924; died August 2nd, 2017

Judith Jones, the editor who discovered Julia Child and advanced a generation of culinary writers that revolutionised cooking and tastes in American homes, and who for a half-century edited John Updike, Anne Tyler, John Hersey and other literary lions, died at her summer home in Walden, Vermont. She was 93.

The cause was complications of Alzheimer's disease, her stepdaughter Bronwyn Dunne said.

Authors and publishing colleagues called Jones an extraordinary editor – imaginative, versatile, fascinated with stories, curious about people and places, a deft wordsmith and above all insatiable for the pleasures of French cooking. She talked about it, wrote about it and practised its arts in her kitchens in the New York City borough of Manhattan and rural Vermont.

She modestly ascribed her success to being in the right place at the right time. Certainly that was true in 1950, when as a young editorial assistant at Doubleday in Paris she rescued the diary of Anne Frank from a pile of rejects and persuaded her superiors to publish it in the United States – a stroke of fortune that gave the English-speaking world the intimate portrait of a forgotten girl, the child everyone had lost in the second World War.


And Jones was again in the right place at the right time a decade later when a shopworn 800-page manuscript by three unknown women with no literary credentials landed on her desk at the Alfred A Knopf publishing house in New York. The book, too long and with the uninspired title French Recipes for American Cooks had been rejected by several other publishers.

French cuisine

When published, Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Child and two French colleagues, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle was so popular over decades that it warranted scores of reprintings and a second volume in 1970, and it eventually sold more than a million copies. It gradually shifted the culinary landscape of a nation raised on canned vegetables, cake mixes and back-of-the-box recipes. It also launched Child on a celebrated, long-running public television career as host of The French Chef.

For Jones, who had previously edited translations of French philosophers Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, the Child book opened a new career path, editing culinary writers. A Knopf vice-president, Jones also edited some of America's best novelists and non-fiction writers. She shepherded all but one of Updike's scores of books of fiction, short stories, poetry and essays to publication, and edited Tyler's novels on the American family and works by Hersey, Elizabeth Bowen, Peter Taylor and William Maxwell.

Judith Bailey was born in New York City on March 10th, 1924, to Charles Bailey, a lawyer, and the former Phyllis Hedley. Judith and her sister, Susan, grew up in Manhattan in a prosperous but frugal household where garlic was shunned as vulgar. The food shopping was done by telephone and the cooking by a nanny. Evening meals were English-style meat and boiled potatoes. Sometimes, on Saturdays, Judith's father took her to a French restaurant.

Paris office

Judith attended the Brearley School in Manhattan and Bennington College in Vermont, graduating in 1945 with a degree in English. After three years as an editorial assistant with Doubleday in New York, she moved to Paris. She and her future husband, sharing rooms and a love of French cuisine, scoured the food stalls and markets and turned their apartment into what she called a speakeasy restaurant, making a meagre living with meals prepared together.

To make ends meet, she took a job in Doubleday's Paris office, reading manuscripts and advance copies of books in French in search of material for publication. The Diary of Anne Frank had already been published in Dutch and German, but not in English. Attracted by the girl's picture on the cover of the French edition, which had been consigned to the trash, she began reading. Her boss found her in tears later in the day.

"We have to send this book to New York," she said. "It's wonderful." In 1952, Doubleday published Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, to wide approbation.

Judith Bailey and Evan Jones were married in Vienna in 1951. He had two daughters by a previous marriage, Bronwyn and Pamela, and the couple had two adopted children, Chris Vandercook and Audrey Vandercook Bierman.