Russ Morash, 88, WGBH Trailblazing Producer

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series The Russ Morash Collection
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Russell Morash Obituary by Bruce Irving

Russell Frederick Morash, 88, died after a brief illness on June 19, 2024, surrounded by members of his family.

Morash was born to Naomi Grace Lingley and his namesake father in Belmont, Massachusetts, and raised in nearby Lexington, a twin with David, an older brother to Ruth, and a Yankee through and through.

A childhood spanning the Depression and World War II gave him a predisposition towards thrift, but his true motivating spirit was his deep and abiding curiosity. He was the twin who reliably escaped the playpen, to be found exploring the yard and nearby woods.

He was the 1957 Boston University theater graduate who chose the new field of television over a job stage-managing a Samuel Beckett play in . And he was the father who spent the bulk of a recent afternoon figuring out the complexities of a European toilet paper holder before installing it at his elder daughter Vicki's new home.

He cut his TV teeth at Boston's WGBH public station by producing and directing a wide variety of shows, including a live children's show called Ruth Ann's Camp, the public affairs series , , and the landmark James Brown concert, broadcast live the night after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination.

But his unending fascination with the way things work lead him to his true calling, creating the shows that earned him the informal title of “father of how-to television.” The French Chef (1963) let others in on the joys of 's cooking and lead to a 40-year partnership and friendship between director and chef. (1975) satisfied his own urge to understand the ways of gardening after starting a failed one in his own backyard. Marian, his wife of 66 years, recalled him coming home from work to find their very first crop of broccoli decimated by a local woodchuck. “Russ said, ‘I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm going to learn, and I bet other people will want to as well.'”

The same went for This Old House (1979), based on his own experience renovating the couple's first house in Lexington. His forebears had been shipwrights and housebuilders, and Russ was determined to limn the kind of craftsmanship he'd been raised to respect. When he spotted Norm Abram working on a friend's house, he took note of “the smallest scrap pile I'd ever seen,” as Russ recalled, indicating care and forethought, not to mention Yankee thrift, and soon Norm was on the crew. Later, Norm got his own show, The New Yankee Workshop (1989), created by Russ to demystify furniture making.

Spotting potential was a Morash strength. His choice of show hosts and on-air talent was superb, and he drew out their natural teaching abilities with his own unerring bent towards clarity, precision, and lack of pretense. Craftspeople would share their skills as the camera moved seamlessly through the set, which quickly left the confines of the studio. “My instinct,” he told the in 1983, “is to simplify the process of making a television program until we are down to the bare essentials. That means taking what's out there and adapting it to our purposes–using the real world as a backdrop.”

Although his career began in a time of massive pedestal-mounted equipment, he relentlessly adopted technological innovations that cut the tether and allowed the camera and talent to move freely. He paired that flexibility with his curiosity to travel , from a prefab house factory in to an exclusive salmon stream in Scotland to the top of the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, to name only a few of the behind-the-ropes locations he took his crews. Along the way, he picked up 16 Emmys, including one in 2014 for .

Happy though he was with his professional accomplishments, his proudest feelings were for the family that he and Marian built. “He was involved in our lives and always there,” daughter Kate says. “He expected you to be prepared and to take tasks seriously, to be resourceful and figure things out.” “If you're going to shovel the driveway,” adds Vicki, “shovel it right.”

He deeply admired Marian as a mother and a chef, and had her skills to thank for bringing him to his beloved Nantucket, where the couple bought a second home after Marian was recruited to help launch the Straight Wharf Restaurant in 1975. He spent many happy days there gardening and renovating and being “papa” to who were always described in his official biographies as his “five exceptional grandchildren.”

“Russ was the ultimate creator,” says Eric Thorkilsen, former CEO of This Old House Ventures, founded after AOL Time-Warner purchased the show from public television in 2001. “From the iconic media brands he imagined and built, the careers and lives of those he chose to be a part of that, to the gardens in Lexington and Nantucket that he nurtured with joy and care–for all of that I admired him greatly. Most of all, however, his greatest creation was the life, family, and marriage he created with Marian. Here's to you, pal. You did it right.”

Russ is survived by his wife, Marian Morash; daughters Victoria Evarts and husband Thomas Evarts and Kate Cohen and husband Adam Cohen; grandchildren Sophie E. Lockwood, Alexandra E. Ott, Russell Jack Cohen, Remi J. Evarts, and Madeleine H. Cohen; his beloved three great-grandchildren and his nephew, Jeffrey Morash; and his brother David Morash and sister Ruth Daniels.

A private burial will be held at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA, with a memorial service planned for this autumn.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider a donation to The Nantucket Conservation Foundation.

From The New York Times

Russell Morash, ‘This Old House' and ‘The French Chef' Producer, Dies at 88.

Hailed as a pioneer of D.I.Y. programming, he oversaw groundbreaking how-to shows on public television in the days before HGTV and YouTube.

Russell Morash, a public television producer and director who helped turn a cookbook author, Julia Child, into America's chef and transformed bathroom tile replacement and roof repair into addictive TV with “This Old House,” died on June 19 in Concord, Mass. He was 88.

His death, in a hospital, was confirmed by his wife, Marian Morash, who said the cause was a brain hemorrhage.

Hailed as the “father of how-to television” by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which gave him a lifetime achievement Emmy Award in 2014, Mr. Morash helped usher in the D.I.Y. era with the enduring instructional shows that he helped create for the Boston station WGBH.

“The French Chef,” which debuted in 1963, with Mr. Morash as director and producer, and which became Ms. Child's vehicle to mass-market fame, changed the way American's thought about food with her distinctly American approach to French cooking. And “This Old House” proved an instant hit in 1979, and remains a ratings powerhouse after 45 years. As of last year, the show and a sister show, “Ask This Old House,” together had received 20 Emmy Awards and 119 Emmy nominations.

Long before the Food Network, HGTV and other outlets created a how-to revolution on cable, Mr. Morash seized on the idea that craftspeople with no television experience could become stars of the small screen by sharing their insider tips and insights.

“This Old House,” for example, made household names of Bob Vila, who previously ran a home renovation business, and Norm Abram, a carpenter whom Mr. Morash had originally hired to build a workshop in his backyard in Lexington, Mass.

“Crockett's ” debuted in 1975 with James Underwood Crockett, an author of gardening books, as the host. The show also featured Mr. Morash's wife, a self-taught cook, whipping up veggie delights from the garden. The show was refashioned as “The Victory Garden” after Mr. Crockett's death in 1979.

“He was very skilled in getting the best out of ordinary people,” , a former president of WGBH, said of Mr. Morash in an interview.

In terms of sheer impact, no could rival that of Ms. Child, a geyser of personality with a fluttering soprano seemingly made for Lincoln Center. Indeed, she later became the subject of a 1989 opera, “Bon Appétit!,” and of memorable parodies.

But there was no indication that she would become an institution of the airwaves when she was invited in 1962 to appear as a guest on a WGBH book show called “I've Been Reading,” to discuss her new cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” which would go on to have a seismic impact on the food landscape.

As Mr. Morash recalled in the WGBH interview, “The phone rang one afternoon, and this woman I would describe as having the voice somewhere between and Tallulah Bankhead, plus a couple of packs of Marlboros a day, said — demanded, really — that she have a hot plate on the reading program.”

On air, Ms. Child began beating eggs in a giant copper bowl. “I thought to myself: Who is this madwoman cooking an omelet on a book-review program?” Mr. Morash recalled.

The station hired her for 26 segments at $50 apiece, and “The French Chef” ended up running for a decade.

That show, however, was only the start for Mr. Morash.

Russell Frederick Morash Jr. was born on Feb. 11, 1936, in Boston, one of three children of Russell Sr., who was part of a long line of carpenters and builders, and Naomi (Lingley) Morash, a secretary.

In his youth, Russ learned carpentry skills while assisting his father, but became interested in theater while working on productions at Lexington High School.

After graduating from Boston University in 1957 with a degree in theater, he set his sights on a career as a stage director. But he turned down a job as an assistant stage manager in New York to remain in the Boston area to be with Marian Fichtner, whom he married in 1958. He soon took a job as a camera operator at WGBH, and within a year was directing and producing.

His own considerable handyman skills helped inspire “This Old House,” a concept that grew out of the restoration that he and his wife were doing on their 1851 farmhouse in Lexington.

“We were met with a lot of disbelief among my friends and acquaintances — ‘What's a television producer doing fixing up his own house and doing the work on his own?'” he said in a 2016 interview with Yankee Magazine. “It triggered in my mind the notion that if maybe enough people would be interested in that idea, we would make a series about it.”

The original concept was to purchase a home, fix it up and sell it for a profit. For the first season, Mr. Morash scraped up enough money for a mortgage on a Victorian house in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester that required extensive renovation work.

A Boston Globe reporter was tapped to be the host of the pilot, which never aired, although station executives did not think she had the right camera presence. “But the guy who was doing the work,” Mr. Morash said, referring to Mr. Vila, “he could really come through the camera. The connection between him and the audience really came alive.”

The station barely broke even on the sale, but it scarcely mattered: “This Old House” set local ratings records for WGBH and became a bonanza nationally.

One reason for its initial popularity was the overall scarcity of how-to information. “No one was going to teach you how to square a board or how to cut drywall, let alone how to solder a pipe or wire a fuse,” Mr. Morash, who retired from WGBH in 2004, said in a 2021 video interview. “There was no internet in those days, no YouTube.”

After the pilot, the show changed its format, sending out its crew to ride to the rescue of anxious homeowners facing daunting repairs. “This Old House” thus created a winning formula later adopted by many cable shows, including HGTV's “Love It or List It” and Bravo's “Buying It Blind.”

Mr. Vila left the show in 1989 and became a one-man home improvement franchise, with celebrity tool endorsement deals and multiple renovation shows of his own.

“This Old House,” too, grew into a franchise, with Mr. Morash producing and directing spinoff shows like “Ask This Old House” and “The New Yankee Workshop,” which starred Mr. Abram.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughters, Victoria Evarts and Kate Cohen; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

While “This Old House” became a television institution, Mr. Morash later recalled his father's initial skepticism that viewers would have any interest in tradespeople beavering away with claw hammers and circular saws.

“I said, ‘Dad, I'm not asking them to quote Shakespeare,” he said in a 2009 interview with Boston magazine. “I want them to tell me, in their own way, how to lay an oak floor.”


From the Washington Post

Russell Morash, father of how-to and fix-it television, dies at 88

By putting Julia Child and “This Old House” on public television, he helped create the genre that has inspired millions to don an apron or tool belt with do-it-yourself gusto.

Russell Morash, a behind-the-scenes presence in public television who made Julia Child a celebrity chef and created the fix-it show “This Old House,” prototypes of an enduringly popular TV genre that has inspired millions of viewers to don an apron or tool belt with do-it-yourself gusto, died June 19 at a hospital in Concord, Mass. He was 88.

The cause was a brain hemorrhage, said his wife, Marian Morash.

Mr. Morash, son of a carpenter, was widely considered the godfather of how-to television. Hired by WGBH in Boston in the late 1950s, he became a producer and director and spotted the talent of future stars including Child, whom he introduced to the airwaves, in all her exuberance, with “The French Chef” in 1963.

A struggling gardener, Mr. Morash drew on his own mishaps, including a woodchuck in his broccoli patch, to create the show that became “The Victory Garden,” which debuted with horticulturalist James Underwood Crockett in 1975 and schooled audiences in the art of cultivating vegetables, fruits and flowers.

Four years later, Mr. Morash put handyman Bob Vila on the air as the original host of “This Old House,” a ratings juggernaut that according to PBS was “TV's original home-improvement show.”

Today entire cable channels — among them the Food Network and HGTV — exist to satisfy the kitchen cravings and solve the home-repair problems that many viewers lack the confidence to tackle on their own.

Mr. Morash “pioneered the whole genre of do-it-yourself lifestyle television,” said Ron Simon, head curator at the Paley Center for Media in . Mr. Morash, he added, had a special touch for drawing viewers to the screen — and then sending them out to try what they had learned.

In addition to teaching viewers how to baste and braise, what to do about root rot, or how to install wainscoting, Mr. Morash's shows responded to a fundamental human curiosity, one that surges up in childhood and for many people never abates, about how things work.

“Most of us live our lives without ever seeing what goes beyond our cars, houses, buildings and grounds, even our meals,” Mr. Morash told the New York Times in 1999. “All of these are done by others, without our being present. We come home at night and cut a check.”

He recalled that his father at one stage of his carpentry career worked at a firm that made optical systems. During the lunch hour, physicists and rocket scientists would gather in his workshop for advice on home repairs. “My God,” Mr. Morash recalled his father exclaiming, “these men and women of such education are coming to me!”

In his line of work in television, Mr. Morash correctly perceived that viewers would flock to TV experts much as his father's colleagues had turned to him.

Mr. Morash gave Child a regular spot on TV after seeing her promote her opus “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” on a book show. With a voice that he described as “somewhere between Eleanor Roosevelt and Tallulah Bankhead plus a couple of packs of Marlboros a day,” she would be, he was certain, a hit. Over the years, until her death in 2004, Child became perhaps the most celebrated TV chef of her generation.

Before “This Old House” debuted, “the words ‘do it yourself' hadn't been put together,” Mr. Morash told Boston magazine in 2009. “People did not have power tools, did not do their own repairs. They hired people.”

For the first season of the show, WGBH restored an old Victorian house in Dorchester, Mass., revealing to viewers the potential of homes that at first glance might look like teardowns. “This Old House” made addicts of fans who followed the hammering and pounding of a renovation to experience the glory in the end.

Mr. Morash, who received a slew of Emmys, as well as a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, told an interviewer he was “thrilled” for his shows to be imitated in their modern-day cable iterations, which, he noted, are far more heavily produced than his were.

Working with a shoestring budget, he and his colleagues avoided stops and cuts whenever possible, watching, he said, as the show “just came together.”

“I'm not doing the third act of Hamlet,” Mr. Morash joked to the Times. “You just ask these craftsmen to tell us what they do and what they're thinking about when they're doing it.”

Russell Frederick Morash Jr. was born on Feb. 11, 1936, in Boston and grew up in Lexington, Mass. His mother was a homemaker and later a secretary. His father was his first in D.I.Y. trades.

Mr. Morash became involved in the dramatic arts in high school and studied theater at Boston University, where he graduated in 1957. He declined an offer to work as an assistant stage manager for a Samuel Beckett play in New York to stay in Boston with his future wife, whom he married in 1958.

By her account, Mr. Morash walked in the door at WGBH and landed a job as a camera operator, pushing around what he described as “one of these refrigerator-sized cameras.” Shortly thereafter, he began directing and producing — “which was really his personality,” Marian Morash said — and never stopped.

In his early years at the station, despite having little knowledge of French, he oversaw the foreign-language instructional program “Parlons Français.” He quickly demonstrated his versatility, working on a children's show, public-affairs programming, and a series jointly produced with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called “MIT Science Reporter.”

He moved into his signature D.I.Y. programming, his wife said, because of his exasperation with the state of his garden. She recalled him saying, “You know what we need is a gardening show — so that I can learn, and maybe other people would like to learn.”

Marian Morash, a cookbook author and James Beard Award-winning chef, was a close collaborator in her husband's career, working with Child as her executive chef as well as appearing on “The Victory Garden” in segments teaching viewers how to cook what they had grown….

Mr. Morash's later shows included “The New Yankee Workshop,” with master carpenter Norm Abram. He never lost faith, his wife said, that “people like to know things like he liked to know things.”

He also hoped, he said, that his programs might help keep the peace in households that turned to the TV for help in the kitchen, in the garden and at the workbench.

“Husbands and wives are watching together,” Mr. Morash told the Times, “comparing their homes to the ones we're showing and resolving their differences about renovating projects. We hope we're settling arguments.”


From GBH

We are deeply saddened to learn about the passing of . A long-time member of the GBH family, Russ was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. He invented how-to television and, together with GBH, launched a new genre of programming that established public television in the minds of millions of viewers like you. His groundbreaking work embodied the innovative spirit that has always defined GBH.

Russ first joined GBH in 1957 and for more than 40 years, he was instrumental in creating iconic shows that spanned generations, including The French Chef with Julia Child, The Victory Garden, This Old House, and The New Yankee Workshop. Visionary and groundbreaking when they first premiered, these award-winning shows helped to change the way Americans interacted with television, giving audiences the confidence that they could succeed in the kitchen, and the knowledge they needed in order to tackle any and all home renovation projects.

Over the years, Russ has been honored with 14 Emmy awards and a Lifetime Achievement award from the Emmys / Television Academy. He was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame Hall of Fame in 2018. He always attributed his success to his team. He is memorialized on today's GBHMural overlooking the Mass Pike in Boston. Rest easy, RM.


From This Old House


From WGBH News

Russell Morash, creator of This Old House and a pioneer of how-to television, has died. His death was confirmed by former This Old House producer Nina Fialkow.

“He was an innovator at the core,” Fialkow wrote in an email to GBH News. “[He] created an entire genre of television.”

Morash was born in 1936, growing up in Lexington, Mass., and graduating from Boston University. His storied career with GBH including launching not just This Old House but also the long-running gardening show The Victory Garden, as well as numerous collaborations with Julia Child.

In a 2006 interview, Morash told GBH's that more than 65 years ago, he was hired at GBH as a camera operator. Several months later, in 1958, he effectively became a producer-director.

In that interview for a GBH oral history project, Ambrosino suggested that Morash's in-the-field TV production was “one of [his] pioneering areas.”

“Well, it helps when you burn down your studio — which is what we did,” Morash replied.

The fire in 1961 spurred him to produce many of GBH's shows with a mobile unit.

“The mobile unit itself was a shabby piece of equipment that had already had seven million miles on it as a perfectly reasonable bus, and then we ripped it all apart and put in a TV control room. And that was my job: to run that TV mobile unit,” Morash said. “And that was, again, a great experience.”

It brought the audience into their experts' kitchens and laboratories, instead of having those experts teach from a TV studio — a novelty at the time.

One of Morash's major successes began just a couple of years later, when GBH was still without a studio. Morash was sharing a desk with a colleague who worked on a public access reading show.

“The phone rang one afternoon, and this woman I would describe as having the voice somewhere between Eleanor Roosevelt and Tallulah Bankhead plus a couple of packs of Marlboros a day, said — demanded, really — that she have a hot plate on the reading program,” Morash recalled.

That was the first time Morash and Julia Child spoke. The two soon jumped into working together when GBH created pilots and, eventually, full seasons of The French Chef.

“Russ realized that she was not just an author — she was really great on the camera, and that we should try making a program with her telling us how to cook,” said Henry Becton, former president of GBH. “I think Russ was certainly the one who found Julia in that sense.”

A man with graying hair points offscreen.

Russell Morash on the set of “This Old House” in season 10. Photo: Richard Howard for GBH

Becton was working as GBH's program manager when Morash launched the iconic, long-running series This Old House, which debuted in 1979. Just a few years before, in 1974, he started the gardening show The Victory Garden.

The shows were “the absolute precursors and inspiration of all iterations of reality TV,” said Fialkow.

“He was certainly one of the commanding fathers of the how-to genre — and the channels that came with it on cable,” Becton said.

The idea for This Old House came from Morash's own life, as he fixed up his house in the Boston suburbs with his wife Marian Morash — who also worked extensively on This Old House and The Victory Garden. The couple was surprised by the response they got from their friends, that TV producers would do work on their own homes.

“My dad had done it and was a carpenter and builder and a great man, and he taught us — my brother and I — how to do it. And it was not a big deal. But everyone else thought it was a big deal,” Morash recalled.

As Morash himself told it, his success behind the camera came from taking the production crew where they had “no business being”: into the field.

“There was no television in the field. Oh, there was a baseball game, and a concert … but you had to roll some very heavy equipment. There were no lightweight, portable equipment. There were no lightweight lights! The radio microphones were a joke, just a cruel joke,” he said.

But This Old House was shot on location.

The show's production was built around “eavesdropping” rather than tightly scripting an episode — not asking builders to stay silent or pause their work when the TV crew arrived. Instead, cameramen effectively walked through the house-in-progress to discover, as an unknowing audience member would, what each builder was doing and why.

“Right from the get-go, that show was unbelievably successful. And I have no idea why, except people love to see things getting fixed up and repaired,” Morash said. “The rest is history.”

“Whether it was who teaches us how to garden, or Norm [Abram] who teaches us how to build, these people are great teachers,” he said in 2006. “They can make things work for you, if you just follow their directions.”

Morash stepped down from This Old House in 2004. In 2018, he was inducted into Massachusetts Broadcasters' Hall of Fame.

“He always wanted to inform, educate and inspire viewers – with fun and humor,” Fialkow said. “He was a grand human being, one of one – truly. I will miss him endlessly.”


From Wikipedia

Morash started his entertainment career as a cameraman for Boston public-television station WGBH-TV. In 1961, as a cameraman, Morash met Julia Child when she appeared on a WGBH program called I've Been Reading, while promoting her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Viewers flooded the station with calls and letters asking to see more. The French Chef premiered on WGBH in 1962 and then was distributed nationally by American Public Television. Morash began directing The French Chef in 1963. They worked together on other cooking shows for more than thirty years.

Morash's theater-inspired directorial style, and the technology of the day, required that the staff and host — all collected in a makeshift studio cobbled together with equipment that had escaped a massive station fire — would shoot each episode in one take. It established an in-the-moment template for a new kind of public television show that Morash took with him to launch other series, such as This Old House and The Victory Garden.

The Victory Garden and This Old House spinoff series The New Yankee Workshop were filmed in Morash's own backyard in Massachusetts.


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23 Comments

  1. George Sullivan (AKA George Rocky Sullivan) on July 6, 2024 at 1:50 am

    Fred,

    Your tribute to Russ was amazing. It brought back so many memories for me, as you mentioned all the staff that I delivered mail to when I was a boy in charge of the mailroom, before and after the GBH fire. It was all hands on deck during that time. I shuttled mail and ran errands to Granby Street, HDH, Field Street, etc.

    I remember a very brief conversation I had with Russ when I asked him if there was anything I could do to help out on the production side in my spare time. He said “Talk to Bob Moscone.” I did, and on nights and weekends worked on remotes and shows at HDH. Thanks to you I worked on many “Parlons Francais” episodes.

    After graduating high school I was inspired to move to California. I had dreams of doing something in television or in movies. I eventually used the things I learned at GBH to do small theater which lead to stunt doubling, stand-ins, and small parts in movies. I am still a proud member of SAG, and in 2025, I will be a member of the Nominating Commitee for the Screen Actor Guild Awards.

    I thank Russ, Bob Moscone, and you, as well as many of the names you mentioned, for the opportunities and inspiration.

  2. Deborah Gillespie on June 29, 2024 at 12:56 pm

    Fond memories of the early days of Crockett’s Victory Garden and with a budget set at $500 per show, the man made magic.

    Thank you Russ for the memories and the miracles.

    Take a bow – you deserve all the applause!

    • Kathryn Pierce Dietz on July 5, 2024 at 2:50 pm

      Oh wow, I didn’t know how cheap their budget was! My very first job in TV was at Crockett’s Victory Garden. I was an intern (free), still in college, and one of my jobs was to get clean Burpee Seed Catalogues to use in the end credits.

  3. Fred Barzyk on June 28, 2024 at 5:50 pm

    We have lost a pillar of creativity at GBH. Russ was unique and special. He had vision, the ability to make it happen, and a creative vision that the public liked. He developed TV stars: Julia Child, Bob Villa, Anne Slack, John Fitch (Science Reporter). He knew how to handle performers.

    I would like to step back, just for a second, to reflect on the development of the WGBH style of producing.

    The years were 1957 to 1970. It was the time of great moments for the theatre in America. Great plays had come to Broadway — Long Days Journey into Night, Bertol Brecht was off broadway, West Side Story, Pinter, the theater of the absurd. The excitement spread throughout the country.

    We had Tyrone Guthrie establishing a rep theater in Minneapolis, MI. That alone changed how theater was to be viewed in America. For the first time, we had professional paying jobs in every corner of the country.

    One did not have to go to New York to see the latest play done by fine actors. They came to your neighborhood. And you know what else it did?

    It created a group of young artists who decided that the theater was going to be their future. And many of them showed up as employees of WGBH. A theater sensibility permeated our thinking. It was the special ingredient in our style.

    There were a few of us. who found TV as our calling.

    Russ had worked summer theater for years, directing and acting. Michael Ambrosino still carries his SAG card.

    Greg Harney lit many a summer playhouse before settling into CBS as their top flight lighting director. Once he did a a quick job for WGBH (supervised the lighting for a big kinescope production, Press and the People) he quit CBS and became our production chief. He brought the CBS style of directing but with a deep passion for the creativity of the theater.

    A number of the crew were made up of people from the theater: Chas Norton, all of our scenic department, and Don Hallock who emerged from Boston’s Children’s Theater to be a spectacular camera person, director and then a video artist. There were not many “broadcasters” but a lot of mission driven theater types. Including me.

    Then there were the musicians who turned to WGBH. The station manager Dave Davis was a professional trumpet player, Jordan Whitelaw executive producer of the BSO broadcasts. Even our tape manager was a card carrying member of the Musicians Union.

    The “arts” were a major component of our early shows. Music, art, movie criticism, Eliot Norton and theater reviews. Russ did a show called “Laughter is a Funny Business.” It was really good. They did a Stan Freeberg satire on the state of America. I also recall Russ creating a visual masterpiece for the phrase “a rose, is a rose, is rose.” Greg Harney and I watched as the camera and roses spread across the screen as a perfect image. We both applauded Russ as we stood in the control room.

    Russ also did a daily show, Ruth Anne’s Camp. He said he learned how to produce doing that show. The creativity jumped off the screen. They did wondrous things in those early days of TV. You could tell that this guy was going to create something great.

    Russ also started a kids language show “Parlon Français” It was a 15-minute show that was part of the curriculum of the Boston School System. Working in a small studio, Russ found ways to bring the French culture to the screen. He was really good.

    Ad then he went off to marry Marion. And this event was the reason I was hired as a full-time director. I remember Russ and his wife leaving WGBH, walking down the staircase at 84 Mass. Ave for the honeymoon in France and waving back to us. We clapped for them.

    Jumping ahead.

    I have asked WGBH Archives if they can release Russ archive interview. It is filled with Russ’s humor and comments on the state of WGBH.

    A few years back I asked Russ, along with a number of other producers, to reflect on why WGBH was a great TV station. It was sent to a historian, Douglas Brinkley in hopes that he might write a history of WGBH.

    Russ Morash was Julia’s Child’s first TV director. Russ wanted to be an actor/director in the theater but ended up spending a very celebrated career at WGBH creating This Old House and The Victory Garden among many other great programs. Here is Russ’s take on the subject:

    – – – – – – –

    “How was it that WGBH became the best station in the PBS system? It helped that the broadcast license of the WGBH Foundation was granted under the auspices of a cluster of very good Boston area cultural organizations known as the Lowell Institute including the MFA, the BSO, and some of the nation’s premier educational institutions including MIT, Harvard, BU, Tufts etc. These entities were active partners in making WGBH a leader from it’s beginnings; sharing resource’s, including real estate and faculty, and most important their good names. Whereas elsewhere, many Public stations are connected to a public school district or a state university dependent for funding on the vagaries of local tax payers and elected officials, WGBH had a big advantage attracting donors and an audience given the pedigree of the Lowell Institute and it’s private institutions.. On those early days WGBH was preaching to the choir and collecting their grateful offerings to support it’s noble work.

    “It helped that from the start WGBH operated on Channel 2 on the VHF frequencies (2-13) and could attract viewers to its offerings on a level playing field with other commercial channels. Unlike so many other US cities with struggling educational stations exiled by a FCC more interested in favoring big commercial players into the nether world of UHF frequencies (14 – 83) where weak TV signals were hard to tune. WGBH had a good strong signal that meant its programs could be seen by most TV area homes.

    “It helped that good old Yankee sensibility frowned on spending money it didn’t have, choosing to impose tight budgets, seeking clear value for money, and hiring young people at low wages hoping their energy and innovation would carry the day. As it turned out that technique worked very well over the years that followed. Often it did. One didn’t join WGBH for the salary but for the opportunity.

    “It really helped that Julia Child settled on Cambridge for her headquarters and soon thereafter marched over to WGBH to inquire if there was any interest in French Cooking. There certainly was and for about what a good meal for 2 with wine now costs, the French Chef was invented in 1963 and reinvented often going on for decades to become a landmark television achievement for it’s star Julia Child.

    “Early on there came to be a groundbreaking science series started by Mike Ambrosino of WBGH called Nova. This program was unafraid to tackle difficult stories about science and technology that other broadcasters wouldn’t dream of doing. Today after 40 years, Nova is still a mainstay of Public Television. Such programs never die.

    “Masterpiece Theatre with Alistair Cooke delighted early audiences with The Forsythe Saga, I Claudius, Upstairs Downstairs, and now of course, Downton Abby.

    “What a great idea Chris Sarson, a young WGBH producer, had to bring great TV drama already lavishly produced by our British cousins for American audiences to enjoy. He even got Mobil Oil to pay for it, no mean trick. (WGBH has always understood the mechanism and techniques of attracting funders for its programs without which they could not exist.)

    “Another key player is David Fanning who is the founding producer in charge of Frontline, one of the jewels in the WGBH crown. Whether he’s taking on The Saudis for Death of a Princess” or the NFL with “A League of Denial”, this distinguished documentary series is unmatched in the history of television in America. Where would television be without these programs?

    “Where indeed would a program appraising attic treasures become so popular that owners across the country stand in line for hours for a chance at “Antiques Road Show.” They don’t seem to mind a bit carrying their heavy objects around hoping to come before the cameras for an appraisal while excited audiences at home tune in to see if they might have similar valuables lying around just waiting to be discovered. It was a clever idea to bring this idea over from the BBC.

    “While WGBH gained National attention and the requisite underwriting for its distinguished national programs it deeply cultivated it’s own local audiences for funding local programs like The Victory Garden and This Old House making it possible for these programs to gain a foothold in Boston impressive enough to become fixtures on PBS soon thereafter. Designated “How To” television, such programs became an important element of PBS programming and fund raising for years. It is ironic that so many programs now cluttering the Cable TV landscape are mere clones of programs WGBH and it’s producers created years ago.

    “And finally let’s raise a glass for the keepers of the flame; the managers like David Ives, and Henry Becton, Michael Rice and Peter McGhee who offered important council and support but who were willing stand beside not in front of their talented staff. WGBH, a good place to be “from”.

    – – – – – – –

    Russell Morash, hired in 1957, retired in 2009.

    Rest in peace, we will miss you.

    Fred

    • Amy Meyers on June 28, 2024 at 5:52 pm

      Fred,

      As always, your input is a treasure. Stay well.

      Amy

    • Dave DeBarger on June 28, 2024 at 5:52 pm

      Thank you, Fred, for this walk down memory lane!

      I am still processing the loss of Russ Morash. He was my mentor, and my career (such as it was) is largely thanks to his patience and careful nurturing.

      Go rest high on that mountain, Russ! Many of us will hold you always in our hearts!

    • Dan Beach on June 28, 2024 at 5:53 pm

      Lovely, Fred.

      Russ was a pillar of ‘GBH production for 50 years. His output was prodigious, and boy did he sense the public appetite for “How-to.” One of several visionaries (Barzyk at the top of the list, too, of course) to come out of the remarkable WGBH early years.

    • Sally Foskett on June 28, 2024 at 6:05 pm

      Amy is so right! Thank you, Fred.

    • Jack Caldwell on July 5, 2024 at 3:47 pm

      Fred, The writers union owes you a complimentary “Card.”

      As I read your piece, I relived that wonderful time at GBH. We “never went to work!” We were proud of what we and our colleagues achieved. That unique creativity extended beyond the camera lens to every department – from fundraising to master control to building maintenance. Everyone was so proud to be on the WGBH team.

      Thank you, Fred, for being you.

  4. Paul Solman on June 28, 2024 at 2:24 pm

    I started at the 10 O’clock News in 1977. By that time, Russ was already an in-house legend. Two years later, I worked up the courage to ask him to look at a few of my pieces and give me advice. Graciously, he did so.

    “Should I stop talking with my hands?” I then asked.

    “No,” he said emphatically, “that’s distinctive. But get rid of those New York A’s.” Dutifully, I took his advice, or at least tried to, and after several years of over pronouncing the A’s (something like “hans”), I mastered the transformation. I’ve been forever grateful.

    Years later, the Morash’s were sitting behind me at some public event. I mentioned my gratitude and added that I thought Russ probably accounted for about 35% of WGBH’s success.

    “A lot more than that,” laughed Marian. I suspect she was right.

  5. Bill Pimentel on June 27, 2024 at 9:09 am

    RIP, Russ Morash
    My piece in tribute to Russ, from 8/12/16:

    HOW-TO (BUILD A LEGEND)

    Today I chatted with THIS guy on the phone. Who is he? Well, if you tune in to any “How-To” show on PBS or any TV channel, this is the man who started it all. In 1961, a tall woman with an unusually high voice walked into ‘GBH’s studios and, in talking about her new cookbook on a book show, demonstrated how to make an omelette by beating “some egg whites in a large copper bowl with an equally large balloon whisk.” That was Julia Child and, of course, the rest is history…

    RUSS MORASH went on to create several series with Julia; a national gardening program that started right in ‘GBH’s Western Avenue parking lot (CROCKETT’S VICTORY GARDEN); a humble home renovation program in the fall of 1979 (THIS OLD HOUSE); and in 1988, when I first started at ‘GBH, a carpentry program with the “master carpenter next door,” Norm Abram (NEW YANKEE WORKSHOP).

    Entire networks have since co-opted the format Russ pioneered over 50 years ago. Most people wouldn’t know him if they passed him on the street but he’s a legend just the same. And they don’t come any bigger in TV.

    Not a bad résumé. Not a bad legacy. To ‘GBH, PBS, TV and the nation…

  6. Bill Cosel on June 26, 2024 at 10:03 am

    Russell, we all mourn your passing.

    Thinking of your leadership, your mentoring, and tips working with talent – we learned how to do it.

    Since 1962, BU crew members followed mobile unit excursion with Russ to MIT, Cambridge Electric for Julia, even to Cleveland for a NASA special all night shoot.

    We helped you launch the Advocates. You helped us form the “Swim Club,” our small group of directors to work with management concerning director’s needs and assignments. An organized voice for us.

    All this and so much more as affectionate positive memories.

    We miss you. Thanks for all that you gave us.

  7. David Atwood on June 25, 2024 at 2:49 pm

    I never worked on a show with Russ, but remember a lot of great hallway conversations.

    I remember that he hated the edit room (so did I) which was terribly inefficient. So to minimize time in the edit room, he had Dick (Holden) shoot in long takes. Which meant, fewer edits, less time in the edit room. Which I believe created a whole new style of single camera shooting. Brilliant. Right Dick?

    I’ll really miss him a lot.

  8. Syrl Silberman on June 25, 2024 at 12:11 pm

    In my 11 years at WGBH, mostly as a producer, I only worked once with Russ. I was producing a special and he directed. No question, he was a force. His work at WGBH was admirable and important and my hope is that it will continue to be an inspiration.

  9. Susan E Brennan on June 25, 2024 at 9:26 am

    As an audio engineer, I had the privilege of working on the first season of This Old House, figuring out how to mic a demolition scene – or was it jack-hammering? Sawing maybe? — while watching Russ’s creative vision unfold for this new series.

    He was a force of nature whom I’ll never forget.

  10. Bonnie Hammer on June 25, 2024 at 8:09 am

    Though I’m not sure I recognized it then, Russ was one of my very first mentors — direct, decisive, demanding and driven. Yet, at the same time, taught me when good was good enough. I’m truly grateful for having worked for him for two seasons on This Old House….and for being an inspiration for my entire career.

  11. Bob Nesson on June 24, 2024 at 11:24 pm

    I last saw Russ at the Mt. Auburn Cemetery when Roberto Mighty was screening his film about that treasured place. Russ was in the audience and he radiated warmth and extended a beautiful greeting to me, which I’ll treasure.

  12. Chas Norton on June 24, 2024 at 10:26 pm

    It is with great sadness that I write these words.

    I wish I could have shaken his hand and looked him into eye – one more time.

    Russ was an alpha dog and played that role to the hilt. He was careful about his choice of co-collaborators and always pushed himself and others to the limit.

    I worked with him from my first day at WGBH, when in my first week in 1965, I took over the studio lighting of the French Chef from Ken Anderson.

    I never was a friend or good buddy, but always respected his ability to achieve an excellent result – whatever the challenge the situation called for, or presented.

    May he rest in a way that suits him – peace or power.

    !Ave atque vale!

  13. Michael Ambrosino on June 24, 2024 at 8:39 pm

    Russ was a pro and a good friend.

    I will miss him.

    Michael

  14. Hilary Finkel Buxton on June 24, 2024 at 6:39 pm

    I feel privileged to have worked for Russ for many years, and to have learned and experienced so much during that time.

    He had a way of instantly distilling a story to its essence, clear as a bell.

    Grateful for those lessons, always.

  15. David Silver on June 24, 2024 at 4:36 pm

    Russ was always both pragmatic and warm to be around. I owe a lot to him and always was deeply respectful of his skills and finesse.

    My terrific time at GBH happened because Russ interviewed me and then ended by saying “I’m not exactly your man here but I know who is” and swiftly connected me with Fred Barzyk.

    Russ was great to be around and had an utterly winning way about him that, well, brightened your day.

    RIP, Russ

  16. Claudia Allyn Downey on June 24, 2024 at 4:19 pm

    I am very sorry to read of his passing. He was delightful, funny and kind! (I worked on the French Chef among other shows)

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