Russell Morash has had his name mentioned across media outlets for over six decades, having worked on some of the earliest TV series and maintained high production quality across most of the titles he worked on. He’s primarily a producer and director, so most viewers of his work have had few opportunities to actually see him on the screen.
That said, the titles he brought to glory have been impossible to miss, encompassing some of the most popular TV series ever released in the home improvement genre, which Russell also revolutionized throughout his many years in the business.
Seeing as “The New Yankee Workshop” is one of Morash’s best-known achievements, many have been wondering what else there was to do for the TV legend, and which direction his career could’ve taken subsequently. Loving fans will be pleased to know that the producer went on to add even more accolades to his resume.
Who really is Russell Morash?
Russell Morash was born on 11 February 1936, in Lexington, Massachusetts USA, to a builder father and a devoted housewife mother. He was nurtured in a home where creativity and practical skills were greatly valued, especially owing to his father’s occupation, which brought on Morash’s early exposure to craftsmanship.
His father’s teachings also instilled in young Russell an appreciation for hands-on work, as well as a deep understanding for the more technical side of the business. It was in this environment that the seeds of his future endeavors were planted, as the child came to understand well what he was going to do upon growing up.
The future star’s journey into education began to take shape at Boston University College of Fine Arts, from where he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1957. This period marked the formal transition from his formative years to a more focused exploration of his interests and talents, as he wasted no time getting to learn the ropes of the dream he had come to envision throughout schooling.
The education he received immediately thrust him into further creative pursuits, since the aspiring youngster was already in training as a theater director upon graduation. He immediately took the next step, and applied for the job that would change his entire future, coming to work with the company whose endeavors are now his signature.
Rolling along with the big players
In 1957, Russell joined Boston’s WGBH-TV, now better known as GBH 2 or Channel 2. Although just an apprentice at the time, Russell quickly began to move up across the production teams, finding himself in the role of a director and producer the very next year.
He was first employed on minor projects and as an aide around the set, helping produce and direct several episodes of the TV series entitled “MIT Science Reporter,” though real success was yet to come.
It was in the studios of GBH 2 that Morash became an acquaintance of a certain talented chef who had a strong camera presence and was set to get her own cooking show. This was none other than Julia Child – the world-famous star from the series “The French Chef.” They began working on the series in 1962, which was the significant breakthrough that a small-time assistant like Russell required at the time.
More precisely, Child came to the studio to appear in “I’ve Been Reading” – a TV program hosting various celebrities. Her promotion of the cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” garnered an overwhelming response from viewers, igniting their curiosity and appetite for more.
Child’s unwavering passion for French cuisine, paired with Morash’s innovative direction, brought a fresh and engaging approach to television cooking. The show’s success transcended regional boundaries, as it was distributed nationally in no time, while viewers from around the world who spoke English also tuned in.
Morash’s directorial finesse perfectly combined with Child’s charismatic presence, resulting in a series of cooking classics that set the gold standard for the genre. Together, they captivated audiences with Child’s accessible approach to complex French dishes, providing valuable insights into gourmet cooking for the American public.
“The Way to Cook” series thus came out in 1985, featuring six distinct titles focused on a very particular cuisine. While almost no one has heard of Julia Child today, she was most definitely all the rage in her heyday, which greatly boosted Russell’s prospects in the entertainment industry.
Their collaboration bore fruit for over a decade, with Morash’s skillful direction enhancing Child’s culinary expertise. The pair worked harmoniously to create cooking shows that not only entertained but also educated viewers, fostering a genuine connection with their audience. Their contribution to culinary television has left an enduring legacy, influencing generations of home chefs, and inspiring subsequent cooking programs.
Russell gave 11 years to the continuous series, from 1962 to 1973. “The French Chef” concluded after 322 episodes and ten full seasons, as well as numerous specials that made the show just that much spicier. Most of this footage was both directed and subsequently overseen to perfection by Morash, who had by that time established himself as a pioneer in the industry.
The handyman’s dream
While Morash does owe being skyrocketed into fame to Julia’s spectacle, his personal preferences always lay more on the side of construction and handiwork. His next project approached what would eventually be the producer’s crowning jewel, this time focusing on working with house plants.
“The Victory Garden” was launched on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) network in 1975, having been produced and directed by Morash. Its initial title was “Crockett’s Victory Garden” due to celebrity gardener James Underwood Crockett being its first host.
The series featured an amalgamation of expertise and advice regarding every plant one could possibly find a place for, in or around their home. With uncountable garden-equipped households, North America exploded with praise for the series, which became a hit virtually overnight.
Crockett remained part of the crew until 1979, at which point the series’ name also changed to the one most people know it by; it ran for a whopping 36 seasons and 40 years, from 16 April 1975 until 2015. This, however, was only the prelude to what Russell’s true legacy would become, as he spent the initial years of “The Victory Garden” honing the last of what he required to launch his masterpiece.
The immortal namesake
Russell’s stroke of genius took shape on 20 February 1979, when the first episode of “This Old House” hit the TV screens. It was initially meant to be a 13-part series, focused on only one project, but the production crew quickly realized that they’d hit the jackpot.
The show’s initial concept was relatively straightforward – documenting the restoration of a dilapidated Victorian home located in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. The project aimed to showcase the transformation of the neglected property into a livable and charming residence, while offering viewers step-by-step guidance on various construction and renovation tasks.
The series immediately captured the attention of crowds of viewers, setting new ratings records for the GBH 2 station. The success of the first 13-week series propelled the show onto the national stage, as it was broadcast on PBS. The response from audiences was overwhelmingly positive, reflecting a growing interest in DIY home improvement, and an appetite for practical knowledge about construction, renovation and maintenance.
If not for the renovation needs of GBH producer Russell Morash on his own home in Greater Boston, it's very possible…
What set “This Old House” apart was its commitment to authenticity, and attention to detail, rather unlike other television programs that depicted renovation projects with scripted drama and quick fixes. Morash’s magnum opus provided a genuine glimpse into the challenges and triumphs of real renovation work instead, giving almost every homeowner a reason to tune in.
The show’s authenticity thus resonated with viewers on a deep level, establishing a sense of trust that allowed them to learn from the experiences and mistakes of the professionals on screen. The faith and support that the showrunners enjoyed was unprecedented at the time, as TV had previously mostly been an escape from reality, and not a reflection of it.
The series continued to evolve in response to its audience’s needs and desires, as it gained traction and popularity, developing over time into a carefully crafted educational series that aims to address every homeowner question out there.
Morash gradually expanded the program’s scope to cover a wider range of topics, from plumbing and electrical work to landscaping and interior design. Viewers were treated to a comprehensive education in all aspects of home improvement, empowering them to embark on their own projects with newfound confidence.
Refining the craft
The success of “This Old House” also paved the way for several spin-off series, each focusing on specific areas of expertise within the realm of home improvement. One of the most significant offshoots of the immortal series was “The New Yankee Workshop,” hosted by the legendary master carpenter Norm Abram.
The show was a natural progression from the emphasis on construction techniques and craftsmanship that the original championed. This spin-off centered on showcasing the art of woodworking, offering viewers detailed instructions and insights into creating intricate and functional pieces of furniture, and other useful objects.
As a continuation of Morash’s dedication to authentic and informative content, the series provided viewers with a deep dive into tools and craftsmanship – exactly what the audience came to desire from the original.
The content was moved to its own series due to various time constraints, as the progenitor had to encompass every aspect of a homeowner’s struggle. The show’s success simply rode on the strong foundation laid by Russell’s unforgettable work, which had already built a loyal and enthusiastic audience eager to expand their DIY skills beyond renovation.
Stop what you're doing and watch Norm, visiting the New Yankee Workshop!!! My heart is full this morning. https://t.co/FZE7nlHEiF
— Marc Spagnuolo (@WoodWhisperer) February 6, 2023
The format of “The New Yankee Workshop” was designed to be both instructional and inspirational, as each episode revolved around the completion of a specific woodworking project, ranging from elegant furniture pieces to practical home accessories. Norm’s approach was meticulous, with the expert diligently explaining each step of the process, from selecting the right type of wood to mastering intricate joinery techniques.
One of the show’s distinctive features was its emphasis on craftsmanship and attention to detail, owing to Abram’s dedication to precision and excellence in every aspect of his work, from the careful selection of materials to the use of advanced woodworking tools. Viewers were treated to an immersive experience, learning not only how to create beautiful pieces, but also the very approach to the art form, with a mindset of patience, discipline and a commitment to quality.
The series also instilled a sense of empowerment and creativity by revealing the underlying principles of woodworking, allowing viewers to adapt and apply them to their own unique projects. In this sense, it carried over the DIY-propagation flame from the original series, which is exactly the reason most homeowners came to love it.
Cutting costs to cut wood
Russell’s ability to stretch a very tight budget into television gold is a masterclass in resourcefulness thoroughly explained in his interview with newengland.com. It was precisely this type of ingenuity that won him the illustrious career he has come to enjoy retiring from at an advanced age.
In the early days of “The Victory Garden,” for example, Morash was handed the challenge of producing a gardening show without exceeding the limited funds. He then leveraged various connections and employed numerous innovative ideas to provide the best bang for the buck possible. Instead of cutting corners, he found resourceful ways to reduce costs while maintaining the show’s quality.
The famed producer ingeniously sourced loaners for table linens, reaching out to contacts who were willing to contribute items for the show. Food donations also came pouring in, showcasing Morash’s ability to foster collaboration within his community. These contributions not only reduced expenses but also forged connections between the show and its audience, as they became, in a way, executive producers.
Russell’s vision extended to the show’s set as well, as he transformed a parking lot into a flourishing oasis for the backdrop of “The Victory Garden.” In spite of an extremely tight wallet, he secured a Lorde & Burnham greenhouse to enhance the on-screen appeal. The use of raised beds and a concrete path showcased his knack for turning limitations into visually pleasing combinations.
So, what does he do after “The Yankee Workshop”?
The popular spin-off ran for 21 seasons and a total of 262 episodes, from 1989 to 2009. Meanwhile, “This Old House” is showing no signs of slowing down, even after 44 seasons over just as many years since 1979, having won 20 Primetime Emmy awards and been nominated for 83.
Morash, however, decided to step down from the scene as the executive producer and director of both “This Old House” and its other spin-off “Ask This Old House” in 2004. He left the business with 14 Emmy Awards of his own, most of which were in the Outstanding Director of a Service Show category. A year after his retirement, the legend received the highly coveted George Robert White Medal from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society to honor his contributions to what they stand for.
Russell retreated to a quiet existence with his beloved wife Marian, who is famous in her own right, having been granted the James Beard award as an outstanding chef. They reside in the 1851 Massachusetts farmhouse bought in 1975 by the couple, and subsequently restored to perfection.
The accomplished director now apparently spends his days trying out various products sourced from massive supply chains like Home Depot, never satisfied enough with his own home improvement to give up on it.
A sample of what he does was provided by the LA Times in 2019, at which point he took the opportunity to praise a brand-new pressure-relief valve that he’d just purchased. The home improvement TV trailblazer is 87 years old as of 11 February 2023, enjoying a net worth estimated at over $5 million.