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Russell Morash’s recollections of how-to television’s early days are a quick lesson in how pioneers defy the odds. The programs started by Morash include “The French Chef” with the late Julia Child, “The Victory Garden” with the late Jim Crockett, “This Old House” now owned by Time Inc. and the “New Yankee Workshop” (NYW). All four shows together, three of which are still on the air, add up to a 54-year span of public television.
“Julia Child was one of many people who appeared in WGBH Channel 2 at the time and ‘The French Chef’ was an oddity slightly off the cultural mainstream. WGBH always perceived itself as the bringer of great culture and drama and oh yes, the cooking shows. It’s not that they were embarrassed by it, but nobody took it seriously. Nobody,” says the 71-year-old Morash. The show ran for a decade from 1963-73 with reruns aired until 1987. Her fame secured, the unassuming and thoroughly entertaining Child appeared on the Nov. 25, 1966, cover of Time magazine.
“Nobody (initially) said she is the greatest living cooking teacher. That happened much later. By the mid-60s, we all had to sit up and take notice, but there’s a lot of famous people walking around Massachusetts. So what? It’s part of the scenery,” says Morash.
Frustrated by his own inability to grow vegetables, the light bulb again went off in Morash’s head in 1975 when he came up with the idea for “The Victory Garden,” now in its 32nd season.
“By the middle of the 70s, the Arabs were squeezing us for the first time for gas. Americans did not know where anything came from. They did not know that potatoes came out of the ground or that eggplant, celery and lettuce could be grown from seeds. And I said you know what we really need is a mentor who can teach us gardening,” Morash says.
He discovered that “Time-Life Encyclopedia of Gardening” author James “Jim” Underwood Crockett lived in nearby Concord, MA. “This was all happenstance. I could have missed him by one day. It’s a much longer story. Jim was a real grandfatherly type who was in his 60s and who had a lifelong career on teaching gardening. He got it all started on ‘The Victory Garden.’”
One of the actual Victory Gardens is in Morash’s backyard in suburban Boston next to what today is the NYW.
A few years later, he hatched the idea of “This Old House,” believing if someone could teach gardening on air, another set of experts could guide renovators through the harrowing experience of house renovation.
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