Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 9.32.43 AM.png


I’ve always known that my grandparents were cool. It first hit me when they told me of their close friendship with Julia Child, who I had learned at a young age was a major player in the culinary world. As I got older, though, I discovered that Julia Child’s friendship was relatively low on their long list of collective accomplishments. I learned that my grandfather, Russell Morash, introduced “Do-It-Yourself” television to the world—as the producer and director of This Old House and The Victory Garden—and that my grandmother, Marian Morash, was known on TV as “Chef Marian” and was the founding chef of a notable restaurant at a time when kitchens were predominantly male-run.

While I’ve known for a while about my grandparents’ many achievements, it wasn’t until this summer when I interviewed them for this blog that I realized just how extraordinary their stories are. So, in only a few paragraphs, I will do my best to sum up the highlights and explain how they came to be the trailblazers they are today.

The Founding Father of How-To Television
13871778_10207043104381345_1277826414_n.jpg

The year was 1955. In Boston University’s theater department, a sophomore girl studying scenic design caught a glimpse from across the studio of a sophomore boy studying to become a theater director.

“I saw this really quite good looking fellow and I thought, Hmm, I wonder who he is,” Marian recalls today. “I made sure I got introduced, and well, that was that.”

The two both graduated in 1957, and upon graduation Russell was faced with a big decision. Should he accept a job offer of assistant stage manager for a Samuel Beckett play in New York, a first step toward fulfilling his Broadway director dreams? Or should he accept a position as a production assistant/cameraman for WGBH TV, a Boston-based Public station that sought out Russell for his theater experience? In those days, the TV industry included cameras the size of refrigerators and on-screen talent with no experience performing. Russell was a catch—his background in theater made him desirable for this new field. He chose WGBH, likely due in part to the fact that if he stayed in Boston he could continue his love affair with Marian (which became a marriage in 1958), but also because he believed he could work his way up in the budding television industry and ultimately make a difference.

Russell Morash (far left) shooting an episode of "The Victory Garden" in 1977.
Russell Morash (far left) shooting an episode of “The Victory Garden” in 1977.

Russell went on to produce and direct a number of television programs for WGBH, beginning his career with science programs and children’s shows like Science Reporter and Ruth Ann’s Camp and going on to specialize in DIY programming including shows such as The French Chef with Julia Child, The Victory Garden, This Old House, and The New Yankee Workshop, among others.

Often called “the founding father of how-to television,” Russell believed that the world could benefit from instructional programs teaching people how to improve their lives, from growing and cooking vegetables to building and fixing furniture in their homes. The public was incredibly receptive to these programs at the time, and his shows kick started an entire industry, one that prevails today with the hundreds of cooking shows and home improvement shows still on TV.

13090691_10207043091821031_97959703_o.jpg
Russell (right) directing an episode of “This Old House.”
Television’s “Chef Marian,” Woman in Charge
13682558_10207043091741029_622889181_o.jpg

Marian experimenting with a recipe from Julia Child in 1963.

My grandmother wasn’t always comfortable in the kitchen. It was only when Russell began working on The French Chef with Julia Child in 1963 that Marian first started cooking. Russell would bring home leftover food from the show and instructions from Julia on how to prepare and cook it. Suddenly, Marian went from cooking her usual tuna fish casserole to preparing things like whole goose stuffed with prunes that were stuffed with foie gras. Inspired by Julia’s entertaining personality and love of food, Marian and her friends began watching the show and experimenting at home. This marked the beginning of her successful cooking career as a television cook, cookbook author, and restaurant chef.

In 1975 Russell asked Marian to cook vegetables as “Chef Marian” on his show, The Victory Garden. Up until this point, the show taught people how to garden and grow their own vegetables, but with Marian’s added cooking segment, viewers could now learn how to prepare and cook what they grew. Her segment became a hit, and the show inspired Marian to write The Victory Garden cookbook series, the first of which was published in 1982.

13686529_10153962709238392_8233294363681664731_n.jpg
Marian Morash (center) with Laine Gifford (left) and Julia Child (right) in 1983.

The same year that Marian began cooking on The Victory Garden, she and her friend Susan Mayer were approached by Jock and Laine Gifford, friends of theirs who wanted to start a restaurant on the island of Nantucket. The restaurant would not be a professional kitchen, but rather a place that would serve the simple and delicious food Marian and Susan prepared at dinner parties, which Jock and Laine often attended. Marian agreed to give it a try, and the restaurant opened in 1976. Through trial and error, and by reading the cookbooks of Julia Child and Joe Hyde, Marian taught herself what she needed to know to be a chef and run a restaurant. She went on to run Straight Wharf Restaurant for 11 years and received the James Beard Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America Award in 1984.

For a period of time, Straight Wharf had an all-women kitchen, aside from a young man who shucked oysters. This was unusual for a restaurant in those days, a time when many male chefs believed that women didn’t have a place in the kitchen, that women weren’t cool in the kitchen. Chef Marian defied the norm and proved just how successful a woman head chef could be.


I’ve always admired the ways in which my grandparents were able to pave their own paths, so I sat down with them one-on-one and asked them a little bit more about what it takes to be a pioneer. Even though I interviewed them individually, I was struck by how similar their answers were.

Russell and Marian in Russell's garden in Nantucket, MA
Russell and Marian in Russell’s garden in Nantucket, MA.

OW: What qualities does a “trailblazer” need to have?

Marian Morash: Curiosity is a big thing. You don’t get anywhere if you’re not curious and want to learn. I would go back to Julia on this one. I remember once that she had a Cuisinart. The first food processor in the U.S. was the Cuisinart, and then gradually other companies began to make food processors. She had to get every single one of them because she was curious. Does this one work better than this one, can I make more with this one than that one? That was the story of her life. If she was walking down the street and somebody stopped to ask her about a recipe, she would then get curious about what they were making and how they were making it and who they were making it for. I think that’s a very important part about doing well in life.

Russell Morash: Curiosity. One of the great things about Julia Child was that she was a curious person. She would ask you what your job was before she’d tell you anything about herself because she was truly interested in it and how you worked and what you needed.

OW: What’s one quality that your partner has that you wish you had more of?

MM: Confidence. He’s very confident. He’s very sure of what he’s doing. He doesn’t think about it and say oh maybe I should do this or do that.

RM: I wish I could cook. But she’s so good at it there’s just no point.

Madeleine Cohen, Oldways summer intern

Comments

Laurel Johnson
So wonderful to read about Russell and Marian's many talents.
David Vos
Wonderful blog, and rightfully proud you should be. If I may I'd go one step farther in recognizing your grandparents role. Many people attribute the birth of how- to television and how this changed how Americans watched TV, I'd go deeper than that your changed how Americans Learned, and in turn how we live today.
Bess Kapetanis
I enjoyed reading your post and studying the photos that cover a range of time. Your grandparents' lives seem wholesome and productive. I can feel your pride in them here and understand why.
Mary Jo Marcely
I have been a longtime fan of both of them. They have given us so much. Thank you for this lovely post, I really enjoyed it! ~
Yvette Carpenter
I love your grandparents and have learned a lot from them. I have always loved the segments your grandmother did on the Victory Garden. It was one of my favorite shows. Some times I think they need to go back to doing those kind of shows. Thank you for sharing them and their story with us.
Ron Schenewark
I would like to see reruns of the old shows.
Frank Fernino
Great article. We were lucky to be selected to appear on This Old House in 1985 and work alongside Russ. Looks like they are both doing well. Please give Russ my best.
Mary and Bud Enright
More, please! OXXO
Carrye Brown
Lovely article on your grandparents, Madeleine. You stand on the shoulders on culinary leaders.
Peggy
Wonderful to see Marian, I loved her cooking segments on the Victory Garden
Abby Yozell
fantastic article/interview about 2 truly inspiring people, not to mention Julia!
Mally Skok
I absolutely loved hearing their story, thank you Maddie
Renee coady
I have your grandmothers victory garden cookbook And began watching your grandfathers showes in the early 80s They taught me to garden and cook! Love them!
Kathy
I would love to see a program on PBS about their lives. I loved The Victory Garden, dating back to the days of Jim Crockett, and have used Marian's cookbook for many years!
Julie Wright, C...
Although some of these programs were before my time, the concept of to-do programming is so worthwhile. Thanks for sharing your parents story. I nannied on Nantucket 1984 and enjoyed meals at Straight Warf. Small world Moment
Beth Schultz
I was just thinking about them the other day! Nice to hear they are well and still enjoying life. The shows they were involved with were a great influence on me and I am still a big fan. TOH still keeps me knee deep in projects and as a gardener/ cook I am always up to my eyebrows deciding what to grow, cook or can. Thankfully I too am a curious person and life is never dull w/ something new to learn just around the corner! Thanks Russell and Marion for all the Saturday's we spent "together"!
Jean Husson
The Victory Garden Cookbook is one of my favorite wedding shower gifts even if it must be a used copy. Wish it were back in print. Thanks for this story.
Maryann Jones
Was your grandfather the announcer on The French Chef? If not, who was that? He had an interesting voice.
deborah
Can't know for sure since there were several over the years but it probably was William Pierce, who was the voice of WGBH for decades.
Johng282
Very informative blog post. Really thank you! Keep writing.
Elizabeth
A fabulous read about your grandparents. Thank you so much for sharing. And now for my intrusion into your life because I am desperate for The Victory Garden to come back! I am a bit curious as to who owns the rights to The Victory Garden; PBS said they do not. I watched The Victory Garden religiously until it was cancelled and have grown tired of the new so-called gardening shows on now. Would you know if there is a DVD set of the show for sale somewhere? I, and a lot of other people would love the reruns to come back on or begin a new series on how to garden step-by-step. Again, thank you for writing such a wonderful piece about your grandparents. ~Elizabeth
Cynthia
Madeleine asked her grandparents and her grandfather responded saying that unfortunately WGBH owns the rights to the old shows and that they have not thought about releasing them on DVD. Sorry we don't have better news for you!
MarieZ
Excellent story. Your grandparents have made such a lasting legacy for not just for TV but for DoItYourselfers everywhere. Education/Love/Laughter: an unbeatable combination. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Maybe WGBH could put episodes on iTunes?
Cynthia
Good idea -- I hope anyone interested can contact WGBH and encourage them to put those classic episodes online.
Marceline Donaldson
Great blog. I watched Chef Marian for several years. Loved her down to earth ways and the way she made everything simple. I still have a couple recipes I wrote down from her segments.
Patricia B
Thank you for sharing, great to hear about Russell and Marian. I watched Victory Garden for years.
Lynn Gavula
Thank you for sharing information about your grandparents. I learned about cooking from both The French Chief and The Victory Garden. I have Marian's cookbook from the program and also purchased her cookbook on seafood....where I learned how to cook a whole lobster. So glad to learn they are doing well after reading an article about them in Better Homes and Gardens' May 2017 issue. And an Internet search led me to your blog. Thank you for the interview...and many thanks to both Marian and Russ for their inspiration and knowledge!
Tom Martel
Your grandfather produced and directed a film for NASA in 1967, called "Assignment: Shoot The Moon." It is imaginative and somewhat playful in tone, different from the typical NASA PR films of that era.
john estes
does anyone have an email address for marian. i want to thank her for her wonderful recipes my wife and i have enjoyed for many many years. thanks
Hannah-Oldways
Hi John, how nice! We're glad that you and your wife have enjoyed her recipes over the years. We are working on finding contact information for you.
Janet Taylor-Cameron
We met your grandparents on Harbour Island when we were all staying at the Dunmore Beach Club. Subsequently, I saw Marian on TV and said to myself, I know her! I immediately went out and bought the Victory Garden Cookbook! As I have become an avid bread maker, I am looking forward to trying the Carrot Yeast Bread. Please pass on my warmest regards, Thank you.
Marc Reynolds
Worked with Russ on theVictory garden especially on flower bulbs. It was a wonderful experience with marvelous memories. Please give my regards to Russ from Marc Reynolds
Jay Collier
Hi! May we republish this wonderful story on the WGBH Alumni website at wgbhalumni.org? -Jay
Hannah-Oldways
Hi Jay! We're happy to let you re-publish this on wgbhalumni.org. Please include a note at the top saying it was originally published here, along with a link back to our website. Thanks!
Jay Collier
Thanks so much! We've reposted the story here: https://wgbhalumni.org/2019/10/10/morash-grandparents/

Add a Comment