Russell Baker, Pulitzer-Winning Author and ‘Masterpiece Theatre’ Host, Dies at 93

Longtime New York Times columnist and humorist hosted PBS show from 1993 to 2004

Last Updated: January 23, 2019 @ 6:08 AM

Russell Baker, a two-time Pulitzer-winning writer and longtime host of PBS’ “Masterpiece Theatre,” died Monday in his Lessburg, Virginia, home at age 93, his son Allen Baker told the New York Times.

Baker rose to prominence as a humorist, penning the wry “Observer” column for the New York Times for 36 years beginning in 1962. He won his first Pulitzer for commentary in 1979, and followed that with another for his best-selling 1982 memoir, “Growing Up,” about his boyhood in Depression-era Virginia.

In 1993, he took over for Alistair Cooke as host of PBS’ weekly “Masterpiece Theatre” — introducing adaptations of classic novels and stories until giving up the gig in 2004.

Baker began his career as a news reporter in the 1940s, first for the Baltimore Sun and then as a Washington, D.C.-based writer for the New York Times, where he covered the White House, Congress and the presidential campaigns of 1956 and 1960.

In 1962, he began writing his “Observer” column, which evolved into a wry and often satirical send-up of news of the day as well as cultural phenomena such as Christmas fruitcake.

He published more than 15 books, including collections of his widely syndicated column.

“Thanks to newspapers,” he wrote in his final column, published on Christmas Day in 1998, “I have made a four-hour visit to Afghanistan, have seen the Taj Mahal by moonlight, breakfasted at dawn on lamb and couscous while sitting by the marble pool of a Moorish palace in Morocco and once picked up a persistent family of fleas in the Balkans.”

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