On June 8, 2018, a documentary entitled “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” will begin showing in theaters. It is the story of Fred Rogers –Mr. Rogers to those who met in their childhood.
A reviewer described the film this way = “Something magical and bittersweet happened during my screening of this documentary about the peerless and fearless Fred Rogers. About 30 minutes into the film, nearly the entire small theater had broken into audible sobbing and sniffling. Such is the enduring impact of this cultural force of nature. It was a reminder of just how talented and uncanny Rogers was at connecting effortlessly with audiences through a screen and, sadly, it was also a collective realization for those gathered in that theater that we hadn’t been spoken to or, as Rogers would say ‘mentioned and managed’, in such a way for quite some time.”
Mr. Rogers’ occupation has been described as “children’s television presenter, actor, puppeteer, singer, composer, television producer, author, educator.”
He worked for over 3 decades in children’s television. He said: “I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there’s some way using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen.”
In 1963, he began work for CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). In 1966, he moved his show (Mr. Rogers Neighborhood) to Pittsburgh and, in time to PBS. His show began airing there in 1968 and had 895 episodes. In every episode, he changed into sneakers (they were quieter on set than his work shoes) and a zippered cardigan sweater. In a typical show, he might have an earnest conversation with his TV audience, interact with live guests, take a field trip to places such as a bakery or music store. Or he might watch a short film (eg, to show how things are made, like crayons). Each show had a theme (eg, going to school for the first time). His presentation of material was very simple and used no animation or fast pace of material. He portrayed himself during the show. He discussed common childhood fears (eg, a child’s fear of being sucked down a bathtub drain) in songs and skits.
His program won 4 Emmys, plus he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. He wrote many of the songs on his show, as well as 36 books. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, 40 honorary degrees, and a Peabody Award. He is in the Television Hall of Fame. One of his trademark sweaters is displayed in the Smithsonian Institution as “a Treasure of American History.” He was ordained a minister in the United Presbyterian Church. He swam every morning and did not smoke or drink. He became a vegetarian in his 40s because, as he said: “I don’t want to eat anything that has a Mother.”
In 1969, he appeared before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications. He spoke about why he supported funding for public television. Cuts had been rumored for the service about which he spoke. He stated that programs like his helped encourage children to become happy and productive citizens, and opposed less positive messages in the media. He recited the lyrics from one of his songs. The chairman of the subcommittee, John Pastore, was not familiar with Mr. Rogers’ work. But after the presentation, the Senator said the testimony had given him “goosebumps” and he announced: “I think it’s wonderful. Looks like you just earned $20 million.”
In 1983, the Supreme Court decided the use of VCRs did not infringe on the copyright of recorded material and it, therefore, could be used for commercial and public TV stations. Mr. Rogers’ testimony was important in the decision. He said: “I have always felt that the technology that allows people to tape programs like mine and become more active in programming a family’s television life is a good thing.”
In 2003, the asteroid “26858 Misterrogers” was named after Rogers by the International Astronomical Union.
In 2008, on what would have been Mr. Rogers’ 80thbirthday, his production company sponsored a “Won’t You Wear a Sweater Day.” His fans were asked to wear their favorite sweater to celebrate the day. The event takes place annually on his date of birth: March 20.
On March 23, 2018, a commemorative US postage stamp was issued which pictured Mr. Roger and one of his show’s characters, King Friday XIII.
Mr. Rogers died of stomach cancer on February 27, 2003. He was 74.
Quotes from Mr. Rogers:
“Love, or the lack of it, is the root of everything.”
“Knowing that we can be loved exactly the way we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”
“I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger. I like you just the way you are. And what’s more, I’m so grateful to you for helping the children in your life to know that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe. And to help them express their feelings in ways that will bring healing in many different neighborhoods. It’s such a good feeling to know that we’re lifelong friends.”
***Can you match these names to the (above) pictures of Mr. Rogers’ friends?
Bill Nye, Julia Child, Koko, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Rita Moreno.