When Mister Rogers’ name comes up, people invariably smile. So do I. Fred Rogers was an unfailingly pleasant part of many Americans’ childhoods. It was a comforting thing to see him come through the door, go to the closet, change his coat for a cardigan and leather street shoes for sneakers, all the while singing, “Please Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”. If Rogers playfully tossed a sneaker from one hand to the other, so much the better. We knew we were safe with him and he’d be real with us, even if we talked about tough stuff.
It also makes me smile that Tom Hanks is playing Mister Rogers. Hanks has had such a long, respected career in film, and since he’s too old to play romantic leads or upstart professionals, he’s deftly moved to portraying historical figures and character leads. If anyone is going to successfully bring Mister Rogers to the silver screen, it will be Tom Hanks.
Here’s the trailer:
It just looks really fun, doesn’t it? We need more movies like this.
Mister Rogers is a familiar fellow, and he’s also a little enigmatic. I thought I’d present nine fun facts about him for what I hope is your reading pleasure:
He wasn’t a ruthless tattooed sniper in Vietnam.
Believe it or not, some people thought sweet, goofy Mister Rogers had been a Marine or Navy Seal sniper with dozens of kills on his record. And that he had tattoos, which is why he always wore a sweater. Funny thing, but no, he didn’t have any of that. For one, he would have been too old to be drafted or enlist during the Vietnam War, and for another, he never served in the military. The story died in the 1990s.
He was a United Presbyterian minister.
After receiving his degree in music composition from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, Rogers went to work for PBS on a show called The Children’s Corner. In the midst of that, he attended Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and was ordained as a minister in 1963. He never pastored a church, but instead preached Biblical principles in a universal manner and entered sets praying. After he graduated from seminary, his parents established the Fred McFeely Rogers Prize, which is awarded annually, and as of 2015, the school also started handing out the Fred McFeely Rogers Award For Creative Ministry. The school whimsically celebrates “Sweater Day” on Rogers’s birthday, March 20th.
Many of the characters on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood were named after Rogers’ family and friends.
McFeely was Rogers’ mom’s maiden name, Lady Elaine was named after Rogers’ beloved adopted sister, and Queen Sara was named after Rogers’ wife Joanne (Sara is her first name).
The sweaters Mr. Rogers wore were knitted by his mom.
Mr. McFeely wasn’t the only way Rogers paid tribute to his mom on the show–she knitted his cardigans. She’d had plenty of practice, as during World War Two, she knitted sweaters for soldiers. One of her creations, which Rogers wore on Neighborhood, is now in the Smithsonian.
He produced quite a few side projects.
Rogers had some diverse projects on his resume. Among others, he produced Old Friends…New Friends, which featured actors and musicians from the forties and fifties, and Mister Rogers Talks To Parents About.. which was a series of advice spots geared towards parents. There was a newsletter, Around the Neighborhood produced that was for both parents and kids, and featured Rogers and the characters from the show. He also wrote thirty-five books and two-hundred songs. See Rogers’ complete filmography here, a list of his songs here, and books here.
Rogers had a guest spot on Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman.
On February 17, 1996, Mister Rogers left the neighborhood for Colorado Springs, where he played Reverend Thomas, Reverend Johnson’s mentor, who comes for a visit (Amazon Prime users can watch the episode here). His part isn’t huge, but it’s of the fist-pumping variety. Rogers had a grand time meeting everyone and shooting his scenes. “I don’t know what I was expecting,” he later told ET, “but I’ve been received with lots of hugs.”
He was a vegetarian.
Starting in the 1970s, Mister Rogers went veggie because he didn’t want to “eat anything that had a mother.” He was also a co-owner of the Vegetarian Times. In a 1983 interview, he told the magazine that he liked meat less and less as he got older, but he liked the health benefits of being a vegetarian. His favorite foods? Tofu burgers and beets. He also liked water with lemon.
Rogers worked closely with Michael Keaton.
Yep, the Michael Keaton. He was not only a production assistant on the show in 1975, but appeared before the camera as one of the “Flying Zookeeni Brothers.” “Really good dude [with] kind of a sneaky, sly great sense of humor.” Keaton later said of Rogers.
He not only held forty-three honorary doctorates and degrees but was also an adjuct professor.
Mister Rogers was such an influential person that academia that universities lined up to honor him. Among others, he had honorary degrees in Humane Letters, Divinity, Humanities, Arts, Fine Arts, Music, and Laws. This, of course, meant attending commencement ceremonies and making speeches, and Rogers was gratified to be recognized. Doctorate hoods can take up a lot of space, though, and Rogers had his made into two quilts.
Fred Rogers died of stomach cancer in 2003, and is sorely missed. A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood may just make a lot of people realize how much we need the Mister Rogers brand of kindess in America and the world, which is never a bad thing. I hope the movie is a worthy tribute to the man and his life’s work.
A new Shamedown is coming on Tuesday. Yeah, it’s a little later than promised, but I lost a couple of days last week because of a cold. Managed to work through it, but this month’s Shamedown kinda went by the wayside. Sorry about that. Anyway, thanks for reading, and hope to see you back in a few days…