Very few people have touched as many people's lives as Fred Rogers.
His show Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, was viewed by millions of people, including my son, Donovan. Donovan watches
Mr. Rogers each weekday, just before his nap. I must admit that I like it as much as he does. To see a good, wholesome,
and ethical man on T.V., who dedicated so much of his life to children, is a true blessing. We, along with countless
millions, will miss him very much.
Here are some pictures, a respectfully stolen biography, and links.
For three decades,
"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" has been
an oasis of peace and
and safety in a kid-unfriendly world.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
August 10, 1999 | For the past 30 years,
it has been a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Fred Rogers steps up onto the porch, opens the door and beams a wide, welcoming
smile, as if we light up his life. He changes from his suit jacket to his zippered cardigan sweater, from his leather slip-ons
to his navy blue canvas boat shoes, and sings, "Would you be mine, could you be mine, won't you be my neighbor?"
Outside Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, there has been Vietnam and Watergate, Chernobyl and Challenger, Ethiopian famine and
ethnic cleansing, Oklahoma City and Littleton, Polly Klaas and JonBenet Ramsey. But inside, there is peace and calm, familiarity
and safety. Troubling feelings and fears are gently explored. Reassurance is given. "The whole idea," Fred Rogers recently
told Jeff Greenfield in a CNN interview, "is to look at the television camera and present as much love as you possibly could
to a person who might feel that he or she needs it."
Love. Is it that simple? Mister Rogers thinks so. Yet many children go wanting. So Rogers has dedicated his life -- not
just his career -- to making children's programming with love. Consistent, patient, respectful and pleasingly repetitive,
"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" is the longest-running show on PBS, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Rogers has resisted
merchandising, razzle-dazzle, fads (though he did break dance once on the show) and technological flash (it took until 1999
for Rogers to agree to put up a "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" Web site), reasoning that children's basic needs don't change with the decades. The children of 1999, he told CNN, are "deep down,
the same" as the children of 1969 (and, you can surmise, the children of 1909 and 2009): "We all long to be lovable, and capable
Fred McFeely Rogers (now you know where Mr. McFeely, the Neighborhood's Speedy Delivery man, got his name) was born on
March 20, 1928, in Latrobe, Pa. He has lived in the state of his birth for most of his 71 years -- in fact, he received a
"Pennsylvania Founder's Award" in June 1999 for his "lifelong contribution to the Commonwealth in the spirit of Pennsylvania's
founder, William Penn." A pianist since age 9, Rogers majored in music composition at Rollins College in Florida. But after
graduation, he became curious about the new medium of television and went to New York City to investigate. He worked for a
couple of years as a floor manager for the NBC shows "Your Hit Parade" and "The Kate Smith Hour," but his heart wasn't in
it. "I got into television because I hated it so," Rogers told CNN. "And I thought there's some way of using this fabulous
instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen."
Rogers married his college sweetheart, Sara Joanne Byrd (now you know where Queen Sara from the Neighborhood of Make Believe
got her name), moved back to Pittsburgh and began experimenting with "educational television." In 1954, at Pittsburgh's WQED,
the nation's first public television station, Rogers developed "The Children's Corner," a prototype for "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood"
that was the birthplace for several of the Neighborhood's puppets. In 1963, Rogers created a 15-minute version of "Mister
Rogers' Neighborhood" for Canadian television, then returned to Pittsburgh where, the following year, WQED launched the series
as a half-hour show. In 1969, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" began airing on PBS stations across the United States.
During the run of "The Children's Corner," Rogers began taking courses in child development; he also began attending the
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. In 1962, he became an ordained minister. Rogers' interest in nurturing both psyche and soul
made "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" a children's programming original. His dove-ish gentleness and concern for allaying children's
fears of war and nuclear annihilation (he did a landmark series of shows from the Soviet Union in 1987) made him a hero of
progressive parenting. With his nondenominational approach to children's curiosity about God, death and spirituality, Rogers
was a quiet advocate of "faith" and "values" long before they became political buzzwords. And his use of puppets to mirror
children's feelings about, for instance, sibling rivalry or separation anxiety ushered in a new era of emotional frankness
in children's programming. When his pet goldfish died, Mister Rogers didn't just get new ones; he told his viewers -- his
"television neighbors" -- what happened, and used the occasion to talk about loss and sadness.
"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" was carefully structured between fantasy and reality, play and seriousness, with the transitions
signaled by the shoe-changing ritual and the summoning of the dinging Neighborhood Trolley to take us from Mister Rogers'
living room, through a tunnel and into the Neighborhood of Make Believe. Music was also an intrinsic part of the show. Rogers
has written more than 200 songs in his career, and he imparts many of his messages through simple lyrics that speak plainly
to a child's concerns. Indeed, children's television advocate Peggy Charren has been quoted as saying that the first time
she saw "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," she said to herself, "Oh, a singing psychologist for children!"
Rogers' song "Fancy on the Outside" ("Some are fancy on the outside/Some are fancy on the inside") deals with children's
sexual interest and gender awareness. Timid Daniel the Tiger's song "Sometimes I wonder if I'm a mistake ... I'm not like
anyone else I know" says it's OK for kids to be themselves. When Prince Tuesday sings to Queen Sara that he's going to marry
her, she gently responds, "You're going to marry somebody like me." And Rogers' epic "What Do You Do?" offers a list
of anger management tools for all ages: "What do you do with the mad that you feel when you feel so mad you could bite? ...
Do you punch a bag?/Do you pound some clay or some dough?/Do you round up friends for a game of tag?/Or see how far you can
go?/It's great to be able to stop when you've planned a thing that's wrong ..." Occasionally, the puppets and humans in the
Neighborhood of Make Believe would take a whole week to prepare and mount an opera (written by Rogers), and these trippy productions
about windstorms in Bubbleland and Wicked Knife and Fork Man's tormenting of the happy Spoon people were a cross between the
innocently disjointed imaginings of a preschooler and some avant-garde opus by John Adams. (Please, oh please, Rhino Records
-- put out a boxed set of Rogers' operas!)
Such surrealism, plus Rogers' ingenuous nerdiness, made "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" a natural target for hip parody,
most notably Eddie Murphy's ghetto mirror-image "Mister Robinson's Neighborhood" on "Saturday Night Live." Rogers took the
ribbing in stride for much of his career, never changing his approach, his demeanor or his sweaters. (A creature of habit,
Rogers swims -- nude, thank you -- every morning, is a vegetarian, has never smoked or drank and has been married to the same
woman for 47 years.) The one time in memory that Rogers' Zenlike serenity publicly snapped came in December 1998, when he
filed a lawsuit in federal court in Pittsburgh over a Texas novelty store chain's sale of T-shirts displaying Rogers' photo
with a superimposed handgun and the slogan, "Welcome to my 'hood." Rogers didn't just want the stores to halt sales -- he
demanded that the shirts be destroyed.
Because "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" is such a quaint oasis of hope for families in confusing times, and because Mister
Rogers is, well, Mister Rogers, he's often called upon to make sense of senseless events. In a 1998 Esquire cover profile,
Rogers talked about how disturbed he was by the Paducah, Ky., high school prayer-circle shootings. Recalling news stories
in which classmates of the shooter quoted his boasts about planning "something really big," Rogers told Esquire, "Oh, wouldn't
the world be a different place if he had said, 'I'm going to do something really little tomorrow'?" And, of course, he was
asked in that recent CNN interview for his advice about how parents' could explain the Columbine High School massacre to their
children. Said Rogers, "Those children need to know that the adults in their lives will do everything they can do to keep
them safe. It doesn't mean we're always going to be successful, but it does mean we're going to try."
But, increasingly, it seems that even a child advocate as devoted as Rogers is no match for the child-unfriendly mess America
has made of itself, a mess of guns and political self-interest and inadequate parenting. We can't expect one man, even if
he is Mister Rogers, to clean it all up. Yet, he tries. As "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" rolls on (he still makes a few new
episodes every year, mixing them in with old ones), and as time takes its toll on the cast (woodworker Bob Trow and chef Don
Brockett have both passed on), there seems to be a new urgency to Rogers' mission. It's the adults, perhaps even more than
the children, whom Rogers is trying to reach these days.
"Children see television much the same way they see a refrigerator or a stove -- it's something that parents provide,"
he told Christian Century magazine in 1994. "In a young child's mind, parents probably condone what's on the television, just
like they choose what's in the refrigerator or on the stove. That's why we who make television for children must be especially
careful." But on CNN recently, Rogers used stronger words to make the same point: "I plead with everyone who is producing
and purveying these atrocities to please remember the children."
Accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1998 Emmys, Rogers looked out over the star-studded audience and said, "All
of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, 10 seconds to think of the people
who have helped you become who you are? Ten seconds of silence. I'll watch the time." He makes the same request at every speaking
engagement now, from college commencements (he has more than 32 honorary degrees) to TV interviews to White House conferences.
And grown-ups, from the president of the United States to network entertainment chiefs, close their eyes and oblige Mister
Rogers with a moment of silence. It's the least they can do -- after all, it doesn't cost them any votes or profits.
So many of us have entrusted Mister Rogers with our preschoolers' hearts and minds. But did we expect him to do all the
work? As our children outgrow "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," have we ourselves outgrown the unambiguous lessons of the show
-- to love a child every day, to nurture self-esteem, to be there?
Lately, a traveling "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" exhibit, developed by the Pittsburgh Children's Museum and Rogers' Family
Communications company, has been making the rounds of children's museums. It features a life-size replica of the "Mister Rogers"
set, from the front porch swing to the kitchen table to the trolley to the fish tank to the Neighborhood of Make Believe,
as well as a few pieces of memorabilia -- one of Mister Rogers' sweaters (famously knitted by his mother, Carolyn), a pair
of well-worn brown Florsheim leather slip-ons (size 10 1/2), a pair of navy blue canvas boat shoes. The Sunday I visited the
exhibit with my family, kids were delightedly playing with King Friday XIII and Queen Sara puppets in the castle, and flipping
the switch to make the trolley go back and forth, and knocking on the door of Daniel's clock. But the parents were playing,
too. They were taking turns at the piano; they were sitting on the porch swing rocking babies; they were making the puppets
talk, doing art projects with preschoolers at the kitchen table, watching "how things are made" films on Picture Picture,
helping their kids arrange the tiny furniture inside X the Owl's treehouse.
Watching the parents play (oh, OK, and pretending I was Lady Aberlin in the Neighborhood of Make Believe), I realized the
purpose of this belated, uncharacteristic road show. This is Rogers' way of helping us remember the children we once were,
to remember what we needed and wanted from our parents, what made us happy and secure: love, attention, consistency. It wasn't
very much, and it was everything. I pushed a button on a jukebox and out came a lullaby, Fred Rogers' slow, unfussy voice
filling the make-believe living room with warmth and light. "I'm taking care of you/Taking good care of you/For, once, I was
very little, too/Now I take care of you."
| August 10, 1999
Friday, February 28, 2003 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific
Cherished TV neighbor' Fred Rogers
dies at 74
By Elaine Woo
Los Angeles Times
|THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|
|Mister Rogers in his trademark sweater and shoes. |
Rogers, a gentle giant of public television who encouraged children's imaginations, confronted their fears and assured them
in every episode of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" that "I like you just the way you are," has died. He was 74.
Mr. Rogers died early yesterday at his Pittsburgh home after a brief bout with stomach cancer.
Produced from 1969 to 2001 and still on the air in reruns on more than 300 Public Broadcasting Service stations, "Mister
Rogers" is public television's longest-running program.
Mr. Rogers understood how powerfully intimate television could be. He talked directly to the camera and eschewed the whiz-bang
of animation and fast cuts for a pace so deliberate that it allowed for moments of silence unthinkable nearly anywhere else
on the tube.
He stuck to a small cast, the same few, simple sets, and an unwavering message of love and respect for children's innermost
"He made a mass medium personal," said David Kleeman, executive director of the American Center for Children and Media
in Des Plaines, Ill. "He had a way of talking to the camera as though there was just one child there. And he made every child
feel he was speaking directly to them."
"Our goal," Mr. Rogers once told Newsweek magazine, "is to confront children with what bothers them. It is good to re-evoke
their fears and teach them to deal with them. That's why children are held by the program. ... (I)t deals with their inner
Mr. Rogers' achievements were recognized with two Peabody Awards, four Emmys, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National
Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
An ordained Presbyterian minister, Mr. Rogers made television his pulpit and pint-sized viewers and their parents his congregation.
He preached many messages, but the overriding one had to do with self-worth, a lesson he learned from his beloved grandfather.
Fred McFeely Rogers was born in the small industrial town of Latrobe in western Pennsylvania. He was a sickly, overweight
child with a very protective mother who did not like him to play outside by himself and once made him spend an entire summer
inside an air-conditioned room because of his hay fever. His father prospered as president of the McFeely Brick Co., one of
Latrobe's largest businesses.
Growing up in an era when good children were seen and not heard, Mr. Rogers said he was expected to be perfect. An only
child until he was 11, when his parents adopted a baby girl, he spent many hours alone, often working out anxieties and frustrations
by playing with puppets. He also immersed himself in music, tinkling on a toy piano and later on an electric organ. He began
to compose and eventually had more than 150 songs to his credit.
He spent winters in Florida with his grandfather, Fred Brooks McFeely, after whom he was named (and after whom Mr. Rogers
named a character on his show). An entrepreneur, McFeely tried to imbue his grandson with his can-do spirit, teaching him
how to ride a horse and freeing him to try things he might not ordinarily have been allowed to do, such as climb a wall.
"I climbed that wall. And then I ran on it. I will never forget that day," Mr. Rogers recalled many years later. His grandfather
modeled the trusting, patient behavior that became a hallmark of Mister Rogers.
His signature line "I like you just the way you are" was taken nearly verbatim from Grandfather McFeely.
"I think it was when I was leaving one time to go home after our time together that my grandfather said to me, 'You know,
you made this day a really special day. Just by being yourself. There's only one person in the world like you. And I happen
to like you just the way you are.'
"That just went right into my heart. And it never budged," he told writer Jeanne Marie Laskas in "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood:
Children, Television, and Fred Rogers," a collection of essays published in 1996.
|GENE J. PUSKAR / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|
|Fred Rogers tapes a public-service announcement in 2000 in front of a neighborhood
trolley in Ligonier, Pa. |
After graduating from Latrobe High School, where he was student council president and editor of the
newspaper, he entered Dartmouth College as a Romance-language major. He later transferred to Rollins College in Winter Park,
Fla., to study music composition.
He planned to study for the ministry after graduating from Rollins but changed his mind after seeing some children's shows
on television. Their quality appalled him.
In 1951, after finishing magna cum laude at Rollins, he was hired by NBC in New York as an assistant producer of the "Voice
of Firestone" and the "NBC Television Opera." He later became floor director of "Your Lucky Strike Hit Parade" and the "Kate
In 1953 he made a decision that astounded his NBC colleagues: He was quitting the network for a job back in Pittsburgh
to launch WQED, the first community-sponsored public television station.
"The people at NBC said, 'You're out of your mind! That place isn't even on the air yet!' " Mr. Rogers recalled to Laskas.
"And I said, 'Well, something tells me that's what I'm supposed to do.' And that was it."
Within a year, he was writing and producing the hourlong "Children's Corner" in partnership with his friend, Josie Carey,
the show's host. Mr. Rogers remained behind the camera to work a handful of homely puppets from boastful King Friday and troublesome
Lady Elaine to timid Daniel Tiger, the same ones that would inhabit his later show.
He also was enrolled at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and studying child psychology at Pittsburgh's Arsenal Family and
Children Center, founded by Benjamin Spock and Erik Erikson. At Arsenal he met Margaret McFarland, a child psychologist whose
ideas about the inner life of children and the importance of being genuine would influence him profoundly.
Mr. Rogers was ordained by the United Presbyterian Church in 1963 and charged with the mission of using the media to help
families and children. The result finally put Mr. Rogers in front of the camera, molding a 15-minute daily program for the
Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Called "Misterogers," it was picked up in Pittsburgh in 1964; the following year, the Eastern
Educational Network bought 100 shows.
When production money ran out, cancellation loomed, stirring an audience revolt that attracted the attention of a new benefactor.
The Sears, Roebuck Foundation granted Mr. Rogers $150,000, as did National Educational Television. A new series, "Misterogers'
Neighborhood," was born.
When Sears agreed to finance a half-hour version of the program for public television in America, the show became "Mister
After the program debuted on Feb. 19, 1968, Mr. Rogers was a celebrity. The kudos streamed in and never stopped. "There
is no one else doing what Rogers does," George Gerbner, emeritus dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University
of Pennsylvania, said in 1992. "He treats children as human beings. It's a shame that he's the only one."
The show barely changed over the years. Music, soothing and improvisational, was an important element. The opening chords
of the show, written by longtime music director Johnny Costa, were inspired by Beethoven's Sonata in C Major.
Each show was structured like a musical composition, too. The overture was Mr. Rogers coming through the door, exchanging
his sport coat for a sweater and changing into comfortable shoes. All the while, he was singing:
"It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?"
The exposition was Mr. Rogers explaining the themes of the day, such as what makes a person unique or why it's OK to miss
loved ones. He developed the theme through visits from friends, such as Mr. McFeely the Speedy Delivery man, and through the
mini-dramas that his puppets played out. An old-fashioned toy trolley took the viewer from Mr. Rogers' living room into the
fantasy world, symbolizing an inner journey that analysts said gave his show so much value.
Every segment addressed children's feelings and developmental milestones. Mr. Rogers showed how a violin was made and how
mushrooms grew, but he also brought in Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch in "The Wizard of Oz," to explain how the witch
was just an act and not something to really fear. He demonstrated that getting a haircut is not awful, and that you can't
get sucked down the bathtub drain. No concern was too trivial.
"One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self," he said. "I'm like you see me on the
Mr. Rogers is survived by his wife, Joanne; sons James and John; and two grandsons.