Mr. Rogers

When I was a child Mr. Rogers – the host of the wonderful kid’s TV show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” – was the coolest guy in the world.

I remember, when I was just out of college, I had a huge crush on a cute girl named Cara. One day, during one of our many long walks together (which led to nothing, because my crush went only one way), she told me that when she was a little girl she not only watched Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood every day, but she really believed that Mr. Rogers was her boyfriend. I confess a certain schadenfreude in the knowledge that as Cara grew up she would realize that her crush went only went one way. 😉

The really wonderful thing about Fred Rogers is that he really was exactly the way he seemed on TV. He would talk to grown-ups with just the same tone of earnest and serious respect that he used when talking to the young viewers of his show. I remember once seeing him on a talk show (I think it was with David Letterman, but I’m not sure now) and he was exactly the same with this guy in the other chair, while talking in a very learned way about such serious issues as child education, as he had been all those years when talking about King Friday and his puppet friends. Personally, I found this to be incredibly heartening.

My friend Paul used to live in Pittsburgh, back when Fred Rogers still lived in his house just off the campus of Carnegie Mellon University. One day Paul was getting into an elevator with his son Thomas, who was seven years old at the time. The door opened and Fred Rogers walked in, and then it was the three of them.

Paul realized that he had only a limited amount of time – until the elevator doors opened again – to impress his young son with the fact that they were in an elevator with Mr. Rogers. So Paul turned to Mr. Rogers and said, in as casual a voice as he could muster “Nice day, isn’t it?”

According to Paul, Fred Rogers immediately assessed the situation, realized what was going on, and intuited what was being asked of him. Turning to Paul and his young son, he replied “It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood.” Then the elevator door opened, and he was gone.

Whereupon Thomas looked up at his dad, eyes wide open with astonishment, and said “Wow, you’re friends with Mr. Rogers?”

That is just so cool.

4 Responses to “Mr. Rogers”

  1. Ilana Simons says:

    that he was really Fred Rogers is somewhat heartening but it also makes him a little “mentally-off” as we techincal psychologists like to say, no?

  2. admin says:

    That’s one way of looking at it. Another way to look at it is that he was a sort of secular holy man. Kids recognized that he was the real thing.

  3. Ben Kanegson says:

    Working on the film “Monster”, I spent about 6 weeks, 6 days a week, an average of 13 hours a day in the company of Charlize Theron. Over time, as everyone on the set became more relaxed with each other, I began to see the real Charlize. Between takes and off set, I perceived her to be completely real, an earthy, straight shooter, very relaxed in her own skin, comfortable in the company of her dog, and prone to releasing the occasional four letter expletive. I also met her mother, and learned of Charlize’s journey from South Africa after the questionable death of her father (the buzz is either the mom or Charlize shot him), on to an LA roommate situation in a one room apartment above a garage, from which she would go to auditions. And through persistence she made it as a glamour queen.

    Then, some time in advance of the Oscars, I saw her doing the run of the late night talk shows. She was a prim and proper debutante, sitting up straightly with hands crossed in her lap, enunciating each syllable with perfection. This was not the real Charlize. She was acting! I realized immediately that her straight laced talk show persona was purposely contrasted to her gritty role in “Monster”, and this was part of a premeditated run for the Oscar, which she later was awarded.

    As cast and crew on long format projects, we are all brick layers, ditch diggers, slogging through the mud of long, long days. So there is little pretense between cast and crew. What I learned from watching Charlize on the talk shows was that, as long as there is an audience, an actor will act.

    It is heartening to know that Fred Rogers would act for the audience of a single little boy, as earnestly as he might have for David Letterman’s audience.

    Pee Wee Herman was introduced as a real character, who was not discerned from Paul Reubens until many years later. My observation is, it is very difficult to know the difference between Mr. Rogers and Fred Rogers, because he can be acting on Letterman, in the elevator, anywhere he goes if anyone at all is watching and he knows it.

  4. Bernadette says:

    I’m probably the only person in the world to think this, but when I was little, Mr. Rogers scared the shit out of me! I could not watch him. I don’t know why. It took adulthood to really appreciate the good man that he was.

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