A Loving Look at a True American Hero: Fred McFeely Rogers
Mister Rogers Neighborhood Behind The Set Fact:
Johnny Costa (January 17, 1922 - October 11, 1996), is best known for his work as musical director of the children's television program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Costa was an American jazz pianist born in Arnold, Pennsylvania. Given the title "the White Tatum" by jazz legend Art Tatum.
One more look at Mr. Rogers.
Fred McFeely Rogers (March 20, 1928 – February 27, 2003) was an American television icon, puppeteer, educator, Presbyterian minister, composer, songwriter, author, and activist. Rogers was most famous for creating, hosting, and composing the theme music for the educational pre-school television series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood which ran from 1968 until 2001, featuring his kind, gentle, soft-spoken personality and directness to his audiences.
Initially educated for the ministry, Rogers was not happy with the way television addressed children and made an effort to change this genre when he began to write for and perform on local Pittsburgh-area shows dedicated to youth. WQED developed his own show in 1968 which was distributed nationwide by Eastern Educational Television Network. Rogers, during his three decades on television, became an fixture of American children's entertainment and education. His testimony before a lower court in favor of fair use recording of television shows to play at another time (now known as time shifting) was cited in a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Betamax case, and he gave now-famous testimony to a U.S. Senate committee, advocating government funding for children's television.
Rogers received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, some forty honorary degrees, and a Peabody Award. He was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame, was recognized by two Congressional resolutions, and was ranked No. 35 among TV Guide's Fifty Greatest TV Stars of All Time.
I wish this were a comedy-based hub.
I wish it were. But sometimes we all just need to take a moment to slow down and take a close look at the people who have helped to shape our lives. I am not ashamed to admit that Mr. Fred Rogers helped to shape my life and never knew it.
The very first time I was (manually) changing the few television stations (notice 'manually' and 'few' stations) we received way back then, I happened upon "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood." As the show began with his patented walk to the closet to pull off his suit coat and put on his patented red sweater all while singing "A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood," and closing out his walk onto the set with sitting down and changing his dress shoes to sneakers all without missing one beat. That's talent.
As a child, did you watch "Mister Rogers Neighborhood?"
Rogers' use of positive motivation.
As Rogers' show, "Mister Rogers Neighborhood," began, the urge to make snide remarks for laughs vanished as I was almost mesmerized by Rogers' silk-like delivery of the script he had approved and even the introductions of the people and puppets who made up "Mister Rogers Neighborhood," was done with such ease that I swore this was all the result of trick camera work.
As the show unfolded, "Mr. McFeeley," a character inspired by Fred Rogers' middle name and "worked" for the "Speedy Delivery Co." delivering packages via bicycle came onto the set and quickly announced to Mr. Rogers that Rogers and the television audience were going on a tour of an ice cream cone factory. Then left by saying his trademark, "Speedy Delivery to you," remark.
Maybe a few weeks prior to me watching my first show of Rogers, this would have been hilarious. I mean who tours an ice cream cone factory? But I actually enjoyed it right along with an inquisitive Mr. Rogers who made the plant supervisor "the star" of that segment without trying to "hog" the spotlight. That's selfless.
Going back to Rogers' neighborhood, he presented an episode of "The Magic Kingdom of Make Believe," where he urged children who were not in the popular areas of their school to participate because as he put it, "you are all special. And can all do special things." I liked that. And this was in the early 1960's.
I find myself in 2016 . . .
Searching and then enjoying the surviving memories I was blessed to have of Mr. Fred Rogers and his friends on his iconic television show. To walk closer to the edge, I actually miss Rogers many times. Then I find myself asking two vitally poignant questions:
"Where are the Fred Rogers today?" and "Why don't you create your own children's show on PBS in the blueprint of "Mister Rogers Neighborhood?"
Consistency: Rogers' "fuel" for show's success.
Each episode of "Mister Rogers Neighborhood," was consistent without being boring. Rogers knew how fragile the attention span of young children can be as he would create short films or presentations geared just for children and he even enjoyed it as much as the children he was teaching via television. There was no fakery, smoke or mirrors with Fred Rogers. To coin an old phrase, what you seen is what you got.
It was not long until Fred Rogers had secured the attention of the important people who ran out country. From the President to up and coming singers and performers. I happen to see (years later) a skit that the now-late Johnny Carson did on The Tonight Show about Mr. Rogers and it was hilarious.
After the skit, Carson brought Rogers out to a thunderous round of applause. Carson, in a gentle moment said, "Fred, you are not only a national treasure for children of all ages, but one good sport to allow us to have some fun at your expense." Rogers just smiled that smile, nodded and shook hands with Carson. That's class.