Thank goodness the neighborhood is back!
Just when I thought the world must be falling apart, I’m amazed to discover a dear old friend is back – on national magazine covers, in newspaper articles from coast to coast and starring in movie theaters across the country.
I got to know my old friend in the early 1970’s through his totally unique children’s program “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” broadcast on the fledgling Public Television Network through our own SCETV.
In 1971, I bought a copy of “Mister Rogers’ Songbook” and wrote a note in the cover to our two-year old son. When I recently asked him if he knew where the songbook might be, he helped me find it, still in perfect shape in storage.
Each of the 58 songs focus on a variety of emotional issues little children experience such as: “Wishes don’t make things come true,” “Sometimes people are good” and “Please don’t think this is funny.”
The first line in his song “Won’t you be my neighbor” begins with, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” the title of the new film starring Tom Hanks.
Hanks portraying Mr. Rogers is perfect. He mastered Rogers’ quiet voice, seemingly endless patience and deeply personal connection with each person, young and old. Hanks’ own positive personality and clean-cut lifestyle fits the character he plays perfectly.
Julia Roberts, Hanks’ friend and occasional co-star, explained, “Friends admire what doesn’t change about Tom. He is as happy and excited as ever. About work, about friendships. It doesn’t change or wane over time.” (People Magazine 12-9-2019)
“Against all conventional wisdom he valued repetition, simplicity and silence. Mister Rogers spoke softly, calmly, and he paused almost as much as he spoke … giving his viewers time to think and feel,” Los Angeles Times writer Mary McNamara explains.
The current film about Fred Rogers is based on Tom Junod’s article written and published in Esquire Magazine over twenty years ago. In his November 1998 article, Junod recounts his deeply personal story of his growing appreciation for Rogers’ unique qualities contrasted with his own personal need to change his life.
Both articles portray the consistently good and radically authentic Fred Rogers who had no pretensions or desire to preach in a conventional way even though he was a son and grandson of Christian ministers and a Presbyterian minister himself.
“Rogers rarely mentioned his faith on ‘Mister Rogers Neighborhood,’” according to an associate professor in religion and author of “Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers,” Michael G. Long. Rogers’ wife Joanne told Long that her husband was concerned it might make some viewers in his audience feel excluded.
Rogers was among the earliest children’s television programming professionals during the first 15 years of his career. For his own program, “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood,” he wrote every script and song and designed, handled and voiced all of his various puppet characters. Even his staff tended to stay with him over his almost 33 years hosting the show.
Beyond his studio filled with make-believe trains, kings, and postmen and apart from the many organizations, colleges and universities he visited with his message to “Be Kind,” Rogers is credited with single-handedly saving Public Television from having to go out of business due to lack of funding in May 1969.
Rogers’ brief testimony before a subcommittee of the US Senate was chaired by “tough guy” Senator John Pastore who admitted that this was the first time in years he had felt goosebumps. He immediately agreed to fund the requested $20 million, an amount equal to $140 million today after hearing Rogers’ simple but profound explanation of the need.
Rogers’ 2002 Dartmouth College Commencement address is another opportunity for viewers to fall under Fred Rogers spell – a call for the graduates to be themselves and make a contribution to the world.
His soft words and kind demeanor invite his audience – children as well as adults – to take a deep breath, slow down and pay attention in the kindest way. We need these skills now more than ever!
LINKS & TURNING POINTS TO WATCH
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKy7ljRr0AA 2003 Senate Hearing
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfkSGe9wuwQ Dartmouth Commencement Address
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKjKZKpEkVY Mr. Rogers on David Letterman Show
www.misterrogers.org Fred Rogers Productions, which still produces PBS Kids programming to this day
www.fredrogers.org Official website of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
Susan Hendricks will teach “The Gift of Gratitude” through personal writing online Jan 17-March 13, 2020 for the Therapeutic Writing Institute at https://twinstitute.net/winter-term-2020/ For local small group writing practice, email [email protected]. CEU credits for qualified licensed therapists may be earned.
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