You know a movie is a good one when you hurry to “google” more information about the plot and main characters as soon as the movie ends. That was the case when I went to see “A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood,” recently, the movie about Fred Rogers, and his television show, “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood,” starring Tom Hanks.
As soon as the movie ended, I was eager to know more about the “real” Mister Rogers, and whether the plot was accurate.
Fred Rogers or “Mister Rogers,” as he was commonly called, was a fixture on television on PBS for over 30 years. My brother, Chuck, and I didn’t watch the show, as it started gaining in popularity in 1968, when I was already in elementary school, and we both preferred Captain Kangaroo and Romper Room. My own children didn’t watch it either, preferring Sesame Street, Barney and Arthur to the show.
Over the years, humorous parodies of Rogers and his show have been aired, most notably Saturday Night Live’s skit with Eddie Murphy playing “Mr. Robinson.” Murphy revised the role in an episode this past Saturday. Rogers’ signature red sweater, sneakers and soft manner have often been lampooned.
Rogers grew up in Latrobe, Pa. on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. He earned a degree in music from Rollins College in 1951. Television was in its beginning, and Rogers was fascinated with the process and started work at NBC in New York. After two years, he moved back to Pittsburgh to work in children’s programming for NET (which became PBS) television station WQED.
Rogers went to seminary school at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, becoming an ordained Presbyterian minister in 1963. He also earned advanced degrees in child psychology. Rogers never pastored a church but kept up his ordination throughout, choosing children and their well-being as his ministry.
Could anyone ever really be as nice as Mr. Rogers? If you’ve seen the movie, you know that’s the premise of “A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood.” In 1998, cynical magazine writer Tom Juno (in the movie, it’s Lloyd Vogel) is assigned to write a story about Mister Rogers for an issue about contemporary heroes. The movie is inspired by their friendship.
One of my favorite parts happens on the New York City subway. It has been used as the trailer advertising the movie, so I’m not giving anything away.
Mister Rogers and Vogel enter the subway, and sit down. The subway is filled with people, all ages, races and walks of life. Suddenly someone says, “Hey Mister Rogers, it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” and starts singing, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” the show’s theme song. Soon the whole subway car joins in.
It’s a touching moment, which actually happened, except in reality, the subway was full of children.
Through his television show, his ministry, Mister Rogers strived to teach children about kindness, gentleness and treating others with compassion and respect. In an article Juno wrote recently about his friendship with Rogers, he said Rogers, through his relationships with people and his show, tried to remind adults of the “child we used to be.”
Sometimes in the busyness of life, we forget what’s really important. A young person I know who lived at Ebenezer Christian Children’s Home for a few years and has been adopted by a loving family, when asked what they wanted for Christmas, told me, “Nothing. I’ve got everything I need.”
If only we all had that attitude. The chorus to Alan Jackson’s popular Christmas song, “Let It Be Christmas,” says this:
Let it be Christmas everywhere; Let heavenly music fill the air;
Let every heart sing let every bell ring; The story of hope and joy and peace;
And let it be Christmas everywhere; Let heavenly music fill the air;
Let anger and fear and hate disappear; Let there be love that lasts through the year;
Let it be Christmas, Christmas everywhere.