Rogers on the set of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in the late 1960s
|Born||Fred McFeely Rogers
March 20 1928
Latrobe, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||February 27 2003 (aged 74)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Other names||Mister Rogers|
|Alma mater||Rollins College
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
|Occupation||Children's television presenter, actor, puppeteer, singer, composer, television producer, author, educator, Presbyterian minister|
Fred McFeely Rogers (March 20, 1928 – February 27, 2003) was an American television personality, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer, and Presbyterian minister. He was known as the creator, composer, producer, head writer, showrunner and host of the preschool television series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1968–2001). The show featured Rogers' kind, neighborly, avuncular persona, which nurtured his connection to the audience.
Trained and ordained as a minister, Rogers was displeased with the way television addressed children. He began to write and perform local Pittsburgh-area shows for youth. Over the course of three decades, Rogers became a television icon of children's entertainment and education.
Rogers advocated various public causes. Most memorably, Rogers testified before a U.S. Senate committee to advocate for government funding of children's television. Several buildings and artworks in Pennsylvania are dedicated to his memory, and the Smithsonian Institution displays one of his trademark sweaters as a "Treasure of American History".
Rogers believed in honesty, and that children needed to hear from adults that in times of disaster there are always caring people who act as helpers. His advice to "look for the helpers" has continued to be a comfort to all people, circulating widely following tragic news events.
Fred McFeely Rogers was born on March 20, 1928 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania 40 miles (65 km) southeast of Pittsburgh, at 705 Main Street, the son of James and Nancy Rogers. James Rogers was a very successful businessman. Nancy came from a wealthy Pittsburgh family; her father, Fred McFeely, was the president of McFeely Brick, one of Latrobe’s largest businesses. Nancy knitted sweaters for American soldiers from western Pennsylvania who were fighting in Europe. When Fred was born, she regularly volunteered at the Latrobe Hospital. Initially dreaming of becoming a doctor, she settled for a life of hospital volunteer work. 
The young Fred Rogers spent much of his free time with his maternal grandfather, who was interested in music; Rogers began to play the piano when he was five and sang along when his mother played.
Rogers had a difficult childhood growing up—he had a shy, introverted personality and was overweight. In addition, he was frequently homebound after suffering bouts of asthma. Rogers struggled to make friends and would frequently be bullied as a little boy for his weight, taunted as "Fat Freddy." According to documentarian Morgan Neville, Rogers had a "lonely childhood...I think he made friends with himself as much as he could. He had a ventriloquist dummy, he had [stuffed] animals, and he would create his own worlds in his childhood bedroom."
Rogers became much more confident as he got older. He attended Latrobe High School and was very active in extracurricular activities. he served as president of the student council, was a member of the National Honor Society, and was editor-in-chief of the yearbook; he graduated in 1946. Rogers studied at Dartmouth College from 1946 until 1948 and then transferred to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, earning a BA in music composition in 1951.
At Rollins College, Rogers met and fell in love with Oakland, Florida native Sara Joanne Byrd. Fred and Joanne (as she is known) were married on June 9, 1952 and remained married until his death in 2003. They had two sons: James, in 1959, and John, in 1961. Rogers graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and was ordained a minister of the United Presbyterian Church in 1963. He returned to Pittsburgh in the 1960s with his family and attended the Sixth Presbyterian Church, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Rogers had an apartment in New York City and a summer home on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts.
Rogers was diagnosed with stomach cancer in December 2002. He underwent surgery on January 6, 2003, which was unsuccessful. A week earlier, he had served as grand marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade, with Art Linkletter and Bill Cosby.
His widow, Joanne Byrd Rogers, continued to live in Pittsburgh, where she honored her husband's memory by being an advocate for children and encouraging them to take on leadership roles.
Rogers was displeased with the way television addressed children and began to write and perform local Pittsburgh-area shows for youth. In 1968, Eastern Educational Television Network began nationwide distribution of Rogers' new show, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Over the course of the show's three decades' run, Rogers became a television icon of children's entertainment and education.
Rogers entered seminary after college but wanted to work with television. In an interview with CNN, Rogers said, "I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there's some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen." He applied for a job at NBC in New York City in 1951 and worked first as an assistant producer, and later, network floor director on musical programs including Your Lucky Strike Hit Parade and The Kate Smith Hour. He also worked on Gabby Hayes's children's show.
Rogers decided that television's reliance on advertisement and merchandising kept it from educating young audiences; he left NBC and began working as a puppeteer on the local children's show The Children's Corner for Pittsburgh public television station WQED in 1954. He worked off-camera with host Josie Carey on unscripted live TV for the next seven years to develop the puppets, characters, and music—including King Friday XIII and X the Owl—that he used in his own work later. The show won a Sylvania Award for best children's show and was broadcast nationally on NBC.
Rogers studied theology at the nearby Pittsburgh Theological Seminary during his lunch breaks; however, he was uninterested in preaching and was told to continue making children's television after his ordination. He worked with the University of Pittsburgh's child development and care program. Rogers consulted with child psychologist Margaret McFarland, an associate professor at the school; much of Rogers' "thinking about and appreciation for children was shaped and informed" by McFarland. While filming The Children's Corner, Rogers worked side-by-side with Ernie Coombs, who served as an assistant puppeteer.
In 1963, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) contracted Rogers to develop the 15-minute children's program Misterogers. Fred Rainsberry, head of children's programming at the CBC, told Rogers, "Fred, I've seen you talk with kids. Let's put you yourself on the air." Rogers invited Coombs to come along and work as a puppeteer on the new program.
Rogers moved to Toronto and the series ran for three seasons. CBC designed many of his famous set pieces: the Trolley, the Eiffel Tower, the "tree", and the "castle." Rogers moved back to the United States three years later, but Coombs decided to stay in Canada, joining a new TV series called Butternut Square as a puppeteer and voice actor. Coombs later made another CBC TV children's show, Mr. Dressup, which ran from 1967 to 1996.
In 1966, Rogers got the rights to his program from the CBC and moved the show to WQED in Pittsburgh, where he had worked on The Children's Corner. He developed the new show for the Eastern Educational Network.
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, a half-hour educational children's program starring Rogers, began airing in 1968 and ran for 895 episodes. It aired on National Educational Television, which later became The Public Broadcasting Service. The last set of new episodes was taped in December 2000 and began airing in August 2001. At its peak, in 1985, eight percent of US households tuned into the show. According to musical director Johnny Costa, every episode of the program began with a pan of the Neighborhood, a miniature diorama model, with his jazzy improvisations interwoven between the titles. "The Neighborhood consisted of two sets: the inside set (Rogers' house) and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, which included the castle" were filmed separately.
Each episode had recurring motifs:
Visually, the presentation of the show was very simple. It did not feature the animation or fast pace of other children's shows, which Rogers thought of as "bombardment." Rogers' use of time on his show was a radical departure from other children's programming. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was unhurried. Rogers also believed in not acting out a different persona on camera compared to how he acted off camera, stating that "One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self. I also believe that kids can spot a phony a mile away."
Rogers composed almost all of the music on the program, over 289 songs over the course of the show. Through his music, he wanted to teach children to love themselves and others, and he addressed common childhood fears with comforting songs and skits. For example, one of his famous songs explains how a child cannot be sucked down the bathtub drain as he or she will not fit. He once took a trip to the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh to show children that a hospital is not a place to fear.
Rogers frequently tackled complex social issues on his program including the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, racism, and divorce. On one notable episode, Rogers soaked his feet in a kiddie pool on a hot day alongside Officer Clemmons (François Clemmons), who was African-American. The scene was a subtle symbolic message of inclusion during a time when racial segregation in the United States was widespread.
In addition, Rogers championed children with disabilities on the show. In a 1981 segment, Rogers met a young quadriplegic boy, Jeff Erlanger, who showed how his electric wheelchair worked and explained why he needed it. Erlanger and Rogers both sang a duet of the song "It's You I Like." Before the taping, Erlanger had long been a fan of the program, and his parents wrote a letter to Rogers requesting they meet. Years later, when Rogers was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999, Erlanger was a surprise guest to introduce Rogers. Rogers "leaped" out of his seat and straight onto the stage when Erlanger appeared.
Rogers never explicitly mentioned his faith on the show. "He wasn’t doing that to hide his Christian identity," Junlei Li, co-director of the Fred Rogers Center, explained. "I think Fred was very adamant that he didn’t want any viewer — child or adult — to feel excluded from the neighborhood."
In 1978, while on hiatus from taping new Neighborhood episodes, Rogers hosted an interview program for adults on PBS called Old Friends...New Friends. Rogers interviewed actors, sports stars, politicians, and poets, but the show was short-lived, lasting only 20 episodes.
In the mid-1980s, the Burger King fast-food chain lampooned Rogers' image with an actor called "Mr. Rodney", imitating Rogers' television character. Rogers found the character's pitching fast food as confusing to children, and called a press conference in which he stated that he did not endorse the company's use of his character or likeness. Rogers made no commercial endorsements during his career, though, over the years, he acted as a pitchman for several non-profit organizations dedicated to learning. The chain publicly apologized for the faux pas and pulled the ads. In contrast, Fred Rogers found Eddie Murphy's parody of his show on Saturday Night Live, "Mister Robinson's Neighborhood," amusing and affectionate.
In 1994, Rogers created a one-time special for PBS called Fred Rogers' Heroes, which consisted of documentary portraits of four persons whose work helped make their communities better. Rogers, uncharacteristically dressed in a suit and tie, hosted the show in wraparound segments that did not use the "Neighborhood" set.
Rogers voice-acted himself on the "Arthur Meets Mister Rogers" segment of the PBS Kids animated series Arthur.
The only time Rogers appeared on television as someone other than himself was in 1996 when he played a preacher on one episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
In 1998, Rogers appeared as himself in an episode of Candid Camera as the victim of one of the show's pranks. The show's staff tried to sell him on a hotel room with no television. Rogers quickly caught on to the fact that he was being filmed for the show and surprised the show's producers by telling them he did not really need a television. Rogers was amused by his appearance on the show and by host Peter Funt's immediate recognition of him.
After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Rogers taped public service announcements for parents about how to discuss tragic world news events with their children.
"We at Family Communications have discovered that when children bring up something frightening, it's helpful right away to ask them what they know about it," Rogers said. "Probably what children need to hear most from us adults is that they can talk with us about anything, and that we will do all we can to keep them safe in any scary time."
|"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."
In 2012, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, as people grappled with the gravity of the situation, a Rogers quote went viral on social media, advising people during troubling times to "look for the helpers." On NBC's Meet the Press program, host David Gregory read the Rogers' quote on the air and added, "May God give you strength and at least you can know there is a country full of helpers here to catch you when you feel like falling."
The quote continues to circulate widely following tragic news events.
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood won four Emmy awards, and Rogers himself was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 Daytime Emmys, as described by Esquire's Tom Junod:
Mister Rogers went onstage to accept the award—and there, in front of all the soap opera stars and talk show sinceratrons, in front of all the jutting man-tanned jaws and jutting saltwater bosoms, he made his small bow and said into the microphone, "All of us have special ones who have loved us into being. Would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are. Ten seconds of silence." And then he lifted his wrist, looked at the audience, looked at his watch, and said, "I'll watch the time." There was, at first, a small whoop from the crowd, a giddy, strangled hiccup of laughter, as people realized that he wasn't kidding, that Mister Rogers was not some convenient eunuch, but rather a man, an authority figure who actually expected them to do what he asked. And so they did. One second, two seconds, three seconds—and now the jaws clenched, and the bosoms heaved, and the mascara ran, and the tears fell upon the beglittered gathering like rain leaking down a crystal chandelier. And Mister Rogers finally looked up from his watch and said softly, "May God be with you" to all his vanquished children.
Rogers became an advocate for various public causes. He testified before a U.S. Senate committee to advocate for government funding of children's television. Also, he testified in favor of fair-use television show recording (now called time shifting).
In 1969, Rogers appeared before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications. His goal was to support funding for PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, in response to proposed budget cuts. In about six minutes of testimony, Rogers spoke of the need for social and emotional education that public television provided. He argued that alternative television programming like his Neighborhood encouraged children to become happy and productive citizens, sometimes opposing less positive messages in the media and in popular culture. He recited the lyrics to one of his songs.
The chairman of the subcommittee, John O. Pastore, was not familiar with Rogers' work and was sometimes described as impatient. However, he reported that the testimony had given him goosebumps, and declared, "I think it's wonderful. Looks like you just earned the $20 million."
During the controversy surrounding the introduction of the household VCR, Rogers was involved in supporting VCR manufacturers in court. His 1979 testimony, in the case Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc., noted that he did not object to home recordings of his television programs by families in order to watch them together at a later time. His testimony contrasted with the views of others in the television industry who objected to home recording or believed that VCRs should be taxed or regulated.
When the case reached the Supreme Court in 1983, the majority decision considered the testimony of Rogers when it held that the Betamax video recorder did not infringe copyright. The court stated that his views were a notable piece of evidence "that many [television] producers are willing to allow private time-shifting to continue" and even quoted his testimony in a footnote:
Some public stations, as well as commercial stations, program the Neighborhood at hours when some children cannot use it ... I have always felt that with the advent of all of this new technology that allows people to tape the Neighborhood off-the-air, and I'm speaking for the Neighborhood because that's what I produce, that they then become much more active in the programming of their family's television life. Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others. My whole approach in broadcasting has always been "You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions." Maybe I'm going on too long, but I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important.
Fred Rogers' death was such a significant event in Pittsburgh that most of the front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published the next day and an entire section of the paper devoted its coverage to him. The Reverend William P. Barker presided over a public memorial in Pittsburgh. More than 2,700 people attended the memorial at Heinz Hall, including former Good Morning America host David Hartman; Teresa Heinz Kerry; philanthropist Elsie Hillman; PBS President Pat Mitchell; Arthur creator Marc Brown; and Eric Carle, the author-illustrator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Speakers remembered Rogers' love of children, devotion to his religion, enthusiasm for music, and quirks. Teresa Heinz Kerry said of Rogers, "He never condescended, just invited us into his conversation. He spoke to us as the people we were, not as the people others wished we were."
Following Rogers' death, the U.S. House of Representatives in 2003 unanimously passed Resolution 111 honoring Rogers for "his legendary service to the improvement of the lives of children, his steadfast commitment to demonstrating the power of compassion, and his dedication to spreading kindness through example." The U.S. Senate unanimously passed Resolution 16 to commemorate the life of Fred Rogers. It read, in part, "Through his spirituality and placid nature, Mr. Rogers was able to reach out to our nation's children and encourage each of them to understand the important role they play in their communities and as part of their families. More importantly, he did not shy away from dealing with difficult issues of death and divorce but rather encouraged children to express their emotions in a healthy, constructive manner, often providing a simple answer to life's hardships."
The same year, the Presbyterian Church approved an overture "to observe a memorial time for the Reverend Fred M. Rogers" at its General Assembly. The rationale for the recognition of Rogers reads, "The Reverend Fred Rogers, a member of the Presbytery of Pittsburgh, as host of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood since 1968, had a profound effect on the lives of millions of people across the country through his ministry to children and families. Mister Rogers promoted and supported Christian values in the public media with his demonstration of unconditional love. His ability to communicate with children and to help them understand and deal with difficult questions in their lives will be greatly missed."
One of Rogers' iconic sweaters was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution, which displays it as a "Treasure of American History." In 2008, to mark what would have been his 80th birthday, Rogers' production company sponsored several events to memorialize him, including "Won't You Wear a Sweater Day," during which fans and neighbors were asked to wear their favorite sweaters in celebration. The event takes place annually on his birth date, March 20.
On June 25, 2016, the Fred Rogers Historical Marker was placed near Latrobe, Pennsylvania in his memory.
In January 2018, it was announced that Tom Hanks would portray Rogers in an upcoming biographical film titled You Are My Friend directed by Marielle Heller. That same year, the biographical documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? based on the life and legacy of Rogers, was released to critical acclaim and became the highest grossing biodoc film of all time.
Rogers received more than 40 honorary degrees from universities, colleges, and seminaries, including Yale University, Hobart and William Smith, Carnegie Mellon University, Boston University, Saint Vincent College, University of Pittsburgh, North Carolina State University, University of Connecticut, Dartmouth College, Waynesburg College, and his alma mater, Rollins College, as well as Thiel College, Eastern Michigan University, Christian Theological Seminary, Lafayette College, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and others.
Rogers received the Ralph Lowell Award in 1975. The television industry honored Rogers with a Peabody Award "in recognition of 25 years of beautiful days in the neighborhood" in 1992; Previously, he had shared a Peabody award for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in 1968.
In 1991, the Pittsburgh Penguins named Rogers as their celebrity captain, as part of a celebration of the National Hockey League's 75th anniversary, based on his connections to Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh. Card No. 297 from the 1992 NHL Pro Set Platinum collection commemorated the event, making Fred one of only twelve celebrity captains to be chosen for a sports card.
George W. Bush awarded Rogers the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002 for his contributions to children's education, saying that "Fred Rogers has proven that television can soothe the soul and nurture the spirit and teach the very young." In 2003, the asteroid 26858 Misterrogers was named after Rogers by the International Astronomical Union in an announcement at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh.
Several buildings, monuments, and works of art are dedicated to Rogers' memory. The Fred Rogers Memorial Statue on the North Shore near Heinz Field in Pittsburgh was created by Robert Berks and dedicated in 2009.
In 2015, players of the Altoona Curve, a Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, honored Rogers by wearing special commemorative jerseys that featured a printed facsimile of his classic cardigan and tie ensemble. After the game the jerseys were auctioned off with the proceeds going to the local PBS station, WPSU-TV.
On March 6, 2018, a primetime special commemorating the 50th anniversary of the series aired on PBS, hosted by actor Michael Keaton. The hour-long special also featured interviews by musician Yo-Yo Ma, musician Itzhak Perlman, actress Sarah Silverman, actress Whoopi Goldberg, actor John Lithgow, screenwriter Judd Apatow, actor David Newell, producer Ellen Doherty, and spouse Joanne Byrd Rogers, as well as clips of memorable moments from the show, such as Rogers visiting Koko the gorilla, Margaret Hamilton dressing up as The Wizard of Oz's Wicked Witch of the West, and Jeff Erlanger in his wheelchair singing It's You I Like with Rogers.
Fred Rogers appeared on a commemorative US postage stamp in 2018. The stamp, showing him as Mister Rogers alongside King Friday XIII, was issued on March 23, 2018, in Pittsburgh.
Rogers wrote many of the songs that were used on his television program, and wrote more than 36 books, including:
All links retrieved December 21, 2018.
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