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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,999
December 5, 2019
"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood"
By Mike McManus

Tom Hanks is starring in a new movie as Fred Rogers, who played himself in his TV series, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," The series began 50 years ago on public television, which was watched by my son, Adam, when he was about 2 or 3, with his Mom, back in 1968-9.

The "Mister Rogers" show ran for 31 years.

"It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," is the title of the new film, based on a song Fred Rogers used to sing on the show.

The show began each day with Fred walking into his house, taking off his suitcoat, putting on a sweater, removing his loafers, tossing them from one hand to another, and replacing them with tennis shoes. During this action, Fred is singing, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood...Won't you be my neighbor?"

After singing that he might say, "Hello, neighbor!"

Fred wrote and sang 200 songs over the years. At times he would play the piano as he
sang one of his songs.

Fred Rogers majored in music composition at Rollins College, where he first saw children's television and was appalled by the programming, concluding "Children deserve better." He became a puppeteer and got his first job In 1953 co-producing a daily TV program in Pittsburgh, "The Children's Corner." That convinced him he had a future in children's television.

But he earned a Masters of Divinity degree and was ordained as a Presbyterian pastor in 1963. Though he never served as a pastor, his ministry to children reached millions.

On "Mister Rogers Neighborhood," he was a puppeteer, who voiced various puppets appearing on his show. Mister Rogers would chat with them. They had wonderful names: Daniel Striped Tiger, Prince Tuesday, and Ana Platypus were the youngest puppets.

One day, Ana Platypus prepared for and went to school for the first time - which can be a scary experience as well as an exciting one.

Fred's deeper purpose was to help children understand their world. He sometimes took viewers on tours of factories and laboratories.

One day in 1970 he dealt with the death of his pet goldfish. Of course, death is a subject that can be frightening to children, but Fred saw it as a time to say sadness about death is understandable. The series also dealt with competition, divorce and war. Rogers returned to the topic of anger regularly and focused on peaceful ways of dealing with angry feelings.

My wife remembers him as "the kindest man." He would tell young children, "You I like." She recalls now, "Mister Rogers made people feel worthwhile. He spoke slowly, saying, "There's so much that people can do in the world to help people."

She recalls that one day he said, "There are three secrets of happiness: Be kind. Be kind. Be kind."

She remembers his helping children to feel safe. How did he do that?

Here are the opening lyrics of one of his songs:

"What if I were very, very sad?
"And all I did was smile.
"I wonder after a while,
"What might become of my sadness?"

He regularly had guests appear on his show, such as Neighbor Aber, a friend of the mayor who does odd jobs, Scientist Adler, who offers scientific expertise, and Marilyn Barnett, the gym teacher at the neighborhood school.

Some of his guests were famous, such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno of TV's "The Incredible Hulk."

Mister Rogers rose every morning at 5:30 a.m. to read and pray for those who'd asked him to. Then he'd take a daily dip in the pool for exercise. An episode taping would follow. He'd take an afternoon nap after returning home from work every day - and ended each day at 9:30 p.m., sleeping for eight hours.

Fred Rogers did not eat meat. As he put it to the Los Angeles Times in 1997, he didn't eat "anything with a mother." He never watched TV, but he did weigh himself daily and was proud that he weighed the same every time - 143 pounds.

The cast and crew of "Mister Rogers's Neighborhood" knew the day was done when the host would play a ditty on the piano. An exhausted Rogers tried to end the day early by hopping in front of the piano before a producer yanked him up.

His final broadcast of Mister Rogers Neighborhood was in 2001 and he died in 2003 at age 75.

Now there's a new hope for kids with Tom Hanks' new movie, "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood." Whole new generations will find a wonderful man to love.

__________________________

Copyright (c) 2019 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. To read past columns, go to www.ethicsandreligion.com. Hit Search for any topic.

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