Meet Mister Rogers, Everybody's Neighbor

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Meet Mister Rogers, Everybody's Neighbor by Carrie L. Curtis. Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine, Summer 1997.

Meet Mister Rogers, Everybody's Neighbor by Carrie L. Curtis. Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine, Summer 1997.

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  • 1. SUMMER 1997 At Home With A Living Legend Â¥8 His Eye Was A Camera + Victory At Bushy Run Â¥8 City Completely Constructed Of Concrete!
  • 2. Pittsburgh, it becomes clear that the people who are a meaningful part of his life are present. Theirs are the s ries behind the objects with which he surr Facing him as he sits on a sofa is a pair of small, legged chairs, at least fifty years old, sent to his p from a friend in Kobe, Japan. "[The chairs either side of their fireplace in Latrobe," he remembers. H points to a large chair from his father's office at the McFeely Brick Company, a silica brick company founded I his grandfather, Fred McFeely, of which Rogers's father James became president. Near the door, a collection of tapes preserves the many sessions Rogers spent review- ing songs and programs with the late Margaret B. McFarland, a noted child psychologist and director of the Arsenal Family and Children's Center of the University of Pittsburgh, who was his mentor and friend. Like Margaret McFarland's tapes, another object b an important lesson of the past and is use today. Handsomely matted and framed, the placard b Rogers's trademark "I like youjust the way these words of acceptance are heard by more than eight million householdswhich watch Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. The tabletop sign is a gift from Charles P. LaVallee, executive director of The Western Pennsylvania Caring Foundation.The foun- dation, of which Rogers serves as honorary chairman, was begun in 1985 to provide health care coverage to western Pennsylvania children who might otherwisefall through the cracks of the health care system. Not only are the people of Fred McFeely Rogers's life present in his office, but they are literally in his back pocket. Rogers t his wallet. "Icarry lots of friends," he says. Surprisingly,they are standard-size prints. People and relationshipsplay such a large part in his life that Rogers evidently finds it too difficult to squeeze them into the smaller wallet-size photo holders. People emergingfrom ted concert pianist whom met at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida; his sons Jamie and hn with their families; and the children of friend Yo Yo Ma, the rid renowned cellist. Asked if he considers himself a Pennsylvanian, Rogers responds enthusiastically, "Absolutely." He tallies the number of years he has lived in the Keystone State since his birth in Latrobe, Westmoreland County, on March 20, 1928. Except for college, several years in New York, and one year in Canada, he has lived most of his sixty-nine in Pennsylvania. Today, Pittsburghis his home. When asked memories of places, he mentions several buildings and hou tial. "What's most importa individual responsible dren's television? such fond memoriesof so In 1940,I remember the census [for teachers as well as friends to play golf and I always say "one of us ated with a hour. I would rush over to the did a lot more with it than the other." Rogers, playing with his grandson television" was startingin P Alexander (facing page),firmly believes children need to be respected.
  • 3. gram for the PresbyterianChurch, daybefore graduation,I got a call The manyfaces of Mister Rogers (facing that they didn't have enough page): Backstage with a littlefriend, and mount a children's television pro discussing a script with Chuck Aber and The day after graduation, I got a Betty Aberlin. the CanadianBroadcastingCorp [CBC]in Toronto saying "Would come up here and do a program pletely scripted thing, which my parts on I said yes. It was up there that the Neighborhood aren't-[are influenced to me, "We've seenyou talk wi by sense of place.] And, as I sit down and We want you to be on camera.' write the Neighborhood,I bring all of my early years, those eightyears wi storywith me. But isn't that so?You bring Children's Comer,I wasn't seen at your childhood to your work. All the it was at the CBC that I first lo association. In fact, I thinkthat's a very camera and said, "Would you importantthing to remember about tele- a tiger who lives there in the vision. Each person bringshis or her own see an Eiffel Tower and hear storyto what they happen to be watching talk?" The man [FredRainsberry] who ogers lived until I was about six or at the moment. And childrenwill bring put me in front of the camera diedjust a sevenyears old. Then my dad had two concerns that adultshave worked few months ago, and soI was up there sistersand abrother, and they alllived in through, hopefully.I remember one time seeinga cartoonin which a diver goes for the weekend and was able to spend Latrobe. So the whole familywas there. downto the bottom of a lake and pulls a e e e e e e e e e e e * plug and the water of the lake goes down theiilikl^t &the this supposed drain.Well, it alsopulls down a boat with somebodyin it, and it thatit'sthi'spiiit, startsto suckdown the walls of the lake as well. I thought to myself, "That had to have been created by somebodywho had- some time with his widow. But aside Pennsylvania.Many,many years. This is dren experienceyour pr where the Neighborhood's really been. to another, and you have no idea how our childrenlit up when they saw that you. were in the new place too." I thought that was wonderful. [Our program] was one sta- ple that the childrenhad. Even if they went from Pennsylvaniaclear to Califor- nia, they were able to turnon the television and find that the Neighborhood was there, too. Our Neighborhoodwas right there. How does senseof p l a c e your hometown experience- influence your television pro- I think it has to. I thinkany- thing that-unless it's a com- Oh my.Justbeing here and doing my job. Millions ot people go to worK ana ao their job. There must have been some- . thing to distinguish your work Well, maybe because I was here at the beginning.I really was here before this station even went on the air. And;if you work at somethinglong enough and you do a decentjob, I think you're making history. We have worked at children's programming for a long time. Sincethe Attuned to the needs of children~aswell as to the child within-Rogers plans a puppet show with Chrissy Thompson (left}.He believes in bringing "your childhood to your work."
  • 4. use everything that had been given to so they got him a quarter-sized c me in this life if I hadn't come upon this rented it-and some lessons. He' realization that it can allbe used in the twelve. He's still taking lessons and so is service of children and their families. his mother because she used to have to practice with him and she got interested How did you come to that realization? init. But Yo Yo loves what he does. I 4 When I was at the seminaryI took a coursein counseling, and the professor said we were to work with oneperson at least once a week for the whole semester. of an adult, and he said,"So were so succe 28-
  • 5. hope that you'll remember even when I'm getting to like quiet the best of all. And now he's watching that program you're feelingblue, that it's you I like. More and more, I find that the quiet is with his son. I was very touched by that It's you yourself. It's you." becoming a luxury for many people, and letter. We have wonderful letters. Do you I find that really sad. Most people use know about our new book [DearMister You believe televisionis a personal things like the media to fend [off the] Rogers, Does It Ever Rain in Your medium. Why? quiet.We need to be quiet with our- Neighborhood?]?It's lettersfrom the chil- Early on, Leland Hazard, oneof the selves.I go to a gas station that has a dren and someof our replies. people who startedthisstation,said, "You radio station playing right beside the put a television screenin a schoolroom pumps in speakers. But doesn't that say What Changeshave you seen take place and everybodyin that room thinks that somethingabout us? That, as a society, duringyour long career in television? that oneperson on the screen is looking at we can't stand silence. I thinkthat the advent of Laugh-in did him or her. It's not the sameway with a the country a real disservice. The televi- live person." I thought a lot about that. I Do you hear *'Om yourviewers often? sion have been one of ^e patest think that's fascinating.You look at the Yes. I had a card this morning. It's a teaching tools that ever landed in any television;I look at the television;and post card, and it looked like it was from nation. But it's been used as a selling we're at a different angle.Yet, if some- an elderly man. It just said, "How tool ...the fast pace through sophisticat- body's looking right at the camera,it People Make Flashlights." I thought, ed editing. In fact, I had a vision of ask- looks as if he or she is looking at you. It is "That's a really good idea." We do a lot ing every producer if each year they very curious.It's a very personal medium. of factory films, as we call them-how would make every scene that they do I think it's a lot more personal than radio, people make different things-for the just five secondslonger,and do that eventhough I like radio a lot better. Neighborhood. We answer every letter every year. Maybe we'd get back to some e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e s-t~asfarasflow.Butthequick~ace Doyouknowwhatwouldbeaperfect quote? . * t is everywhere.You hear me talk about quiet. It's reflected in everything that I e . try to do. aPen~sylvanian. Does children's televisionhave more that comes here. That's why we some- "quiet"? times get behind. We want to be as per- I hope so. We need to respect the sonal in our communicationsas we PO$- Whenwe tan, about sibly can be. I could not answer the television, anybody who is a producer or packaged for you. But really good ra kinds of letters that we get with a purveyor of children's television needs some form letter-"Thank you for to say y^gg words Ittchildrenlsrrandcan let you use your imagination. your letter. I wish you well. "television"], and remember which word Good-bye.''-because somepeo- comes first. We need to do our levelbest pie just pour Out their hearts in understanding children.We can be us the For some artistsin television,but we need first to reason they trust us. be understandingof children and what I had a letterthismorning they bring to the television set. What a man said that he kinds of concernsthey bring ...There was from a very abusive are generalconcerns, general growth and he me what tasks that everybodyhas to go through. the Neighborhood had meant to Mrn' That he go in a 1s there anythingthat you haven't done O m a'1 that you'd like to do? and he remembers k every time Oh my. I always thought it would be hearing us fun to write a Broadwaymusical because "people can I love to write music. Last year I took a like you refresher course in New Testament exactlyas Greek, and that was very helpful. I had you forgottenso much Greek from the serni- nary. If I had the time I thinkI'd like to J have a refresher coursein Hebrew. On the road (again)with Mister Rogers: & Fred Rogers tours the kitchen of Barbara Smith's popular New York City restaurant, B. Smith's. No matter where he travels,he always finds people to be the most important part ofthe places he visits.
  • 6. Fred Rogers offered FOR FURTHER READING his insightsfor Pennsylvania Burnett, Frances H. The Secret Garden. Heritage'sreadership New York:Harper Collins, 1985. during an interview conducted inJuly 1996 Collins,Mark, and Margaret Mary Kimmel. by magazineeditorial Mister Rogers' Neighborhood: Children, assistant C hL. Curlis. Television, and Fred Rogers. Pittsburgh: Universityof Pittsburgh Press, 1996. DiFranco, JoAnn,and Anthony DiFranco. Mister Rogers: Good Neighbor to America's Children. Minneapolis:Dillon Press, 1983. Rogers, Fred. Dear Mister Rogers: Does It For what would you most like to be from WilliamsCollege, Williamstown, Ever Rain in YourNeighborhood? New remembered? Massachussetts.An editorial assistantfor York:Penguin/ 1996. Do you know whatwould be a perfect t k PennsylvaniaHistorical and Museum quote?T,-,want tobe re_-,m,,er.-, a Commission,she has served on the staff of -. Special: *wds of Wisdom Pennsylvanian. [Laughter] Pennsylvania Heritage since 1994. fro* America's Most Beloved Neighbor. New York: Viking,1994. The editorgratefully acknowledges But is it true? hnsyluania's First Lady MicheleM. Ridge S t t i n t - E x u ~ ,Antoine de. The Little I'd really like to think that in some for arranyng this interview with Fred Prince. San Diego: Harcourt Brace and way I've nourishedchildrenand that McFeely Rogers. Company,1993. I've helped in their becomings. =# The author and editor wish to thank David Neivell, director of public relations/or CarrieL. Curtis, a devoted "neighbor" of Family Communications,Inc., Pitkburgh, Mister Rogers throughchildhood,resides in producer of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Lemoyne, Cumberland County. She holds a for his assistancein scheduling this interview. bachelor of arts degree in American studies