Inside the life of Fred Rogers, the beloved icon behind 'Mister Rogers' Neighbourhood' and subject of the biopic starring Tom Hanks

Getty Images/HandoutFred Rogers said he loved puppets even as a child.


Fred McFeely Rogers was the legendary man behind the television program “Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood,” which ran from 1968 through 2001.

Fotos International/Contributor/Getty ImagesFred Rogers pictured above.

Source: Fred Rogers Productions, NPR


He’s most known for his TV show, and the way he used it to teach children about feelings, current events, and other things they may have to deal with throughout their lives.

CBS Photo Archive/Contributor/Getty ImagesFred Rogers (left) on the set of ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood.’

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


He used a family of puppets to convey each storyline …

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesFred loved puppets.

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


… and a model town to build the Neighbourhood of Make-Believe.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesFred poses with items from the Neighbourhood of Make-Believe.

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


Even current TV personalities like Jimmy Fallon remember looking forward to watching the next episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood” when it came out.

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon/YouTubeFallon (right) with Rogers’ wife Joanne (left).

Source: The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon


Now, there’s a full-length feature film titled “A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood” — a nod to the show as that was part of the theme song — starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers.

Sony PicturesTom Hanks as Fred Rogers.

Source: IMDb


The story chronicles the evolution of a relationship between Rogers and Tom Junod, a “sceptical” journalist who had been assigned a profile of the TV personality.

V E Anderson/Contributor/Getty ImagesTom Hanks (left) plays Rogers and Matthew Rhys (right) plays Junod.

Source: IMDb, A Beautiful Day


The film is based on a true story, and shows how a friendship can form between two unlikely people — in this case, between Rogers and Junod — which was a common thread throughout many of the original show’s episodes.

Sony Pictures Entertainment/YouTubeRhys in character watching an episode of ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood.’

Source: A Beautiful Day


Before the feature film, a documentary titled “Won’t You Be My Neighbour?” — also a line from the show’s theme song — premiered in 2018.

Jason Merritt/Stringer/Getty ImagesNicholas Ma (left) and Joanne Rogers (right) — the documentary producer and Fred Rogers’ wife, respectively.

Source: Won’t You Be My Neighbour?


The documentary allowed people behind the scenes of the show, but also gave them a look into Fred’s life.

Paul Natkin/Contributor/Getty ImagesFred Rogers pictured above.

Source: Won’t You Be My Neighbour?


Rogers was born in March of 1928. He grew up in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, a town that embodied the “strong, hard-working, and faith-driven culture of Western Pennsylvania,” according to the Fred Rogers Centre.

Google MapsLatrobe, Pennsylvania, lies just east of Pittsburgh.

Source: Fred Rogers Centre, Encyclopædia Britannica, Fred Rogers Productions


Of his hometown, Rogers once said, “It’s the garden spot of the world, as Lady Elaine Fairchilde would say.” Lady Elaine Fairchilde was one of the puppet characters on “Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood” — she was a vehicle for displaying anger on screen.

PBSLady Elaine Fairchilde pictured above.

Source: Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, USA Today


“I was interested in puppets, you know, all my young life,” Rogers said.

Heinz Kluetmeier / Contributor/Getty ImagesRogers acts with puppets on his show.

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


His parents, James Hillis Rogers and Nancy McFeely Rogers, were both familiar with the world of business — both Rogers’ father and maternal grandfather, Fred McFeely, were businessmen.

AP PhotoA young Fred Rogers pictured above.

Source: Fred Rogers Centre, Fred Rogers Productions


Although Rogers’ work is known for how it brought community and children together to play and imagine, he didn’t have a huge community of friends as a child himself.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesFred Rogers with an audience of children above.

Source: Fred Rogers Centre


Fred’s grandfather played a large role in the development of his self-esteem and level of empathy for others. In fact, he affected Fred so much so, that the TV star named a character on his show after the man.

PBS/YouTubeThe postman on Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood was named Mr. McFeely.

Source: Fred Rogers Centre


Rogers went to high school in Latrobe, and then went on to college at Dartmouth University. He began his college career at the Ivy League school …

Jim Cole/APDartmouth University pictured above.

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


… but transferred to Rollins College in Orlando, Florida. Rogers graduated from Rollins with a degree in music composition in 1951.

John Greim/Contributor/Getty ImagesRollins College pictured above.

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


Rollins was also the place Fred met his wife, Joanne Rogers.

Mark Sullivan/Contributor/Getty ImagesJoanne Rogers pictured above.

Source: Fred Rogers Productions, Today


In his final year of college, Rogers said he noticed a television program playing at his parents’ house and thought it was “horrible.” He said he announced to his family that he would go into television rather than the seminary as planned.

Focus Features/YouTubeFilming of ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood’ at the WQED studio.

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


So, after graduating from Rollins College, Fred moved to New York and got a job working for the NBC television network.

Richard Drew/AP PhotoNBC offices in Midtown Manhattan.

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


His first gig with NBC was as a “gofer” — someone who does tasks like bringing coffee to studio executives. Eventually, NBC hired Rogers as a floor manager, “after I had carried my share of coffees and Cokes,” he said. Rogers floor-managed the Gabby Hayes show among others.

Charles Kenneth Lucas/AP PhotoHe worked at 30 Rockefeller Centre.

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


Hayes and Rogers would chat between filming, and Rogers said he got some great advice from the host: Forget the number of people watching and just connect with one of them. Rogers learned that television is “a very, very personal medium.”

Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Contributor/Getty ImagesGabby Hayes of ‘The Gabby Hayes Show’ is pictured above.

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


Joanne told Megyn Kelly that Fred proposed to her in a letter: “Fred worked here at 30 Rock at the same time that I was doing graduate work … he wrote me a letter the second year he was here … proposing marriage.”

Jason Merritt/Stringer/Getty ImagesJoanne next to a photo of Fred.

Source: Entertainment Weekly, Today


The pair married in 1952 and moved to Pittsburg a year later so Fred could help start “America’s first community-sponsored television station: WQED.”

Google MapsPittsburgh isn’t far from Rogers’ hometown of Latrobe.

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


Rogers said starting and working at WQED was extremely different from working at NBC. “Here we were, just a half-dozen people trying to get this educational television station on the air,” he said.

Teenie Harris Archive/Carnegie Museum of Art/Contributor/Getty ImagesA panel of men on WQED.

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


WQED featured many educational shows, one of which was a live show called “The Children’s Corner” — starring actress Josie Carey and Rogers’ puppet, Daniel Tiger. The show was the precursor to “Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood.”

Focus Features/YouTubeDaniel Tiger pictured above on ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood.’

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


While working at WQED, Rogers went back to school — he took classes at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Child Development. In 1963, Rogers was ordained as a Presbyterian minister — he wanted to continue his work with children.

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


From WQED, Rogers moved his band of puppets to Canada — the Canadian Broadcasting Company gave him the opportunity for a daily special called “Mister Rogers.” The CBC created parts of the now-iconic set for the Neighbourhood of Make-Believe in late 1963.

Keith Srakocic/AP PhotoThis was the first time Fred Rogers was in front of the camera instead of behind the scenes.

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


Three years later, in 1966, Rogers and his family moved back to Pittsburgh and his show evolved again — this time into “Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood.” It jumped around from network to network until it landed on PBS.

Deborah Feingold/Contributor/Getty ImagesMany people today recognise the show as having aired on PBS.

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


By the time Fred and Joanne moved back to Pittsburgh again, they had two children — sons John and Jim.

Jason Merritt/Stringer/Getty ImagesJoanne Rogers (second from left) with son John (third from right) and Jim (far right).

Source: Fred Rogers Productions, Los Angeles Times


The Los Angeles Times reported that the 2018 documentary featured an anecdote from John about having Fred as a father: “It was difficult to have the second Christ as your dad.”

Jason Merritt/Stringer/Getty ImagesJoanne Rogers (left) and son Jim Rogers (right) at a premiere of ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbour.’

Source: Los Angeles Times


Fred and Joanne were married for 50 years before Fred died of stomach cancer in 2003.

NBC/Contributor/Getty ImagesJoanne Rogers pictured above on ‘The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.’

Source: Los Angeles Times


Fred’s legacy as a person lives on in many ways including through the Mister Rogers Memorial Scholarship from 2006 through ’17 — which awarded $US5,000 scholarships to students pursuing a career in children’s media.

Vince Bucci/Invision for the Television Academy/AP ImagesThe award was presented by the Television Academy at the Emmys.

Source: Television Academy Foundation


Rogers also lives on in the memories of celebrities and public figures of today. “He talked about stuff that was adult stuff, to children,” late-night talk show host, Fallon said. “He talked about divorce … he talked about war, death, assassination …”

NBC/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon


Yo-Yo Ma, famed cellist, credited Mr. Rogers with his learned ability to be a public figure, Ma’s son Nicholas said in an interview.

APNicholas Ma, producer of ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbour,’ is the son of Yo-Yo Ma (pictured above).

Source: Today


Talk show host Megyn Kelly said she remembered Rogers addressing the aftermath of terror attacks on September 11, 2001, by saying, “In these times, look for the helpers.” Ma added that the saying came from Rogers’ mother, who would say, “Wherever you go, there are always people that are trying to help.”

Focus Features/YouTubeRogers dancing with a child on the show.

Source: Today


In an interview with Variety, Tom Hanks said, “Everybody who we met who had worked with Fred … said ‘When you talked to Fred, you felt as though you were the most important person in the world.'”

Sony PicturesTom Hanks as Fred Rogers.

Source: Variety


“Playing Fred made me a better listener,” Hanks said.

Gene J. Puskar/AP Photos and Sony PicturesFred Rogers (left) and Tom Hanks as Rogers (right).

Source: Variety


His legacy on TV is also continuing through the animated series, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood.”

PBS/YouTubeA scene from ‘Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood.’

Source: PBS


Joanne confirmed in an interview that the tiger puppet called Daniel was really the embodiment of Fred himself. So it seems only fitting that the small tiger cub wears a red sweater and sneakers, just like Fred was known for.

Paul J. Richards/Getty ImagesHe was known for his sweaters.

Source: Today

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