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

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


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

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Fred Rogers pictured above. Fotos International/Contributor/Getty Images

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.

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

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


He used a family of puppets to convey each storyline …

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Fred loved puppets. Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


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

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

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.

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

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.

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Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. Sony Pictures

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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Fred Rogers pictured above. Paul Natkin/Contributor/Getty Images

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.

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Latrobe, Pennsylvania, lies just east of Pittsburgh. Google Maps

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.

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Lady Elaine Fairchilde pictured above. PBS

Source: Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, USA Today


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

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

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.

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A young Fred Rogers pictured above. AP Photo

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.

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

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.

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

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 …

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Dartmouth University pictured above. Jim Cole/AP

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


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

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Rollins College pictured above. John Greim/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


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

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Joanne Rogers pictured above. Mark Sullivan/Contributor/Getty Images

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.

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

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.

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NBC offices in Midtown Manhattan. Richard Drew/AP Photo

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.

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He worked at 30 Rockefeller Centre. Charles Kenneth Lucas/AP Photo

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.”

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

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.”

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

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.”

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Pittsburgh isn’t far from Rogers’ hometown of Latrobe. Google Maps

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.

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

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.”

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

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.

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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.

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

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.

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

Source: Fred Rogers Productions


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

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

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.”

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

Source: Los Angeles Times


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

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

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.

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

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 …”

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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.

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

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.”

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Rogers dancing with a child on the show. Focus Features/YouTube

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.'”

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Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. Sony Pictures

Source: Variety


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

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

Source: Variety


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

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A scene from ‘Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood.’ PBS/YouTube

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.

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He was known for his sweaters. Paul J. Richards/Getty Images

Source: Today