Reprinted from Remember Mr. Rogers, June 29, 2010
A couple of weeks ago, I had a discussion (argument?) with a student about Fred Rogers. His claim was that Mr. Rogers wore long sleeve sweaters to cover multiple tattoos on both arms. I already knew that Mr. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, and it turns out this student knew that as well. He contended that before seminary and his career in television, Mr. Rogers had a violent and sordid past. So on a whim, I did some Internet fact checking. Wow.
Mr. Rogers is everybody’s favorite neighbor. I read Wikipedia. I checked Snopes.com. I searched the web for Fred Rogers images. The man was too good to be true. He graduated with a degree in music in 1951, and after seeing television for the first time that same year, quickly decided he hated it. That’s why he got a job at NBC in New York; he wanted to make it better. After 3 years at NBC, which was funded by selling commercial airtime, he quit. Moving back to Pittsburgh, he went to work producing children’s programing on the very first education television station in the country. It took a few years working on various shows, and a stint in Toronto on Canadian public television, before his signature show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood would debut in 1968. Many of the characters and voices were developed on earlier programs that he did voices and puppetry for. He composed over 200 songs during his career, including every song he performed on Neighborhood. But this is just the technical stuff.
Going straight to college out of high school, and then straight into t.v. after graduation, obviously he never had time for a military career. Rogers was never in any branch of the military, nor was he in Vietnam. He was born in 1928, and was too old for military service by the time of that war. Here is a short list of the qualities that practically qualify him for sainthood:
During his off-time from the show, he studied at the Presbyterian seminary and earned a degree. After being ordained, he was charged to continue his work in children’s television and never became a preacher.
Each of the cardigan sweaters he wore on set were handmade – by his mother.
Many of the characters on the show were named after people in his family, such as his grandfather (McFeely) and his wife (Sara, as in Queen Sara).
When the Nixon administration was about to cut federal funding for PBS, Rogers made a 6 minute speech before Congress about the positive power of television to improve young people’s lives. The funding was raised from $9 mill to $22 mill. In 1979, his testimony before the Supreme Court was instrumental in their decision that VCR recordings did not violate copyright laws. Yes, Mr. Rogers saved both PBS and the VCR industry.
When his car was stolen, local t.v. and newspapers carried the story. It was not only returned to the spot it was taken from, the thieves left a note of apology, saying that they would never have taken it if they had known it was his.
Rogers received a long list of awards and honorary degrees, from doctorates in humanities to the Presidential Freedom Award. I’ve only listed a few of the highlights. I set out to prove he never got a tattoo; I didn’t know what a huge fan I would again turn into. The man got up at 5 and went swimming every day. For the last 30 years of his life he weighed exactly 143 pounds. Who has that kind of discipline? Do yourself a favor and do a little research for yourself. I can’t possibly imagine your being disappointed.