46 Lessons Learned Making Mister Rogers & Me

Benjamin Wagner
Benjamin Wagner

I only knew three things about Mister Rogers before meeting him: He was the host of one of my favorite childhood shows, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, he was from Pittsburgh, and he seemed like a really nice guy.

Mister Rogers summered in a modest, gray, shake-shingled house on the edge of Nantucket. My mother rented a tiny cottage next door. So Mister Rogers really was my neighbor.

I was a young MTV News producer and sometime singer/songwriter. We met on the weekend of my 30th birthday in September 2001. He gingerly asked about my parents' divorce (taking a cue, apparently, from a song I'd just played him on my acoustic guitar about my childhood fear of flying), then my job at MTV. He mentioned his friend, mystic, author and poet Bo Lozoff, and his book, Deep & Simple.

"I feel so strongly," he said, "that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex."

The phrase stuck with me. And when I told him so the following summer, he replied, "Spread the message, Benjamin."

Ten years later, my brother and I premiered our documentary, Mister Rogers & Me, at the Nantucket Film Festival. The film explores Rogers’s luminous legacy through remembrances from Tim Russert, Susan Stamberg, Linda Ellerbee, Marc Brown, and many more. On March 20, 2012, PBS released it on DVD.

Years later, I can confirm and expand on those three things (he was an inordinately nice guy in person, too), plus these 46 things I learned about this great man and his essential pioneering work.

1. Fred Rogers was named after his grandfather.

Fred Rogers's grandfather, Fred McFeely, often said: "You've made this a special day by just being yourself. There's no one else in the world quite like you."

2. He was homebound as a child.

Little Freddy Rogers was a lonely, chubby, and shy child who was sometimes homebound because of childhood asthma common to industrialized towns like Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

3. He was bullied as a child.

A promotional image of Fred Rogers for 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood' is pictured
Amazon

According to The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers author Amy Hollingsworth, little Freddy Rogers was bullied walking home from school. “We’re going to get you Fat Freddy,” the other boys taunted.

“I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” he said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” As he grew up, he decided to always look past the surface of people to the “essential invisible” within them.

4. He took inspiration from Le Petit Prince.

A framed quotation from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince hung in Rogers's WQED office his entire career. It read, “L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux." (“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”)

5. He had an adopted sister.

Rogers was an only child until he was 11, when his parents adopted his sister, Elaine.

6. His explanation of his vegetarianism was simple.


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He told people, "I don't want to eat anything that has a mother."

7. He found his weight symbolic.

He weighed 143 pounds most his adult life, and relished the weight for its numerical equivalent I (1) Love (4) You (3).

8. He met his wife because he transferred schools.

Mister Rogers attended Dartmouth for one year, then transferred to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, where he met his future wife Sarah Joanne Bird, and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. in Music Composition.

9. His first TV job was at NBC.


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Rogers landed his first television job on NBC’s Kate Smith Hour in 1951. He worked on numerous shows there, including NBC Opera Hour and Your Lucky Strike Hit Parade.

10. His vacation home is slanted.

The Rogers's famed Crooked House on Nantucket (which is, indeed, akimbo, and requires ducking and leaning to traverse) was a wedding gift from his parents.

11. He had two sons.

The Rogers had two sons, James (born 1959) and John (born 1961). They can be seen romping in the dunes just beyond The Crooked House in the black & white outtakes of the PBS documentary, America’s Favorite Neighbor.

12. He was an avid swimmer.

Mister Rogers swam every day (including in Madaket Bay, where he met my mother in the months prior to our meeting).

13. He first showed King Friday and Daniel Striped Tiger to audiences in 1954.

In 1954, Rogers and cohost Josie Carey premiered The Children’s Corner on the Eastern Education Network, introducing Daniel Striped Tiger and King Friday.

14. We have canada to thank for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

The hour-long program that would become Mister Rogers' Neighborhood began as a 15-minute Canadian Broadcast series called, simply, MisteRogers.

15. He trained as a minister while working in TV.

Rogers worked toward his theology degree while working at WQED, graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and was ordained a minister in the Presbyterian Church in 1963.

16. He did not appreciate pie fights.

"I got into television because I saw people throwing pies in each other's faces," he said. "And that's such demeaning behavior. And if there's anything that bothers me, it's one person demeaning another."

17. He wore sneakers because they were quieter.

His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set.

18. He disliked distractions.

“If we take time," Rogers said, "we can often go much deeper as far as a spiritual life is concerned than we can if there's constant distraction. Often television gives such constant distraction—noise and fast-paced things—which doesn't allow us to take time to explore the deeper levels of who we are, and who we can become."

19. All the music on the show was done live.

Jazz pianist Johnny Costa, who was the Neighborhood's musical director from 1968 until his death in 1996, performed every song live in the studio during tapings.

20. He fiercely advocated for public broadcasting.

In a famous clip from 1969, Rogers appeared before United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications chair John Pastore to advocate for increased support of public broadcasting in the face of then-President Nixon's 50 percent reduction. After six minutes of thoughtful testimony advocating for the value of commercial-free television for children, the typically gruff senator replied, "I think it’s wonderful. Looks like you earned the $20 million."

21. He saved the VCR.

His 1979 testimony in the case Sony v. Universal Studios—in stark contrast to the views of television executives who objected to home recording—was cited by the Supreme Court in its decision that held that the Betamax video recorder did not infringe copyright.

22. He took his job as an educator seriously.

His efforts for children were informed for decades by working with Dr. Margaret McFarland, director of the Arsenal Family and Children’s Center in Pittsburgh, who helped provide depth and rigor to his thinking about children and education.

23. Michael Keaton got his start because of Mister Rogers.

Actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

24. Changing into sneakers was a matter of comfort for everyone.

The ritual of changing from dress shoes to sneakers and sport coat to cardigan while singing “It’s A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” was intended to establish consistent, comforting routine with his young audience.

25. His mother made his cardigans.

“She knitted a sweater a month," Rogers once said. "And every Christmas she would give this extended family of ours a sweater. She would say, 'What kind do you all want next year? I know what kind you want, Freddy. You want the one with the zipper up the front.'”

26. The Smithsonian has one of those sweaters.

He donated one of his sweaters to the Smithsonian Institution in 1984. The museum calls it a "Treasure of American History."

27. He taught Tim Russert's son how to tell time with a paper plate.

Late NBC Meet The Press host Tim Russert and his journalist wife, Maureen Orth, were the Rogers’s actual Nantucket neighbors. Upon the families’ first meeting, Rogers took immediately to young Luke Russert, teaching him to tell time with a paper plate and fastener.

28. Rogers was also an avid photographer.

Rogers loved to photograph the people he met, and he took thousands of photos. (Somewhere, there are a few of me.)

29. He surprised Eddie Murphy backstage at Saturday night live.

Eddie Murphy parodied Rogers's show by setting it in a tenement and teaching kids bad words of the day, but Rogers didn't have a problem with the send-up. While guesting on an episode of The Late Show with David Letterman in 1982, Rogers dropped by the SNL studio to surprise Murphy. When Murphy saw him, he gave him a big hug.

30. He was a go-to voice for explaining tragic events to children.

NPR correspondent Susan Stamberg often called on Rogers to explain “hideous and horrible” tragedies like the 1986 explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, and the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.

31. Susan Stamberg was convinced to host a Mister Rogers special by one of his characters.

Fred asked Susan to host his 1981 special, Mister Rogers Talks To Parents About Divorce. When Susan got cold feet, Daniel Striped Tiger called to convince her that her fears were valid, but that she could do it.

32. He shared information about divorce with kids and their parents.

“One of the toughest things for children is for their parents not to get along,” Rogers said of divorce. “It feels like it’s ripping a piece of cloth apart.” During the special, Rogers addressed children’s fear of flying unaccompanied between parents.

33. His delivery man was also his PR man.

A publciity image of David Newell (L) and Fred Rogers (R) from 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood' is pictured
Focus Features

Mr. McFeely (David Newell), who joined the Neighborhood via Pittsburgh Playhouse, acted as the director of publicity for the Fred Rogers Company for many years. He retired in 2015.

34. Rogers influenced Linda Ellerbee when she launched Nick News.

Journalist Linda Ellerbee modeled her 1991 Nick News premiere on Rogers’s values. “I wanted to incorporate the things I learned from Mister Rogers,” she said. The first being “Respect your audience.” The second was “Assume they’re just as bright as you are, they’re just younger, and shorter.”

35. He also influenced Blue's Clues.

Blue’s Clues creator Angela Santomero modeled her show after Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. “We used to speak a lot about the pausing and pacing, and how deliberately slow it was. This came from Fred: When you talk to camera, and you pace it adequately, you’re going to talk back to him. That’s what I did. I talked to him. I believed he liked me just the way that I was.”

36. Arthur made an aardvark version of Rogers.

Arthur creator Marc Brown illustrated Mister Rogers into the episode “Arthur Meets Mister Rogers,” which aired on September 27, 1997. “He had the special ability to look within every person he came in contact with and sense what things were inside you, and talk about difficult things. And when he talked to you, he was there 100 percent. He was a great teacher. That was his gift to me.”

37. He told his neighbor how to be a good neighbor for This American Life.

Rogers was featured in a May 2001 segment of This American Life called “Mr. Rothbart’s Neighborhood,” in which he counseled correspondent Davy Rothbart—who met Mister Rogers on Nantucket as a child—on how to be a good neighbor. In settling a noise dispute between neighbors, he says, “I have a feeling you're getting to know [your neighbor]. And once you do know her, then either your music isn't going to bother her so much or you're going to care so much about her that you'll probably turn it down a couple notches anyway.”

38. His show ended a week before 9/11.

The last original Mister Rogers' Neighborhood episode aired on PBS on Friday, August 31, 2001, just five days prior to our first meeting (and one week prior to September 11th).

39. He was awarded the Presidential Medal Of Freedom.

President George W. Bush awarded Rogers the highest civilian award in 2002.

40. You can visit a statue of him in Pittsburgh.

The Fred Rogers Statue created by Robert Berks (whose bust of JFK was admired by Rogers) opened to the public on Pittsburgh's North Shore in November 2009.

41. There's an asteroid named after him.

The asteroid 26858 Misterrogers was named by the International Astronomical Union on May 2, 2003.

42. Rogers's death was sudden.

Rogers's death from stomach cancer was fast and unexpected. He was diagnosed in December 2002, underwent surgery in January 2003, and passed away on the morning of February 27, 2003 at his home with Joanne by his side.

43. He prepared children for his death.

The day he died, Rogers's website posted a link to help children understand. ''Remember," it read, "that feelings are natural and normal, and that happy times and sad times are part of everyone's life."

44. There's a Fred Rogers Center that aims to use media to educate.

St. Vincent College’s Fred Rogers Center opened in 2008. The center’s mission is to “advance the fields of early learning and children’s media by acting as a catalyst for communication, collaboration, and creative change.”

45. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood has a spinoff.

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, an animated children's television series produced by The Fred Rogers Company and Santomero’s Out of the Blue Enterprises, debuted on PBS in September 2012.

46. His legacy lives on.

Mister Rogers inspires to this day. A documentary about his life, Won't You Be My Neighbor?, came out in 2018, and the Tom Hanks-starring A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood comes out in 2019.

The First Full Trailer for The Crown Season 3 Is Here

Des Willie, Netflix
Des Willie, Netflix

Star Wars obsessives aren't the only people in for a trailer treat today: Nearly two years after the second season of The Crown debuted, the award-winning series about the early days of Queen Elizabeth II's reign is just weeks away from its return. And on Monday morning, Netflix released the first full trailer for The Crown's new season.

While we've known some of the basic details about the new season—like the time frame in which it takes place and that Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies would be taking over the roles of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip—this is the first in-depth glimpse we've gotten at what's in store for season 3.

The role duty plays in the lives of the British royal family appears to be an overarching theme, with the trailer showing the country in distress but each of the characters putting on a smiling face for the public. While Elizabeth and Philip's relationship will continue to take center stage in the pricey period drama, Princess Margaret (now played by Helena Bonham Carter) will struggle with her role of being the Queen's sister. And Prince Charles (Josh O'Connor) will have to choose between his love for Camilla Parker Bowles (played by Killing Eve writer Emerald Fennell) and his duty as the heir apparent to the throne.

Netflix will debut The Crown season 3 on November 17, 2019.

10 Facts About the Beastie Boys's 'Sabotage' Video

Beastie Boys via YouTube
Beastie Boys via YouTube

With their raucous mix of rock and hip-hop, the Beastie Boys were a band everyone could love. They also made killer music videos, and their 1994 video for “Sabotage” is arguably one of the greatest in the history of the medium. Directed by Spike Jonze and inspired by ‘70s cop shows, “Sabotage” finds the Beasties in cheesy suits, wigs, and mustaches, cavorting around L.A. like a bunch of bootleg Starskys and Hutches. If you were alive in the ‘90s, you’ve seen “Sabotage” a million times, but there’s a lot you might not know about this iconic video.

1. It all began with a photo shoot.

Spike Jonze met the Beastie Boys when he photographed them for Dirt magazine in the early 1990s. The band showed up with its own concept. “For years, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz had been talking about doing a photo session as undercover cops—wearing ties and fake mustaches and sitting in a car like we were on a stakeout,” Adam “MCA” Yauch told New York Magazine. Jonze loved the idea so much he tagged along when the Beasties went wig shopping. “Then, while he was taking the pictures, he was wearing this blond wig and mustache the whole time,” Yauch said. “For no apparent reason.” So was born a friendship that begat “Sabotage.”

2. Spike Jonze filmed “Sabotage” without permits.

The Beasties weren’t big fans of high-budget music videos with tons of people on the set. So they asked Jonze to hire a couple of assistants and run the whole production out of a van. “Then we just ran around L.A. without any permits and made everything up as we went along,” MCA told New York. They’re lucky the real cops never showed up.

3. The Beastie Boys did all their own stunt driving.

After binge-watching VHS tapes of The Streets of San Francisco and other ‘70s cop shows, the Beasties knew they needed some sweet chase scenes. “We bought a car that was about to die,” Mike D told Vanity Fair. “We just drove the car ourselves. We almost killed the car a couple of times, but we definitely didn’t come close to killing ourselves.”

4. “Sabotage” inspired the opening sequence of Trainspotting.

Danny Boyle's 1996 film Trainspotting famously opens with Ewan McGregor and his buddies running through the streets of Edinburgh to the tune of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.” In the DVD commentary, Boyle revealed that the scene was inspired by “Sabotage.”

5. Two cameras were harmed in the making of “Sabotage.”

“Sabotage” was supposed to be a low-budget affair—and it would’ve been, had Jonze been a little more careful with his rented cameras. He destroyed a Canon Scoopic when the Ziploc bag he used to protect the camera during an underwater shot proved less than airtight. He apparently told the rental agency the camera stopped working on its own, but he wasn’t as lucky when an Arriflex SR3 fell out of a van window. That cost $84,000, effectively tripling the cost of the video.

6. MCA crashed the stage of the MTV Video Music Awards to protest “Sabotage” being shut out.

At the 1994 MTV VMAs, “Sabotage” was nominated for five awards, including Video of the Year. In one of the great injustices of all time, it lost in all five categories. When R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” won Best Direction, MCA invaded the stage dressed as Nathanial Hörnblowér, his Swiss uncle/filmmaker alter-ego. “Since I was a small boy, I had dreamed that Spike would win this,” MCA said as a confused Michael Stipe looked on. “Now this has happened, and I want to tell everyone this is a farce, and I had the ideas for Star Wars and everything.”

7. There’s a “Sabotage” comic book you can download for free.

After MCA’s death in 2012, artist Derek Langille created a seven-page “Sabotage” comic book in tribute to the fallen musician and filmmaker. You can download it for free here.

8. There’s also a “Sabotage” novel.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of “Sabotage,” Oakland-based author and Beasties super-fan Jeff Gomez wrote a five-act novel inspired by the video. He spent months researching cop movies and real-life police lingo, and he watched “Sabotage” about 100 times, keeping a detailed spreadsheet of all the action unfolding onscreen. “They created a really great universe, and I just wanted to play around in it for a little bit,” Gomez told PBS.

9. There’s a “Sabotage”/Sesame Street mashup on YouTube.

In 2017, YouTuber Is This How You Go Viral, a.k.a. Adam Schleichkorn, created the video “Sesametage,” a reimagining of “Sabotage” made with edited bits of Sesame Street. It stars Big Bird as himself, The Count as Cochese, and Oscar the Grouch as Bobby, “The Rookie.” Super Grover, Telly, Cookie Monster, and Bert and Ernie also turn up in this hilarious spoof of a spoof.

10. “Sabotage” nearly became a movie—kind of.

Jonze and the Beasties had such a blast making “Sabotage” that they wrote a script for a feature film called We Can Do This. The movie, which they later abandoned, was set to feature MCA in two roles: Sir Stuart Wallace, one of his “Sabotage” characters, and Nathaniel Hörnblowér (whom he portrayed during that 1994 VMAs protest). Jonze told IndieWire the film would’ve been “ridiculous and fun,” which sounds like the understatement of the century. “There were no 1970s cops in it, but it was definitely in the same spirit,” he said.

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