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15 Reasons Mister Rogers Was The Best Neighbor Ever

Back in 7th grade I stood up in front of my English class and delivered a tongue-in-cheek, poorly researched presentation on why I thought Mister Rogers should be the next President. I ate up the first few minutes zipping up my cardigan, and putting on some sneakers, and then I proceeded to mock him roundly. It was a riotous success. All these years later, I'm using this post to repent. The following are 15 things everyone should know about Fred Rogers:

1. EVEN KOKO THE GORILLA LOVED HIM.

Most people have heard of Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who could speak about 1000 words in American Sign Language, and understand about 2000 in English. What most people don't know, however, is that Koko was an avid Mister Rogers' Neighborhood fan. As Esquire reported, when Fred Rogers took a trip out to meet Koko for his show, not only did she immediately wrap her arms around him and embrace him, she did what she'd always seen him do onscreen: she proceeded to take his shoes off!

2. HE WATCHED HIS FIGURE TO THE POUND. 

In covering Rogers' daily routine (waking up at 5; praying for a few hours for all of his friends and family; studying; writing, making calls and reaching out to every fan who took the time to write him; going for a morning swim; getting on a scale; then really starting his day), writer Tom Junod explained that Mr. Rogers weighed in at exactly 143 pounds every day for the last 30 years of his life. He didn't smoke, didn't drink, didn't eat the flesh of any animals, and was extremely disciplined in his daily routine. And while I'm not sure if any of that was because he'd mostly grown up a chubby, single child, Junod points out that Rogers found beauty in the number 143. According to the piece, Rogers came "to see that number as a gift"¦ because, as he says, "the number 143 means 'I love you.' It takes one letter to say 'I' and four letters to say 'love' and three letters to say 'you.' One hundred and forty-three."

3. HE SAVED BOTH PUBLIC TELEVISION AND THE VCR. 

Strange but true. When the government wanted to cut Public Television funds in 1969, the relatively unknown Mister Rogers went to Washington. Almost straight out of a Capra film, his testimony on how TV had the potential to give kids hope and create more productive citizens was so simple but passionate that even the most gruff politicians were charmed. While the budget should have been cut, the funding instead jumped from $9 to $22 million. Rogers also swayed the Supreme Court to allow VCRs to record television shows from the home. It was a cantankerous debate at the time, but his argument was that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family.

4. HE MIGHT HAVE BEEN THE MOST TOLERANT AMERICAN EVER. 

Mister Rogers seems to have been almost exactly the same off-screen as he was onscreen. As an ordained Presbyterian minister, and a man of tremendous faith, Mister Rogers preached tolerance first. Whenever he was asked to castigate non-Christians or gays for their differing beliefs, he would instead face them and say, with sincerity, "God loves you just the way you are." Often this provoked ire from fundamentalists.

5. HE WAS GENUINELY CURIOUS ABOUT OTHERS. 

Mister Rogers was known as one of the toughest interviews because he'd often befriend reporters, asking them tons of questions, taking pictures of them, compiling an album for them at the end of their time together, and calling them after to check in on them and hear about their families. He wasn't concerned with himself, and genuinely loved hearing the life stories of others. Amazingly, it wasn't just with reporters. Once, on a fancy trip up to a PBS exec's house, he heard the limo driver was going to wait outside for 2 hours, so he insisted the driver come in and join them (which flustered the host). On the way back, Rogers sat up front, and when he learned that they were passing the driver's home on the way, he asked if they could stop in to meet his family. According to the driver, it was one of the best nights of his life—the house supposedly lit up when Rogers arrived, and he played jazz piano and bantered with them late into the night. Further, like with the reporters, Rogers sent him notes and kept in touch with the driver for the rest of his life.

6. HE WAS COLOR-BLIND. 

Literally. He couldn't see the color blue. Of course, he was also figuratively color-blind, as you probably guessed. As were his parents who took in a black foster child when Rogers was growing up.

7. HE COULD MAKE A SUBWAY CAR FULL OF STRANGERS SING.

Once while rushing to a New York meeting, there were no cabs available, so Rogers and one of his colleagues hopped on the subway. Esquire reported that the car was filled with people, and they assumed they wouldn't be noticed. But when the crowd spotted Rogers, they all simultaneously burst into song, chanting "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood." The result made Rogers smile wide.

8. HE GOT INTO TV BECAUSE HE HATED TV. 

The first time he turned one on, he saw people angrily throwing pies in each other's faces. He immediately vowed to use the medium for better than that. Over the years he covered topics as varied as why kids shouldn't be scared of a haircut, or the bathroom drain (because you won't fit!), to divorce and war.

9. HE WORE SNEAKERS FOR A REASON.

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

10. HE WAS AN IVY LEAGUE DROPOUT. 

Rogers moved from Dartmouth to Rollins College to pursue his studies in music.

11. HE COMPOSED ALL THE SONGS IN THE SHOW. 

And over 200 tunes.

12. HE WAS A PERFECTIONIST, AND DISLIKED AD LIBBING. 

He felt he owed it to children to make sure every word on his show was thought out.

13. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW AS AN ASSISTANT. 

...helping puppeteer and operate the trolley. 

14. SEVERAL CHARACTERS ON THE SHOW ARE NAMED FOR HIS FAMILY. 

Queen Sara is named after Rogers' wife, and the postman Mr. McFeely is named for his maternal grandfather who always talked to him like an adult, and reminded young Fred that he made every day special just by being himself. Sound familiar? It was the same way Mister Rogers closed every show.

15. THE SWEATERS. 

Every one of the cardigans he wore on the show had been hand-knit by his mother.

I can't sign off with out citing Tom Junod's wonderful profile of Fred Rogers and his obituary for him. They are two of the most lovely pieces I've (re)read in a very long time. Our researcher Kara Kovalchik also deserves credit for digging them up on an internet archive located here.

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John P. Johnson, HBO
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Charles Dickens Wrote His Own Version of Westworld in the 1830s
John P. Johnson, HBO
John P. Johnson, HBO

Charles Dickens never fully devoted himself to science fiction, but if he had, his work might have looked something like the present-day HBO series Westworld. As The Conversation reports, the author explored a very similar premise to the show in The Mudfrog Papers, a collection of sketches that originally appeared in the magazine Bentley's Miscellany between 1837 and 1838.

In the story "Full Report of the Second Meeting of the Mudfog Association for the Advancement of Everything," a scientist describes his plan for a park where rich young men can take out their aggression on "automaton figures." In Dickens's story, the opportunity to pursue those cruel urges is the park's main appeal. The theme park in Westworld may have been founded with a slightly less cynical vision, but it has a similar outcome. Guests can live out their heroic fantasies, but if they have darker impulses, they can act on those as well.

Instead of sending guests back in time, Dickens's attraction presents visitors with a place very similar to their own home. According to the scientist's pitch, the idyllic, Victorian scene contains roads, bridges, and small villages in a walled-off space at least 10 miles wide. Each feature is designed for destruction, including cheap gas lamps made of real glass. It's populated with robot cops, cab drivers, and elderly women who, when beaten, produce “groans, mingled with entreaties for mercy, thus rendering the illusion complete, and the enjoyment perfect.”

There are no consequences for harming the hosts in Westworld, but the guests at Dickens's park are at least sent to a mock trial for their crimes. However, rather than paying for their misbehavior, the hooligans always earn the mercy of an automated judge—Dickens's allegory for how the law favors the rich and privileged in the real world.

As for the Victorian-era automatons gaining sentience and overthrowing their tormenters? Dickens never got that far. But who knows where he would have taken it given a two-season HBO deal.

[h/t The Conversation]

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LEGO Ideas
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This Fresh Prince of Bel-Air LEGO Set Could Become a Reality
LEGO Ideas
LEGO Ideas

One talented LEGO fan wants to make a The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air set, but the Banks family needs your votes to turn it into a reality.

LEGO Ideas user Bricky_Brick has designed a set consisting of the Banks' living room and seven minifigures: Will Smith; Uncle Phil; Aunt Vivian; cousins Carlton, Hilary, and Ashley Banks; and Geoffrey Butler. Appropriately enough, the Will figure is mid-laugh and equipped with a basketball. So far, the set has just 176 supporters. That's a long way to go before it reaches its goal of 10,000, at which point it will be judged by the LEGO Review Board. If selected, it could be turned into a real product. Fans have 409 days remaining to vote.

TV show-themed LEGO Ideas submissions have been successful in the past: Doctor Who and Adventure Time designs have become official sets after they blew up on the internet. Hitting 10,000 by no means guarantees LEGO will approve an idea, however. A set inspired by The Office reached the mark in 2017 but was rejected in the review stage.

See more of Bricky_Brick's Fresh Prince set below—and don't forget to vote.

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