Surprising Unknown Facts About Mister Rogers

mr rogers
Image: YouTube / Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – Trailer

Fred Rogers, affectionately known as Mister Rogers, most likely made an impact on your childhood. The children’s television show entertainer is best known for his work in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the second longest running children’s television series in history. It ran from 1968 to 2001 and was defeated only by Sesame Street in 2002. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a staple in households nationwide. 8% of American households tuned in to watch the wholesome show in 1985. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood won four Emmy Awards. Fred won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 Daytime Emmy Awards. And he ranked #35 on TV Guide’s Fifty Greatest TV Stars of All Time.

Following his death in 2003, Fred Rogers continued to impact children, and adults, around the globe. The documentary based on Fred Rogers life, ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’, was the highest grossing biographical documentary of all time. Michael Keaton hosted a special on PBS to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in March 2018. Google Doodle honored his legacy with a tribute video to the popular children’s show in September 2018. And Tom Hanks will be starring in the biopic ‘A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood’ in 2019. But there is more to Fred Rogers than you may think. Read on to find out more about the iconic role model.

He had a lonely childhood.

Mister Rogers as a child
Images: Fred Rogers Productions

Even though Mister Rogers was soft-spoken on the beloved television show, he was also very friendly. So it may come as a surprise that Fred Rogers was shy and introverted as a child. He suffered from asthma and had to stay home due to suffering from its complications. Children also bullied him for being overweight and called him ”Fat Freddy”. Therefore, he usually spent his time playing alone. He had a ventriloquist dummy, stuffed animals, and puppets that he used to create his own worlds. When he was not playing alone, he enjoyed spending time with his grandfather. He was a virtuoso who learned how to play the piano at only five years old.

He overcame his shyness in high school.

Mister Rogers High School Yearbook photo
Images: 1946 Latrobe High School Yearbook

Fred Rogers made friends at his alma mater, Latrobe High School. He became more popular in high school, especially since one of his friends was the captain of the football team. He took on more leadership roles in high school, including Student Council President, National Honor Society, and Editor-In-Chief for the school yearbook. Rogers attended Dartmouth College for one year, but he graduated from Rollins College in 1951. Unsurprisingly, he earned his degree in music composition. His newfound confidence helped him pursued a career in television immediately after graduation. He worked in New York City before moving back to Pittsburgh two years later to create The Children’s Corner.

He is a minister.

Mister Rogers minister
Images: Lynn Johnson

While he worked on The Children’s Corner, Fred attended the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He graduated in 1963 and was ordained as a minister of the United Presbyterian Church. Even though his Christianity inspired ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’, he never mentioned his religious beliefs on the show. According to the co-director of the Fred Rogers Center, he did not do this to hide his religion. He did not want to make some of his viewers feel as if they were excluded from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. This echoes Mister Rogers’ emphasis on the importance of inclusion of people regardless of race, sex, and disability status.

He wanted to transform television.

mr fred rogers
Image: iStock / shalunts

Fred Rogers did not start a career in television for typical reasons. He told CNN that he hated television after watching TV programs at his parents’ house following graduation. He felt like it could create a positive impact if it was used correctly. However, he pointed to the lack of positivity in prime time television shows, which is still an issue today. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood transformed television norms because its use of time was unhurried, unlike many other children’s TV. It was also very simple, not fast-paced or flashy like other television shows for children. Fred Rogers called this phenomenon ”bombardment.

He was a vegetarian.

Mister Rogers Vegetarian Times
Images: Vegetarian Times

Vegetarians can add Mister Rogers to the list of celebrities who follow a plant-based diet. Fred Rogers became a vegetarian in the 1970s. When he was asked why he chose not to eat meat, he explained that he ”could not eat anything that had a mother.” It is not surprising that Mister Rogers’ compassion surpasses the human race. Fans of Fred Rogers have seen the heartwarming video of him with one of his biggest fans, Koko the gorilla. He was one of the co-owners of the magazine, Vegetarian Times since the 1980s. His favorite vegetarian meals are tofu burgers and beets.

He spoke out against a Burger King commercial satirizing his character.

Mister Rogers Burger King Commercial
Images: YouTube / Burger King

In the 1980s, Burger King created a TV commercial with a man named ”Mr. Rodney” who imitated Mister Rogers’ character and campaigned against the fast-food competitor, McDonald’s. It is no surprise that Fred Rogers, a vegetarian, was against a satirical version of him promoting fast food. He announced in a press conference that he ”did not endorse the company’s use of his character or likeness.” As a result, Burger King apologized to Rogers and pulled the commercial. Fred Rogers did not believe in advertising unhealthy fast food to children. He did not advertise any products aside from educational-based non-profit organizations.

But he enjoyed an Eddie Murphy spoof from Saturday Night Live.

Mister Rogers' parody Mister Robinsons' Neighborhood
Images: NBC / Saturday Night Live

Eddie Murphy made many skits during his stint on Saturday Night Live. He took motivation from household names, including Stevie Wonder, Sammy Davis Jr., and Mr. T. But one of his most prominent skits was Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood. Eddie Murphy plays the role of a calm, cool, and collected man who, unlike Mister Rogers, lives in a less than ideal world. He has been chased down for rent money, groceries, and toy money. Fred found the parody ”amusing and affectionate”. He even visited the Saturday Night Live set in 1982 to meet Eddie Murphy. Eddie Murphy was very excited to meet ”the real Mister Rogers”.

He would definitely not be a Trump supporter.

Mister Rogers' doesn't support Donald Trump
Images: Giphy / Mashable

Fred Rogers intentionally chose not to publicly discuss politics. Politics can cause a lot of division and conflict, which is probably why he avoided the subject. However, Fred Rogers was a life-long Republican, which isn’t surprising, since he is very religious. However, he would not have supported Donald Trump as president. According to his widow, ”Donald Trump and Fred Rogers have almost opposite values.” If Fred Rogers was still alive, his activist side might have come out again. His widow believes that Fred would have felt inclined to speak out against Trump and other politicians who did not share positive values.

He was a social activist.

Throughout his career, Fred Rogers spoke out about multiple social issues. One of the most iconic moments on his show was when Mister Rogers soaked his feet in a kiddie pool with Officer Clemmons, an African American cast member in 1969. Fred and Francois did this to make a statement against racial segregation, which was still widespread at the time. The scene was so iconic that Fred Rogers and Francois Clemmons reenacted the famous scene in 1993. He also featured a young boy in a wheelchair on his show in 1981. But you probably didn’t know that Fred Rogers focused on other complex social issues such as divorce and the Robert F. Kennedy assassination.

He appeared on the prank TV show, Candid Camera.

Mister Rogers on Candid Camera
Images: CBS / Candid Camera

Fred Rogers appeared on several TV shows, including Arthur, Sesame Street, and Captain Kangaroo. But a show that fans may be surprised to find out that he featured on was the prank show, Candid Camera. The staff of the show pranked Fred Rogers by trying to sell him a hotel room without a television. Rogers realized that the show’s staff was filming him and flipped the script by telling them that he was perfectly fine staying in a hotel room without a television. It is still not a surprise to his biggest fans that he would be okay without a television in his room based on his views of the media industry. He enjoyed appearing on the prank show and was amazed that its host, Peter Funt, was able to recognize him immediately.

He wrote 36 books geared towards parents.

Mister Rogers Talks With Parents
Images: Hal Leonard Corporation / Fred Rogers

Along with being an actor, singer, puppeteer, minister, composer, and producer, Fred Rogers is also an author. He wrote Mister Rogers Talks With Parents in 1983. This book focuses on the way that children think and communicate and how parents can help their children to feel secure. He wrote eight Mister Roger’s New Experiences book that focuses on a variety of different experiences that impact young children. These experiences include moving, going to the doctor, hospital, and daycare, potty training, and getting a sibling. He then wrote a book in 1994 titled You Are Special that appealed to all ages. This book focused on different themes, including relationships, childhood, communication, and parenthood.

He released a public service announcement following 9/11.

Mister Rogers talks about September 11th
Images: Giphy / AllPosters

Fred Rogers has a knack of making people feel better during difficult situations. So it is no surprise that Rogers released a public service announcement following the national tragedy. He said: ”We at Family Communications have discovered that when children bring up something frightening, it’s helpful right away to ask them what they know about it. Probably what children need to hear most from us adults is that they can talk with us about anything and that we will do all we can to keep them safe in any scary time.” Typical to his values, Fred Rogers believes in being transparent with and communicating with kids in a mature manner.

He wrote over 289 songs for Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.

Mister Rogers on the piano
Images: Focus Features / Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Fred Rogers’ most well-known songs on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood are ”Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, ”It’s Such A Good Feeling”, and ”It’s You I Like”. But Fred Rogers wrote many more songs than those ones. In his music, his aim was to teach children self- love and to love others. He also wanted to address common children phobias through song. For example, one of his songs focuses on a child’s fear of being sucked down the drain. In this song, Mister Rogers sings that this is not possible because they cannot fit through the drain. In another popular song, Mister Rogers visits the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh to teach children that the hospital is a place where doctors and nurses take care of children, not a place to be afraid of.

He played a preacher on the TV show, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

Mister Rogers in Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman
Images: CBS / Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman

When Fred Rogers appeared on television, he almost always played as himself. In fact, he took pride in being his authentic self, whether he was on television or not. He said: “One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self. I also believe that kids can spot a phony a mile away.” The only time that he did not play himself on television was when he played a preacher on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman in 1996, a Western-inspired show that focused on a woman doctor. This aligned with his career and education as an ordained minister.

One of his quotes went viral following the Sandy Hook tragedy.

Mister Rogers Look for the Helpers
Images: Twitter / USA Today

The Sandy Hook tragedy was very devastating to many Americans. It left a lot of people looking for a comforting voice of reason to help them heal from the painful aftermath of this massacre. Many people found this comforting voice in Mister Rogers. One of his quotes became viral as a result of the massacre. He said: ”When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers so many caring people in this world.” The quote was used during other tragedies, and as a result, some labeled it as controversial.

He appeared on a U.S. Postage stamp.

Mister Rogers Postage Stamp
Images: USPS

Many celebrities were featured on United States postage stamps. This list includes Maya Angelou, Lucille Ball, and James Dean. In 2018, Fred Rogers was added to the list. The stamp showed him as his TV character, Mister Rogers, and featured him with King Friday XIII. This stamp was issued in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Mister Roger’s Neighborhood was filmed. They were also released on a Friday as an ode to the puppet king. It is unsurprising that these stamps are high in demand. They have sold out before and can be found on e-commerce sites, such as Amazon, eBay, and Etsy.

He advocated for government funding for children’s television.

Mister Rogers adresses Congress
Images: Fred Rogers Productions

In the 1960’s, Congress planned to cut the budget for television programs such as PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. As a result, Fred Rogers spoke to the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications to fight for the funding for these educational programs. He expressed how important it was for children to be taught social and emotional intelligence by reciting the lyrics to one of his songs. He proved that TV shows like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood were a necessity for young children to combat mixed messages found in other media sources. Even though John O. Pastore never watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he got goosebumps from Fred Rogers six-minute testimony. He said: “I think it’s wonderful. Looks like you just earned the $20 million.”

He saved the VCR.

Mister Rogers VCR
Images: PBS / Mister Rogers Neighborhood

Sony Corp of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. was a major court case in the VCR industry. Sony created the Betamax video tape recording format, which can be used to record TV shows while they aired so that people can watch these TV shows whenever they wanted to. Companies such as Universal Studios and Walt Disney Studios did not believe in people recording their shows and chose to sue Sony in 1976. In 1979, Fred Rogers sided with Sony and expressed that he did not object to home recordings of his television show. In fact, he supported home recordings of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, since he believed that these recordings reinforce positive values from his television show. When the court ruled for Sony in 1983, they quoted Fred Rogers’ testimony in a footnote.

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