For over 30 years and nearly 1,000 shows, Fred Rogers created the friendly world of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for children to enjoy across the nation. Thankfully, Mr. Rogers turned out to be the same generous, amicable, neighborly man off camera that he was during his PBS program. Here are 16 things that you didn't know about Mr. Rogers, the man many people consider to be a hero.
"The world is not always a kind place," the TV icon stated. "That's something all children learn for themselves, whether we want them to or not, but it's something they really need our help to understand."
Rogers's show constantly reminded children that they mattered and, most important, that the emotions they felt deserved to be embraced rather than ignored. The ordained minister did not talk down to children, but instead treated them the same way he treated adults, helping them to cope with their feelings of anger and sadness.
Fred Rogers's bio reads like that of a man who was sincerely dedicated to helping children. He wrote hundreds of songs for his show and answered thousands of letters with prayer. These true Mr. Rogers stories will make anyone feel nostalgic for simpler days spent watching the host's routine of putting on a sweater and changing his shoes.
Just as he opened his show the same way for over three decades, Fred Rogers maintained that same sense of routine in his own life. What exercise did he do every day in the nude? How did he save PBS? Why was he obsessed with keeping his weight at exactly 143 pounds? Mr. Rogers may not have been perfect, but he was probably about as close to perfect as a person could get.
Way before DVR and streaming services, there was a device called the Betamax, Sony’s videotape recording device. (The Betamax eventually gave way to the VHS tape.) The Betamax allowed users to videotape live television, then watch it whenever they wanted. The public was enamored with the new technology; however, Walt Disney Productions and Universal Pictures felt that the sale of Betamax would cost them millions of dollars in unauthorized duplication of their copyrighted material.
In 1979, Disney and Universal took their case to the US District Court, which ruled in favor of Sony, stating that taping programs to watch later was fair use. Universal was not happy with the verdict and appealed in 1981, and the ruling was subsequently reversed. The argument then went on to the Supreme Court in 1983, where it was referred to as Universal Studios v. Sony Corporation of America, or the "Betamax Case." The case was argued for one year, with one of the most convincing testimonies coming from our neighbor Mr. Rogers, who defended the use of the VCR:
I have always felt that with the advent of all of this new technology that allows people to tape the Neighborhood off-the-air... they then become much more active in the programming of their family's television life. Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others. My whole approach in broadcasting has always been, "You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions..." I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Sony, making it legal to record a broadcast for later use. The court gave a nod to Rogers's testimony: "He testified that he had absolutely no objection to home taping for noncommercial use and expressed the opinion that it is a real service to families to be able to record children's programs and to show them at appropriate times."
Mr. Rogers opened up about his sexuality in an interview with his friend Dr. William Hirsch. In Maxwell King's autobiography on the world's friendliest neighbor, The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, he detailed the conversation between Rogers and Hirsh in which Rogers weighed his sexuality on a scale of 1-10 and said, "Well, you know, I must be right smack in the middle... Because I have found women attractive, and I have found men attractive."
Perhaps it was his soothing voice or his closeness to God, or even just the kindly way he treated young children. Several stories on the Internet detail the many ways Mr. Rogers served as a hero and life saver. Could Rogers even have had the power to heal the sick?
A young boy with severe autism who had never spoken one day said, "X the Owl," the name of one of Mr. Rogers's most popular puppets. That was enough for the boy's father to make the trip to meet the TV legend. He told his son, "Let's go to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe." After that, the boy slowly began speaking and reading, and the father thanks Mr. Rogers for saving his son's life.
Here's another story. Lauren Tewes, an actress who appeared on Love Boat, left the popular show in 1984 because of a battle with substance abuse. During one particularly tough morning, Tewes looked at her television screen and saw the opening to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Something stirred inside her and she later described the occurrence as "God speaking to [her] through the instrument of Mister Rogers." The actress stayed sober for the next several decades.
Mr. Rogers may have starred on a television program for more than 30 years, but that doesn't mean he liked the medium. Rogers's first impression of television was that he thought he could use it as a vehicle to do good.
However, ironically enough the small-screen icon did not watch TV in his everyday life - in fact, he despised the box. "I got into television because I hated it so," he told CNN, "and I thought there's [got to be] some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen."