Who Was Fred Rogers?
Fred Rogers was a puppeteer and ordained minister who became the host of the TV program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. With a degree in music composition, he wrote 200 songs for the show, including the theme, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" He was honored with numerous awards and accolades for his dedication to children via television.
The beloved and longtime host of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Rogers was born on March 20, 1928, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He was an only child until the age of 11 when his parents, James and Nancy, adopted a baby girl.
After graduating from Latrobe High School, Rogers enrolled at Dartmouth College, where he studied for a year before transferring to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Rogers, who'd begun playing the piano at a young age, graduated magna cum laude in 1951 with a degree in music composition.
During his senior year of college, he visited his parents and was awed by the family's newest household addition: a television set. He could see a fantastic future for the medium and, as he'd later recall, Rogers immediately decided he wanted to be a part of it.
Early Career and Sons
Rogers' first job in television came when he worked as an assistant and floor manager of the music programs for NBC in New York City. In 1953 he was hired to work in programming by WQED in Pittsburgh, a recently launched community TV station that was the first of its kind in the country.
By the following year, he was co-producing a new program, The Children's Corner. This allowed Rogers, who'd fallen in love with puppetry as a child, to introduce some of his favorite puppets from his home to his young audience.
In the early 60s, Rogers made his first appearance as "Mister Rogers" on a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation show called Misterogers. The program helped lay the groundwork in its look and approach for Rogers' later show.
As his experience grew, so did his aspirations. He earned his divinity degree in 1962, and at his ordination, the Presbyterian Church asked him to serve children and families through television.
Canada, however, was not where Rogers or his wife, Joanne, whom he'd met at Rollins, wanted to raise their two young sons. Soon, the Rogers family was back in Pittsburgh, where Rogers created Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in 1966. Two years later, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood aired on PBS stations throughout much of the country.
PHOTOS: Mister Rogers' Most Memorable Moments
'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood'
Over the course of its decades-long run, Rogers' show varied little. He approached his young audience with respect and a directness about issues children faced that were rarely touched on by other programs.
Ritual and the familiar appearance of some of TV's most enduring characters—including the deliveryman Mr. McFeely, X the Owl, Queen Sara Saturday and King Friday—helped keep the show fresh for generations of kids.
At the center of the show, of course, was Fred Rogers himself, a Protestant minister who worked as the series' producer, host and head puppeteer. He also wrote the scripts and songs.
"The world is not always a kind place," he said, talking about his show. "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."
In the very first show that aired on PBS, Fred Rogers began the program much as he would over the next 33 years by walking through the front door of his television house and trading in his raincoat and suit jacket for a zippered sweater. The sweaters soon became as much a part of the program as the puppets. In all, Rogers had about two dozen of them, all made by his mother. In 1984, the Smithsonian Institution chose to put one of the famous sweaters on exhibit.
During its long run, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood attracted well-known guests such as Yo-Yo Ma and Wynton Marsalis and earned Rogers several awards for the program's excellence. The honors included four daytime Emmys, a 1997 Lifetime Achievement award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and, in 2002, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1999, he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.
Rogers' commitment to children, however, wasn't limited to the TV set. In 1968, he served as chairman of a White House forum on child development and the mass media and was often consulted as an expert or witness on those issues.
"Those of us in broadcasting have a special calling to give whatever we feel is the most nourishing that we can for our audience," Mr. Rogers said. "We are servants of those who watch and listen."
Final Years and Death
As his program crossed into its fourth decade, Rogers began to slow down. Over the last few years of its run, the host curtailed his production schedule to 15 or so episodes a year. In December 2000, he taped his final episode, though PBS aired original programs until August 2001.
In December 2002, doctors diagnosed Rogers with stomach cancer. He underwent surgery the following month, but it did little to slow the disease down. On February 27, 2003, with his wife Joanne at his side, Rogers died at his home in Pittsburgh.
Legacy and Movie
The iconic host's legacy endured through the creation of the Fred Rogers Company, which helped launch the animated Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood for PBS Kids in 2012.
In January 2018, it was announced that Tom Hanks would take on the role of Mister Rogers for a movie titled A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The biographical drama, based on an Esquire profile of the family-friendly TV star, premiered to strong reviews in November 2019.
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