Jonathan Merritt writes about Fred Rogers, ordained Presbyterian minister and beloved children's TV show host who used his faith and TV to help millions of children.
Fred Rogers was an ordained minister, but he was no televangelist, and he never tried to impose his beliefs on anyone. Behind the cardigans, though, was a man of deep faith. Using puppets rather than a pulpit, he preached a message of inherent worth and unconditional lovability to young viewers, encouraging them to express their emotions with honesty. The effects were darn near supernatural.
I watched Mr. Rogers religiously growing up, pun intended. Actual church, with its focus on rites, belief in the supernatural, and my pastor's insistence that the Earth was only 6000 years old, was never appealing to me, but Mr. Rogers' unconditional, graceful, and humanistic brand of religion was just perfect. I heard him say this line at the end of his show hundreds of times:
You've made this day a special day by just your being you. There is no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.
It's easy to roll your eyes, but when you're six or eight years old, such a simple message from someone who obviously loves you can mean everything.
Fun fact about Mister Rogers' cardigan sweaters that I hadn't heard before: his mom knitted all of them by hand for him. That may be the most perfectly perfect detail about anything that I've ever heard. (via ★djacobs)
Watch Fred Rogers sing the opening theme from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood from 1967 to 2000.
1. Amazon has every single episode available on Instant Video. (thx, matthew)
2. PBS Kids has a bunch of episodes available with a kid-friendly video player. (thx, chris)
3. Episode guides and more at The Neighborhood Archive Blog. (thx, jeff)
After reading the fantastic Tom Junod piece on Fred Rogers earlier in the week, I poked around on YouTube for some Mister Rogers clips and shows. There are only a few full episodes on there but two of them are particularly relevant as kids across the nation go back to school for the fall:
I watched the first episode with Ollie yesterday (he was a big fan of the trolley, which was always my favorite part of the show too) and then we watched how crayons are made and how people make trumpets.
After our YouTube supply is exhausted, we'll move on to DVDs (here's a music compilation and episodes from the first week of the show), Netflix, or Amazon Instant Video, which has a bunch of episodes available for free (!!) for Prime subscribers.
I absolutely loved this 1998 Esquire profile of Mister Rogers by Tom Junod. I was a big Mister Rogers fan...loved him even more than Sesame Street. One my favorite things I've read all year.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, a man took off his jacket and put on a sweater. Then he took off his shoes and put on a pair of sneakers. His name was Fred Rogers. He was starting a television program, aimed at children, called Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. He had been on television before, but only as the voices and movements of puppets, on a program called The Children's Corner. Now he was stepping in front of the camera as Mister Rogers, and he wanted to do things right, and whatever he did right, he wanted to repeat. And so, once upon a time, Fred Rogers took off his jacket and put on a sweater his mother had made him, a cardigan with a zipper. Then he took off his shoes and put on a pair of navy-blue canvas boating sneakers. He did the same thing the next day, and then the next ... until he had done the same things, those things, 865 times, at the beginning of 865 television programs, over a span of thirty-one years. The first time I met Mister Rogers, he told me a story of how deeply his simple gestures had been felt, and received. He had just come back from visiting Koko, the gorilla who has learned -- or who has been taught -- American Sign Language. Koko watches television. Koko watches Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and when Mister Rogers, in his sweater and sneakers, entered the place where she lives, Koko immediately folded him in her long, black arms, as though he were a child, and then ... "She took my shoes off, Tom," Mister Rogers said.
Koko was much bigger than Mister Rogers. She weighed 280 pounds, and Mister Rogers weighed 143. Koko weighed 280 pounds because she is a gorilla, and Mister Rogers weighed 143 pounds because he has weighed 143 pounds as long as he has been Mister Rogers, because once upon a time, around thirty-one years ago, Mister Rogers stepped on a scale, and the scale told him that Mister Rogers weighs 143 pounds. No, not that he weighed 143 pounds, but that he weighs 143 pounds. ... And so, every day, Mister Rogers refuses to do anything that would make his weight change -- he neither drinks, nor smokes, nor eats flesh of any kind, nor goes to bed late at night, nor sleeps late in the morning, nor even watches television -- and every morning, when he swims, he steps on a scale in his bathing suit and his bathing cap and his goggles, and the scale tells him that he weighs 143 pounds. This has happened so many times that Mister Rogers has come to see that number as a gift, as a destiny fulfilled, 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. 'I love you.' Isn't that wonderful?"
Here's the Emmy speech mentioned in the piece:
an NPR piece on Rogers' death with Junod as a guest, and a eulogy by Junod for Rogers.