by Daisy Urgiles
Fred Rogers, also known as Mister Rogers, remains a treasured icon thanks to his contribution to children’s television. Through his hit series, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the popular star, minister and educator promoted patience, good self-esteem and cooperation. Here we look back at some unknown, heartwarming facts about everyone’s favorite neighbor.
Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’ daily routine. According to Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, kids would send him letters in which they expressed personal issues they were experiencing, such as the loss of a family member or a pet. Arnet says Rogers received 50 to 100 fan letters per day, all of which he took very seriously.
Mister Rogers was red-green colorblind, meaning the colors red and green to him were identical. He therefore never saw the true color of his famous red cardigan. He also couldn’t tell tomato and pea soup apart. He once asked Josie Carey, his television partner, to taste both and tell him which was which.
In 1979, Rogers testified that he had no objection to home taping because it would give working parents the opportunity to sit down and watch a program with their kids as a family. His testimony convinced the Supreme Court in 1983 to allow viewers to use the VCR to record TV programs from home.
Rogers’ trademark look included his brightly knitted sweaters—but what many don’t know is that these were created by his mom, Nancy McFeely Rogers. She made at least one sweater every month up until she passed away. One of his iconic sweaters now sits in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington D.C., recognized as a “Treasure of American History.”
The hand puppets of the Neighborhood of Make Believe segment of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood were performed by Rogers himself. He was the man behind X the Owl, King Friday XXI, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, Donkey Hodie, and Daniel Tiger, who was the inspiration for PBS’ animated show, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.
Aside from his hand-knit sweaters, Rogers’ trademark look wouldn’t be complete without his iconic sneakers. His idea to wear them came when he realized he would have to run behind the set from the organ to the puppet area during tapings without making noise. This wardrobe change would later become an important part of his show opening.
Rogers transferred from the Ivy League, Dartmouth to Rollin’s College in 1951 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in music composition. He wrote all of the songs for Mister Rogers Neighborhood, as well as 200 other songs. Musicians, such as Tony Bennett and Yo-Yo Ma, made special guest appearances on his show.
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