Creative People: Fred Rogers aka everybody’s neighbor!

“Fame is a four letter word, and like tape, or zoom, or face, or pain, or life, or love, what ultimately matters is what we do with it.”

Fred Rogers said that at a TV Hall of Fame speech (1999) when he was being honored.  He was a man who effected and changed lives.  He viewed himself as “an adult who takes time to give children his undivided attention rather than as an entertainer” (Suzanne Williams, from the Museum of Broadcast Communications Encyclopedia of Television).

I remember how much I loved Mr. Rogers as a young girl.  I watched him through a very tiny black and white television set.  I’d get frustrated when my brother wouldn’t let me watch the show because he wanted to watch something else.  I loved the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and the fact that they would do plays and operas, and I remember his songs and the way that he helped me to feel good about myself.  So, as an adult, I found a Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood DVD at the library and I checked it out and watched it with my daughter.  I spent the weekend bawling as old memories and emotions were dredged up.  My oldest daughter fell in love with the segments in which he would go to a factory and show how they made things like crayons, paper, and rubber-bands.

As my second child grew old enough to watch, I found out that many of his episodes can be found online (here) and I was thrilled to watch them with her as well.  She loved the songs, just as I did, and we spent many happy afternoons singing them together.  Her favorite song? It’s You I Like (see lyrics to the left).  I think they really spoke to her at that very tender and confusing time in a young, young child’s life.

It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair–
But it’s you I like.
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you–
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys–
They’re just beside you.But it’s you I like–
Every part of you,
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself,
It’s you, it’s you I like.
It’s You I Like
By Fred M. Rogers
© 1970

I found out that Mr. Rogers wrote most of his songs.  He wrote the scripts, created and voiced many of the puppets, and was involved in most of the creative aspects of the show.  His first program was in 1954 and he had a budget of $30.  There are many websites and articles based on his history, but this post will focus on his creative genius, and what he did with it.  He wanted to be remembered as “a compassionate human being … fortunate enough to be born at a time when there was this fabulous thing called television that could allow me to use all the talents that I’d been given” (from an interview by Archive of American Television, found here).

A lot of the things that I learned about his creativity came from a very rare black and white 1967 documentary, that has been put up on YouTube by matchgameproductions.  The entire video can be found here.

In the documentary, it stated that children need the following things:

  1. to talk
  2. to be talked to
  3. meaningful dialogue
  4. the need to find, in this dialogue – comfort, reinforcement, and help in gaining control of the seemingly uncontrollable.

It also stated that his shows were full of carefully crafted songs, dialogue and thoughts “which communicate the very essence of childhood – not in a commercial sense, not picture-book childhood, funny and cute, but childhood that is both growth and growing pains, wonder and disappointment, as yet unfenced emotions that cause more sorrow than joy… [childhood is] archaic loneliness, sanctuary, total peril, selflessness and utter selfishness, moody withdrawal and reckless abandon.”

This is what he did and wrote and created for the show:

  • Puppets
  • Song
  • Make Believe
  • Plays
  • Dialogues
  • Toys
  • How things work
  • Taught about behavior and relationships in the adult world
  • Exploration of feelings
  • Resolving difficulties
  • Overcoming fears

One of the most amazing things that I noticed when watching episodes with my children was the way that people looked at him.  In one segment that he had filmed in the nineties, he went to watch some people doing a dance show with clomping and stomping.  What hit me was the fact that many of the dancers were roughly my age and had been children with the opportunity to watch his program was on PBS.  The looks on their faces as they met and talked with him was pure adoration and love.  Wherever he went, he was loved.  Watch this video to see what I mean.  In it, he is first singing, It’s You I Like with Jeff Erlanger on his show in 1981.  Then, in 1999, when Fred Rogers is inducted into the Television Hall of Fame, Jeff surprises him with a special appearance.  It’s touching, especially Mr. Rogers’ acceptance speech.

“We all have one life to live here on earth, and through television we have the choice of encouraging others to demean this life or cherish it in creative, imaginative ways.”

So said Fred Rogers to a crowd of people in the television business.  We may not be able to decide what’s on the television or in movies, but we can decide what we watch, and how we help our children cherish, live, and explore the beautiful world that we live in.

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2 thoughts on “Creative People: Fred Rogers aka everybody’s neighbor!

  1. I didn’t know you could watch old Mr Rogers online. You can get them thru Amazon Prime, which I have been seriously tempted to subsrcibe to. I loved Mr Rogers!! He’s much better than most of the junk that qualifies as children’s programming. Anyway….I was also thinking of you the other day, and I’d like to talk…but when are you the most free? I don’t want to intterrupt any of the exciting things you girls get up to.

  2. Pingback: Issue Exploration: Human Creativity – musings and questions | Working on it!

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