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Nancy McFeely Rogers had come back to her parents’ house in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, forty miles southeast of Pittsburgh, just before Fred Rogers was born. She wanted to be sure that she would have as much help and support as possible for what might be a hard delivery. Nancy’s first baby was coming two and a half years after her marriage to James Hillis Rogers.
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a handsome, dark-haired young man who had finished his engineering studies at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Pittsburgh. Jim Rogers and his young bride, also dark-haired and attractive, made a striking couple in this small but growing industrial city in western Pennsylvania in the mid1920s.
Fred McFeely Rogers was born on March 20, 1928, in Latrobe in the McFeely house, a handsome, old brick home at 705 Main Street. 2 Her doctor had warned Nancy Rogers that the baby’s birth could be hard for such a small woman. The labor was a long and arduous ordeal. During much of it, Ronnie, the family’s Pomeranian dog, was huddled under the birth bed, adding its voice to that of Nancy as she struggled.
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By the time Nancy’s son—named after his maternal grandfather, Fred McFeely—was born, she was exhausted. The family doctor advised her not to think about having another child, which might be not only difficult, but devastating—even fatal. 3 It was advice that Nancy and Jim would follow. Young Fred was to become a great favorite of his maternal grandparents, Fred and Nancy Kennedy McFeely.
Nancy Rogers was immediately protective of her new baby, smothering him with maternal love and guarding him against the outside world. In one of the photographs from that time, she is seen hugging the young boy close to her, one arm wrapped around his frame and the other protectively holding his arm. She is slight, with an angular beauty; he is a bit chubby, with a quizzical look on his face.
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Sixty-five years later, Fred Rogers would say in a television interview: “Nothing can replace the influence of unconditional love in the life of a child. . . . Children love to belong, they long to belong.” 4 More than anyone else in Fred’s life, his mother gave him that unconditional love. Certainly, her overprotective mothering contributed to the little boy’s shy and withdrawn nature.
But what is even more clear is that her absolute devotion, along with her extraordinary generosity, contributed essential ingredients to Fred Rogers’s developing character and gave him the resilience to overcome an introverted, sometimes sickly (with severe asthma), and sheltered childhood.
His mother was renowned throughout the family and the city of Latrobe for her giving nature and her boundless kindness. Louise Norton stuck with Joanne Rogers for thirteen years of instruction, teaching her most of what she learned about music and playing the piano, instilling in her a great love for the power and beauty of music, and, eventually, pushing Joanne to pursue her studies further in college. The Good Neighbor PDF Book
With Norton’s encouragement, Joanne entered music competitions and won a National Guild of Piano Teachers scholarship that took her to Rollins College. Were it not for the care and dedication of Louise Norton—and of course the thoughtfulness of Mary Maud Lee—Joanne’s life with music and with Fred Rogers might have turned out quite differently.
Joanne got to Rollins a couple of years ahead of Fred, who was on his detour to Dartmouth the year Joanne entered the Conservatory of Music at Rollins College, which had a very strong reputation for the training of performance musicians. Joanne, who aspired to make a career as a pianist performing classical music, threw herself with dedication into her studies.
She aspired to a “music performance degree,” a bachelor of music degree that establishes the credentials of the degree holder. Joanne’s social life revolved around the other students in the conservatory. Though she and her friends were lighthearted, constantly cracking jokes, their dedication to their studies precluded an expansive social life. The Good Neighbor PDF Book
The work of a student at the conservatory included the usual classwork and homework that students in all disciplines faced, plus endless sessions of practicing their instruments. It was grueling, and though Rollins enjoyed a reputation at that time as a college with a strong student social life, Joanne hardly had even a date or a night out until Fred Rogers showed up.
When he did, the two of them fell immediately into a strong friendship that put them together much of the time, and eventually led to their being defined as a “couple” on campus. Though formal dates were rare, Fred and Joanne hung out together all the time. They were both shy, from religious backgrounds, and most of the time just holding hands was as physical as their connection became.
Over the weekend, Wood got the message—from Daniel, Hazard, and the board—that he, not Rogers, would be out of work if he did not relent. Perhaps Wood felt threatened by Fred Rogers, who was playing so many different roles—producer, writer, performer, director, program manager—that it seemed he was everywhere at once. The Good Neighbor PDF Book
But Leland Hazard and Dorothy Daniel put things back on course, and reestablished the successful team behind The Children’s Corner. In the end, Wood was even prevailed upon to write Fred a letter thanking him for his excellent work. The two coexisted at WQED for several years, wary of each other, but able to work together.
But Josie was finding it more and more difficult to make a connection with Fred. She said she really didn’t think he liked entertainment, and he hardly ever watched commercial television or listened to the radio: “Sometimes Fred didn’t want to have any connection with the outside world. Most people have a radio in their cars; Fred had his taken out.
“He’d only watch television once a week, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour [Alfred Hitchcock Presents, in the 1950s, was succeeded by The Alfred Hitchcock Hour from 1962 to 1965], because he liked to see Alfred Hitchcock come in and say hello. And then he’d turn it off.” The new showcase for Fred Rogers’s talent was an instant success. The Good Neighbor PDF Book Download
Misterogers, a fifteen-minute, daily show taped in black and white, debuted on the CBC in 1963 and ran until 1967. It was a miniature version of what would later become the half-hour Neighborhood. Many of the elements that would distinguish Mister Rogers’Neighborhood in Pittsburgh—the trolley, the cardigan sweater, the puppets, the music, the Neighborhood of MakeBelieve, the gentle.
Reassuring tone of Fred Rogers—were part of the show, distributed nationally in Canada. Francis Chapman recalls extensive discussions with Rogers about the separation between elements of the program: “Well, he didn’t want the children to confuse make-believe with reality. Therefore, he wanted a definite transition saying, ‘We’re going from this to that.
This is one world, that is another, but it’s a play world.’” Chapman later felt that the very depth of Rogers’s own involvement in creating Misterogers—writing the scripts, performing the puppets, writing and performing the music, directing and producing the show—insulated him from his fears about performing. The Good Neighbor PDF Book Download
That is, Fred Rogers was so intent on shaping a good program that he didn’t even think about portraying a character —he was just Fred being Fred. “Well, it was really very, very simple,” recalls Chapman, “because Fred was so totally honest, a naturally honest person—I don’t mean that acting is not honest. He just couldn’t be anything but himself.
He managed that very, very comfortably and easily, once he found that what he did was accepted by the people around him. The studio people found it difficult at first—Fred seemed almost too good to be true—but they very quickly discovered that he was as true as he seemed. He was so focused on doing the right thing by his audience that he wasn’t anxious.”
The hearing took place on May 1, 1969. More than four decades later, the exchange between Pastore and Rogers still can be seen online. The chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications curtly commands his witness to begin: “Okay, Rogers, you’ve got the floor.” In his disarming, guileless way, Rogers immediately alters the tone of the proceeding. The Good Neighbor PDF Book Download
With his first words, delivered in the same measured cadence he uses in the Neighborhood, he slows listeners to his own very deliberate pace. He starts by telling Pastore that he won’t read his prepared remarks, as they would take about ten minutes. Pastore draws laughter with a condescending riposte: “Would it make you happy if you read it?”
But in his soft, slightly nasal, western-Pennsylvania twang, Fred Rogers replies that he’ll be glad to just talk about the work. (Perhaps the only person unhappy with his decision was Elaine Lynch, his secretary back in Pittsburgh, who had been asked to type up Rogers’s remarks from a longhand version on a yellow legal pad. She had dutifully created manuscripts for Rogers to read and share with those at the hearing.
“I worked so hard in typing that speech,” she recalled later, “and then he didn’t read it. I was so disappointed.” Rogers did intend to read the text, but his extraordinary situational sense told him it would be better to be direct and personal with the brusque Pastore.) Continuing to speak slowly and quietly. The Good Neighbor PDF Book Download
Rogers becomes passionate as he describes his work: “One of the first things that a child learns in a healthy family is trust, and I trust what you have said that you will read this. It’s very important to me. I care deeply about children. “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and opened the closet door on the set to hang up the blue blazer and replace it with a baby-blue zippered cardigan sweater.
He held up a small panel of wood to the camera, his four fingers and thumb emphasizing the five corners of the pentagon, and explained the meaning of this new word to the watching children. Then he turned to “Picture-Picture,” a screen-within-the-television-screen of the program itself, a device Rogers used to capture the attention of his viewers.
Today, Picture-Picture showed a lovely, colorful, and soothing shot of swimming fish. Things were still at their usual calming, soothing pace as Fred turned to the fish tank on the set and invited his viewers to join him feeding the fish. Then the jolt: Floating upside down at the bottom of the tank was a dead fish—an alarming little mess that turned the tenor of the show to the ominous. The Good Neighbor PDF Book Free
Fred was quieter now, even more earnest, but he plowed ahead into an exceptional scene for three- and four-year-old children: parsing the living from the dead. What followed was a truly extraordinary exploration of death, loss, pain, and the meaning of life, all delivered simultaneously on two levels: the child’s level of innocent.
Sometimes agonizing questioning of the meaning of things, and a powerful existential level of inquiry that never defaults to the easy answer. It was Fred Rogers at his very best as teacher and philosopher. “Oh, what’s that down there?” he asked, looking deadpan into the camera to the watching children. “Do you see a dead fish?
A dead fish would be one that isn’t breathing or swimming or anything at all. Look down there and see.” because since I was six or seven years old, I’d been going to music shops and taking guitar lessons. It was something I was very familiar with.” Fred Rogers, son of an industrialist and a successful businessman, maintained a lifelong—some would say childlike—sense of curiosity about how things worked. The Good Neighbor PDF Book Free
Which seeped into various aspects of the strolls Mister Rogers took around the Neighborhood once he left his living room or his front porch. His sister, Laney, observes: “He was like a sponge. He could just get interested in something, and want to know all about it. He encouraged that in other people, too.”
She recalls her mystification about her older brother’s whereabouts on a trip she took to Paris with Fred and Joanne when she was thirteen or fourteen years old. Every day, Fred would disappear with no explanation. “Finally, on the last day before we left, he said, ‘I will take you and show you what I’ve been doing with my vacation.’
And he had found a man on the Left Bank who was teaching him how to bind books. We went up into this turret with the old French gentleman [who] had very large pieces of equipment, and he was teaching Fred how to manipulate the papers and things. . . . Throughout his life, [Fred] was inquisitive about how to do things, and what more there was to learn.” The Good Neighbor PDF Book Free
Rogers made such operations a highlight of early Neighborhood programs. In addition to Brockett’s Bakery, Betty’s Little Theater showcased shows within the Neighborhood, organized by fresh-faced, sweet-voiced ingenue Betty Aberlin, dubbed Lady Aberlin for the Make-Believe segments of the program.
New York native Aberlin was a mainstay of the program from 1968 to the year the Neighborhood went off the air, 2001—a thirty-three-year run. Her tender exchanges with the puppet Daniel Striped Tiger are some of the most-watched and most-loved episodes in the Neighborhood’s archives.