Each of us carry to this day, memories of our childhood both good and bad. It is hoped that the memorable experiences far outweigh the forgettable. When I think back to my own childhood, I am filled with many great memories. And although my family has gone through its share of loss and disappointment, I have no complaints and will remain grateful to my loving parents. Further, I do believe that there is something about being a kid in America during the 1980s that truly is hard to put into words. The shows I remember watching on television influenced millions of children like myself across America. Most of us are familiar with Jim Henson’s (1936-1990) Sesame Street and the show Reading Rainbow starring LeVar Burton. But there was another program that my brother and I could not wait to see and the anticipation that consumed us was shared by our peers. The show was Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood , the brainchild of the late Fred McNeely Rogers (1928-2003) whom the world knew simply and affectionately as Mr. Rogers. This biography of Rogers came up in my list of recommendations on Amazon and I knew instantly that I would have to read it. It is the second book I have read by Charles River Editors, who also published Operation Condor: The History of the Notorious Intelligence Operations Supported by the United States to Combat Communists across South America, a short yet thorough examination of the murderous policies of the right wing dictatorships that once plagued Latin America.
Before starting the book, I asked myself just who was Fred Rogers? As a kid, I knew nothing about the man himself and the image in my mind of him was with his trademark cardigan sweater. But as can be seen in this short but informative biography, there was far more to his life than we could have imagined as kids and his on-screen persona was not that far off from who he was in real life. The native of Latrobe, Pennsylvania could have ended up in just another blue collar job but found his calling in the world of television. The author retraces Roger’s path, paying close attention to his early show The Children’s Corner, which helped set the stage for the show that made him an icon. Rogers undoubtedly had a great supporting cast that incredibly included the late George Romero (1940-2017) and Michael Keaton.
Learning about Rogers’ personal life was equally as interesting and from what the author has written, he was a devoted family man who also showed that same love to the kids of other parents through his show which he believed truly needed to be formatted in a way that helps children be who they are. His efforts and the finished product are a testament to his enduring ingenuity. And by the time his show ended in 2001, Fred Rogers had rightfully earned a place in the homes and hearts of families in American and abroad. Less than two years after the final episode he succumbed to stomach cancer but his legacy remains firm and in 2019, Tri-Star Pictures released A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Hollywood legend Tom Hanks in the role of Fred Rogers. I have yet to see the film but I am sure that Hanks delivered the goods as he always does.
Without question, this is far more the Rogers’ story than we know but this book is a good start to understanding who the real Fred Rogers was. My only complaint is that I wish the book was longer. As I read further through it, I became even more intrigued by Rogers’ rise to stardom and the enormous amount of work that went on behind the scenes. However, the biography as it is here is written beautifully and tells Rogers’ story directly and without fanfare. Essentially, we learn who he was and why he is still important and always will be. And when I do step outside and enjoy the weather, I am reminded of Rogers’ words that it is a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Great read.
“The world needs a sense of worth, and it will achieve it only by its people feeling that they are worthwhile.” – Fred Rogers (1928-2003)