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Fred McFeely Rogers (March 20, 1928 – February 27, 2003) was an Americanmarker educator, Presbyterian minister, songwriter, and television host. Rogers was the host of the television show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, in production from 1968 to 2001.

Personal life

Rogers was born in Latrobemarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, a town located 40 miles (65 km) southeast of Pittsburghmarker. He was born to James and Nancy Rogers; he spent many years as an only child. Early in his life he spent much of his free time with his maternal grandfather, Fred McFeely, and had an interest in music. He would often sing along as his mother would play the piano and, at the age of 5, began to play the piano as well.

Following secondary school, Rogers studied at Dartmouth Collegemarker in Hanovermarker, New Hampshiremarker, between 1946 and 1948 before transferring to Rollins Collegemarker in Winter Parkmarker, Floridamarker, where he received a BA in music composition in 1951.

At Rollins, Rogers met his wife, Sara Joanne Byrd, an Oakland, Floridamarker native, whom he married on June 9, 1952. They had two children, James (born in 1959) and John (born in 1961), and three grandsons, the third (Ian McFeely Rogers) born 12 days after Rogers' death. In 1963, Rogers graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminarymarker and was ordained a minister in the Presbyterian Church . Scholastically, he went on to garner 40 more honorary degrees throughout his life. Rogers was also red-green color blind and a vegetarian. He swam every morning, and neither smoked nor drank.

Rogers also owned a summer home on Nantucketmarker in the village of Madaket on the western end of the island.

Television career

Early work in television

Fred Rogers had a life-changing moment when he first saw television in his parents' home. He entered seminary after college, but was diverted into television after his first experience as a viewer; he wanted to explore the potential of the medium. In an interview with CNN conducted a few years before his death, Rogers stated, "I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

He thus applied for a job at NBC in New Yorkmarker and was accepted because of his music degree. Rogers moved to New York in 1951 and spent three years working in the production staff for music-centered programming such as NBC Opera Theater. He also worked on Gabby Hayes' show for children. Ultimately, Rogers decided that commercial television's reliance on advertisement and merchandising undermined its ability to educate or enrich young audiences, so he quit working at NBC.

In 1954, he began working at WQEDmarker, a Pittsburgh public television station, as a puppeteer on a local children's series, The Children's Corner. For the next seven years, he worked with host Josie Carey in unscripted live TV, developing many of the puppets, characters and music used in his later work, such as King Friday XIII, and Curious X the Owl.

Rogers began wearing his famous sneakers when he found them to be quieter than his work shoes when he moved about behind the set. He was also the voices behind King Friday XIII and Queen Sara Saturday (named after his wife), rulers of the neighborhood, as well as X the Owl, Henrietta Pussycat, Daniel Striped Tiger, Lady Elaine Fairchild, and Donkey Hodie. The show won a Sylvania Award for best children's show, and was briefly broadcast nationally on NBC.

For eight years during this period, he would leave the WQED studios during his lunch breaks to study theology at the nearby Pittsburgh Theological Seminarymarker. Rogers, however, was not interested in preaching, and after his ordination, he was specifically charged to continue his work with children's television. He had also done work at the University of Pittsburgh'smarker Graduate School of Child Development.

In 1963, Rogers moved to Torontomarker, where he was contracted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to develop a 15-minute children's television program: Misterogers (sic),Roger's 1963 CBC show was Misterogers [[[sic]]]. See which would be his debut in front of the camera. The show was a hit with children, but lasted for only three seasons on the network. Many of his famous set pieces, such as Trolley, Eiffel Towermarker, the 'tree', and 'castle' were all created by designers at the CBC. While on production in Canada, Rogers brought with him his friend and understudy, Ernie Coombs, who would go on to create Mr. Dressup, a very successful and long running children's show in Canada which, in many ways, was similar to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Mr. Dressup had also used some of the songs that would later go on Rogers' later program.

In 1966, Rogers acquired the rights to his program from the CBC, and moved the show to WQED in Pittsburgh, where he had worked on The Children's Corner. He developed the new show for the Eastern Educational Network. Stations that carried the program were limited, but included educational stations in Bostonmarker, Washington, DCmarker and New York Citymarker.

After returning to Pittsburgh, Rogers attended and participated in activities at the Sixth Presbyterian church in the Squirrel Hillmarker neighborhood of Pittsburgh, a More Light congregation which he attended until his death.

Distribution of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood began on February 19, 1968. The following year, the show moved to PBS (Public Broadcasting Service). In 1971, Rogers formed Family Communications, Inc. (FCI), and the company established offices in the WQED building in Pittsburgh. Initially, the company served solely as the production arm of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, but now develops and produces an array of children's programming and educational materials.

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood began airing in 1968 and ran for 895 episodes; the last set of new episodes were taped in December 2000, and began airing in August 2001. At its peak, in 1985, 8 percent of households tuned in to the show.

  • Each episode begins the same way, with Mister Rogers walking until he is coming home and singing his theme song, "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" and changing into sneakers and a zippered cardigan sweater.
  • In an episode, Rogers might have an earnest conversation with his television audience, interact with live guests, take a field trip to a nearby place such as a bakery or music store, or watch a short film.
  • Typical video subject matter includes demonstrations of how inanimate objects, such as bulldozers and crayons, work or are manufactured.
  • Each episode includes a trip to Rogers' "Neighborhood of Make-Believe", which features a trolley that has its own chiming theme song, a castle, and the kingdom's citizens, including King Friday XIII (Friday the 13th). The subjects discussed in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe often allow further development of thematic elements discussed in Mister Rogers' "real" neighborhood.
  • Mister Rogers often fed his fish during episodes. They were originally named Fennel and Frieda.
  • Typically, each week's episodes explore a major theme, such as going to school for the first time. Originally, most episodes ended with a song entitled "Tomorrow", while Friday episodes looked forward to the week ahead with an adapted version of "It's Such a Good Feeling." In later seasons, all episodes ended with "Feeling."


Visually, the presentation of the show was very simple; it did not feature the animation or fast pace of other children's shows. Rogers composed all the music for his series. He was concerned with teaching children to love themselves and others. He also tried to address common childhood fears with comforting songs and skits. For example, one of his famous songs explains how you can't be pulled down the bathtub drain—because you won't fit. He even once took a trip to the Children's Hospital of Pittsburghmarker to show children that a hospital is not a place to fear. During the Gulf War in 1990-91, he assured his audience that all children in the neighborhood would be well cared for, and asked parents to promise to take care of their own children. The message was aired again by PBS during the media storm that preceded the military action against Iraqmarker in 2003.

Other television work

In 1994, Rogers created another one-time special for PBS called Fred Rogers' Heroes which consisted of documentary portraits of four real-life people whose work helped make their communities better. Rogers, uncharacteristically dressed in a suit and tie, hosted in wraparound segments which did not use the "Neighborhood" set.

For a time Rogers produced specials for parents as a precursor to the subject of the week on the Neighborhood called "Mister Rogers Talks To Parents About (whatever the topic was)". Rogers didn't host those specials though as other people like Joan Lunden, who hosted the Conflict special, and other news announcers played MC duties in front of a gallery of parents while Rogers answered questions from them. These specials were made to prep the parents for any questions the children might ask after watching the episodes on that topic of the week.

The only time Rogers appeared on television as someone other than himself was in 1996, when he played a preacher on one episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

In the mid-1980s, the Burger King fast-food chain lampooned Rogers' image with an actor called "Mr. Rodney", imitating Rogers' television character. Rogers found the character's pitching fast food as confusing to children, and called a press conference in which he stated that he did not endorse the company's use of his character or likeness (Rogers did no commercial endorsements of any kind throughout his career, though he acted as a pitchman for several non-profit organizations dedicated to learning over the years). The chain publicly apologized for the faux pas, and pulled the ads.

Emmys for programming

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood won four Emmy awards, and Rogers received one for lifetime achievement.

During the 1997 Daytime Emmys, the Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Rogers. The following is an excerpt from Esquire Magazine's coverage of the gala, written by Tom Junod:

Advocacy

Mister Rogers and PBS funding

In 1969, Rogers appeared before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications. His goal was to support funding for PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, in response to significant proposed cuts. In about six minutes of testimony, Rogers spoke of the need for social and emotional education that public television provided. He passionately argued that alternative television programming like his Neighborhood helped encourage children to become happy and productive citizens, sometimes opposing less positive messages in media and in popular culture. He even recited the lyrics to one of his songs.

The chairman of the subcommittee, John O. Pastore, was not previously familiar with Rogers' work, and was sometimes described as gruff and impatient. However, he reported that the testimony had given him goosebumps, and declared, "I think it's wonderful. Looks like you just earned the $20 million." The subsequent congressional appropriation, for 1971, increased PBS funding from $9 million to $22 million.

Mister Rogers and the VCR

During the controversy surrounding the introduction of the household VCR, Rogers was involved in supporting the manufacturers of VCRs in court. His 1979 testimony in the case Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. noted that he did not object to home recording of his television programs, for instance, by families in order to watch together at a later time. This testimony contrasted with the views of others in the television industry who objected to home recording or believed that devices to facilitate it should be taxed or regulated.

The Supreme Courtmarker considered the testimony of Rogers in its decision that held that the Betamax video recorder did not infringe copyright. The Court stated that his views were a notable piece of evidence "that many [television] producers are willing to allow private time-shifting to continue" and even quoted his testimony in a footnote:

The Home Recording Rights Coalition later stated that Rogers was "one of the most prominent witnesses on this issue."

Rogers had been a supporter of VCR use since its very early days. In his final week of episodes of the original run in 1976, Rogers used a U-Matic VCR to show scenes from past episodes, as a way to prepare viewers for repeats that would begin the following week.

Death and memorial



Rogers was diagnosed with stomach cancer in December 2002 and underwent surgery on January 6, 2003. He died at home on the morning of February 27, 2003, not long after his retirement and less than a month before he would have turned 75. His death was such a significant event in Pittsburgh that the edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published the next day covered the entire front page on Rogers' death. The Reverend William P. Barker presided over a public memorial in Pittsburghmarker, Pennsylvaniamarker. Over 2,700 people attended the memorial at Heinz Hallmarker, including former "Good Morning America" host David Hartman, Teresa Heinz Kerry, philanthropist Elsie Hillman, PBS President Pat Mitchell, Arthur creator Marc Brown, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar author-illustrator Eric Carle. Rogers is interred at Unity Cemetery in Latrobe.

Speakers remembered Rogers' love of children, devotion to his religion, enthusiasm for music, and quirks. Teresa Heinz Kerry said of Rogers, "He never condescended, just invited us into his conversation. He spoke to us as the people we were, not as the people others wished we were."

On New Years Day of 2004, Michael Keaton hosted the PBS TV special "Mr. Rogers: America's Favorite Neighbor". It was released on DVD September 28 that year. Keaton was a former stagehand on the show before he quit to become an actor.

To mark what would have been his 80th birthday, Rogers' production company sponsored several events to memorialize him, including "Won't You Wear a Sweater Day", during which fans and neighbors were asked to wear their favorite sweaters in celebration.Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvaniamarker has a Fred Rogers Building, which is located at the entrance of the campus. It was completed in the summer of 2008.

On November 5, 2009, The Fred Rogers Memorial Statue was opened to the public on the North Shoremarker near Heinz Fieldmarker in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvaniamarker. The bronze sculpture was created by Robert Berks, and it measures 10 feet, 10 inches in height and weighs more than 7,000 pounds.

Speeches, memberships, awards, and other recognition

  • In 1969, Mr. Rogers appeared before Congress to oppose Richard Nixon's budget cutbacks for Public Broadcasting Service.
  • In 1973, Rogers was the commencement speaker for the graduation ceremony at Eastern Michigan Universitymarker in Ypsilantimarker, Michiganmarker.
  • In 1981, he appeared on Sesame Street. Big Bird appeared on Neighborhood soon after.
  • In 1987, Rogers was initiated as an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity, the national fraternity for men of music.
  • In 1992, Rogers received a George Foster Peabody Award "in recognition of 25 years of beautiful days in the neighborhood."
  • In May 1992, Rogers gave the commencement speech at Indiana University of Pennsylvaniamarker, an hour outside of Pittsburghmarker, PA.
  • In 1996, Korn included a song titled "Mr. Rogers" on their second album, Life Is Peachy.
  • On May 11, 1996, Rogers gave the commencement speech at North Carolina State Universitymarker.
  • In 1999, Rogers was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.
  • On May 8, 1999, Rogers gave the commencement address at Westminster Choir College. In particular, he told the graduating musicians about his early career as a composer. At this time he was bestowed the honorary degree Doctor of Humanities.
  • In May 1999, Rogers gave the commencement address at Marist College.
  • On May 6, 2000, Rogers gave the commencement address at Old Dominion Universitymarker in Norfolk, Virginia.
  • In May 2001, Rogers was given an Honorary Doctor of Letters and delivered the commencement address at Middlebury Collegemarker.
  • In May 2001, Rogers delivered the commencement address at Marquette Universitymarker.
  • In 2002, Rogers gave the commencement address at Dartmouth Collegemarker, his alma mater.
  • In April 2002 Mr. Rogers received the PNC Commonwealth award in Mass Communications at the Hotel Dupont in Wilmington, DE
  • On July 9, 2002, Fred Rogers received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to children's education. "Fred Rogers has proven that television can soothe the soul and nurture the spirit and teach the very young", said President George W. Bush at the presentation.
  • In January 2003, a month before his death, Rogers was a grand marshal of the Tournament of Roses Parade, serving with Art Linkletter and Bill Cosby.
  • On March 4, 2003, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed Resolution 111 honoring Rogers for "his legendary service to the improvement of the lives of children, his steadfast commitment to demonstrating the power of compassion, and his dedication to spreading kindness through example ."
  • On March 5, 2003 the U.S. Senate unanimously passed Resolution 16 to commemorate the life of Fred Rogers.
    • "Through his spirituality and placid nature, Mr. Rogers was able to reach out to our nation's children and encourage each of them to understand the important role they play in their communities and as part of their families", Santorum said. "More importantly, he did not shy away from dealing with difficult issues of death and divorce but rather encouraged children to express their emotions in a healthy, constructive manner, often providing a simple answer to life's hardships."
  • The Smithsonian Institutionmarker displays one of Mister Rogers' sweaters, which was knitted by his mother.
  • The Municipality of Monroevillemarker, a town east of Pittsburgh, erected a playground inside the Monroeville Mallmarker. It was built in honor of the famous Neighborhood of Make-Believe, and is located in front of the Macy'smarker department store building. Mall officials decided to christen it the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Playspace. The playground opened in 2004, while the mall was being renovated. When the mall opened in 1969 (the year after Mister Rogers Neighborhood first aired), the water fountain was located in that area. One of his shirts is also on display in a case outside the playground.
  • Singer/Songwriter Loudon Wainwright III sang tenderly of his grief upon hearing the news of Rogers' death in the song "Hank and Fred" from the 2005 record Here Come the Choppers.
  • In 2006, the Pittsburgh-based Sprout Fund sponsored a mural, "Interpretations of Oakland," by John Laidacker that featured Mr. Rogers.
  • In October 2008, The Rogers Center was dedicated on the campus of St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA. The dedication of this new conference center took place at the beginning of the Homecoming Weekend at St. Vincent.[20540]
  • On November 7-8, Mr. McFeely gave public tours of the neighborhood of make believe set, at the WQED studios, in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. He gave autographs, and pictures for the fans who came to see King Friday's castle, X and Hennrietta's tree, lady Elaine's museum go round, Grandpere's eiffle tower, a small replica of Daniel's clock, and a toy version of the famous Neighborhood Trolley.


References

  1. Pittsburgh Magazine
  2. http://www.dartmouth.edu/~news/releases/2002/may/050202.html
  3. http://www.rollins.edu/olin/archives/rogers.htm
  4. Kid in Us
  5. MedalOfFreedom.com - Fred Rogers (from Internet Archive mirror on 2007-10-14)
  6. Pittsburgh Magazine
  7. Salon Brilliant Careers | Fred Rogers
  8. http://www.post-gazette.com/localnews/20030504rogers0504p1.asp
  9. http://www.nantucketindependent.com/news/2007/0801/front_page/013.html
  10. Salon Brilliant Careers | Fred Rogers
  11. Sylvania Award page 1952-1958
  12. http://www.post-gazette.com/localnews/20030504mccall0504p4.asp
  13. Pittsburgh Magazine
  14. WQED Multimedia: Pittsburgh Magazine
  15. Fred Rogers dies at 74
  16. http://www.current.org/ch/ch0305rogers.html
  17. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=7216800
  18. Won't You Be My Neighbor Days
  19. YouTube - Mister Rogers: "Won't You Wear a Sweater?" Day
  20. {{cite news |url=http://www.fci.org/viewcontent.asp?sectionID=2&subsectionID={E83DD3B7-4304-4347-894F-20E9733DC19F}&subsubsectionID={58B8A856-4E26-4FBE-B895-01DE85C487D4} |title=Family Communications - Fred Rogers - Awards and Degrees}}
  21. Real media video of Mr. Rogers' commencement speech. Accessed on 2007-12-17.
  22. House Resolution 111 honoring Fred Rogers
  23. Senate Resolution 16 honoring Fred Rogers
  24. : Presbyterian Church (USA) 215th General Assembly Overture 03-36. On a Memorial Minute for Fred Rogers
  25. thisishappening: 2006 Sprout Public Art Mural Kickoff Event Schedule


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