By Linda Shortman
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood came to PBS in 1968. I was working my first babysitting job. I watched a toddler for an hour or so in the afternoon while her mom ran errands. Each day, right before dinner, a charming man came on TV and took us to The Land of Make-Believe. That is where I met Fred Rogers. With his cast of friends and puppets, he would tell me I was special and he liked me the way I was. Simple and deep words that really hit the soul.
Over the years, Fred Rogers told stories about hard to discuss topics. Feelings, relationships and everyday struggles were discussed with warmth, humor and sincerity. He was a powerful advocate for children and family entertainment.
People who have met him say that he was as genuine in person as he was on TV, a really nice guy. One of these people, Benjamin Wagner, was so affected by Fred Rogers that he and his brother made a documentary about him. I first knew of Ben through his blog, and was moved by an essay he wrote about Rogers shortly after his death. A thoughtful young man, who was deeply influenced by meeting Fred Rogers.
In Mister Rogers & Me, Benjamin and his brother Christofer, explore Fred Rogers' message of "deep and simple” through clips and interviews. They spoke with people who knew Mr. Rogers well and tell important stories about the man’s private and professional life. A true labor of love. They made the film because of a few simple words Rogers said to Ben, “spread the message.”
After premiering at Nantucket Film Festival, on the island where Wagner met Fred Rogers, the film landed at DocFest at The Paley Center for Media in NYC in 2011 and I was there. David Newel aka Mr. McFeely was there too. He provided wonderful insights about working with Rogers during a Q&A after the film.
Watching this film with my grown daughter, who has her own children and has expressed concern of overexposure to media, was powerful. It is a thoughtful examination of responsible broadcasting. What should we be putting in front of our children?
The film is available in DVD. Do yourself a favor, visit the neighborhood and pay attention to all that is deep and simple. In honor of his birthday on March 20th. I’m going to wear a cardigan and watch Mister Rogers & Me.
Happy birthday, Mister Rogers.
Ways to visit with Fred Rogers on DVD:
Through interviews with those who knew him, this is a personal documentary about Fred Rogers’ philosophies and practices in broadcasting and relationships.
The thoughtful nature of Rogers’ work and life are explored in a documentary as told by family and friends.