The Orlando area is one of a handful of spots in the world that has the right to anticipate A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood with a bit more fervor than the rest of the planet. Inspired a 1998 Esquire article by Tom Junod, the film finds a cynical journalist assigned to do a profile on one Fred McFeely Rogers, better known to the masses as Mister Rogers. Rogers maintained a residence in Winter Park and was a graduate of Rollins College, class of 1951; as an alum myself, I can tell you we’re fiercely proud of him.
Tom Hanks, a beloved multi-generational icon in his own right, has slipped on the cardigan and navy Sperry shoes, recognized to even those who have never seen an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. From all accounts, Hanks was aware of the responsibility and handled it with care, early reviews have even stated he was born to play the role.
When I was in school in the ‘90s, Mister Rogers was in my orbit, but I never approached him for some silly starstruck reason. I regret that because I’ve read of people’s chance encounters with him and I think that twenty-something me could have used his ear and a just a few of his wise words. One day I was sitting on the steps of the Fred Stone Theatre (now demolished) on campus waiting to rehearse with scene partners, when Mister Rogers walked by. I should point out he, then in his late 60s, walked to campus from his house, which was not just around the corner. Many times I’ve recounted the incident for people with the mock scandalous punchline: “He was wearing his inside shoes outside!” referring to his habit of changing into the aforementioned Sperry shoes at the top of each show.
Reading The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King, I learned that Rogers started that shoe change tradition for a practical reason: he didn’t want the noise of his dress shoes to mess up the sound. A wiser version of me than the student who watched Mister Rogers walk down the sidewalk realizes the act became a deeper ritual. When you enter a Buddhist center to meditate, you take off your shoes to leave the dirt of the world behind, and to help you realize there is no other place in the world you need to be for that time span; the same is true of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe. I recently told my partner that Fred Rogers was a bodhisattva and I firmly believe that.
Did you happen to notice Mister Rogers gave me a lesson simply passing by? I knew that you would.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood opens in theatres on November 22, but you don’t have to wait until then to reacquaint or acquaint yourself with the TV legend, nor do you have to stop with Tom Hanks’ film. Orange County Library System has many Mister Rogers related materials which you can find here.
And we’ve done the honors of pulling some materials of particular interest.
This 2018 documentary garnered a long list of awards. Directed by Morgan Neville, the film uses interviews with family and friends to discuss Rogers’ life and work, even debunking age-old rumors. We recommend having tissue handy when you borrow this DVD.
Clearly an enormous amount of research went into Maxwell King’s well-rounded biography of Fred Rogers. If check out the audio version, you’ll be treated to the comforting voice of LaVar Burton, yet another educational television favorite.
This fun CD features people you might be surprised to hear singing songs composed by Fred Rogers. Robert Flack performs a ballad version of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and “Are You Brave?” gets the Donna Summer treatment, just to name two.
Lyrics from 75 Fred Rogers songs are paired with illustrations by Luke Flowers to create a treasury of poems.
Eight years before his death, Fred Rogers met author, educator and speaker Amy Hollingsworth. What started as a television interview turned into a wonderful friendship spanning dozens of letters detailing the driving force behind this gentle man.