Won’t You Be My Neighbor? shines a light on the long-running children’s program, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and its iconic host, Fred Rogers. The show, one of the most celebrated children’s shows of all time, ran for over three decades. Generations grew up influenced by the kind, patient, and empathetic Fred Rogers, the heart and soul of the program.
Over the years, Fred Rogers took on a “larger than life” persona in the eyes of the public. While that’s a natural result of the show’s reach and impact, it blurs the line between fact and fiction. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? takes a step back to showcase the true story of Rogers and his wonderful program. Nearly 20 years after the show ended, the people Fred Rogers taught through television can finally see the impact Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood had on the world.
The True Story Of Fred Rogers
Fred Rogers was a beacon of hope to many, and as a symbol of purity and kindness he naturally attracted doubters. Rumors dogged Rogers through the years, none terrible enough to mar his career, but still the stories lingered. Stories cropped up about Rogers’s sexuality and an alleged military career; oddly, the one constant is that the rumors tended to be different from one generation to another.
The main rumor in the ‘60s and ‘70s concerned Rogers’s sexuality. That’s inconsequential by modern standards, but it was a potential stigma when his show first started. Strangely, kids raised in the ‘80s and ‘90s heard, variously, that Fred Rogers was a military sniper or had a violent criminal past. These things were not true, of course, and say far more about the source of the stories than they do about Rogers. Why would it be easier to believe that the mild-mannered Rogers hid a strange past than to accept him at face value?
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? will properly settle the record and allow us to focus on Rogers’s impressive work and legacy. The documentary features many of those who were close to Rogers, from collaborators to his wife, Joanne Rogers. These first-hand accounts will help us understand the real Mr. Rogers, and see whatever truths didn’t appear on television screens in years past.
The Importance of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was a delightful program that taught valuable life lessons to children of all ages. The show didn’t talk down to children. In 913 episodes, Fred Rogers was always genuine. He spoke to his audience as an educator and was never patronizing. That was a huge part of his appeal, and through that appeal Rogers developed a rare platform where he could cover a myriad of topics.
In times of crisis, the show tackled important cultural issues. Fred Rogers produced a primetime special to help parents and children cope after Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968. The special dealt with grief and mourning, and even demonstrated how to explain the event to children. Fred Rogers, with the aid of Betty and Daniel Tiger, tackled the topic head-on in an unprecedented fashion. Rogers even implored parents to include their children in their grieving process.
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood dedicated entire episodes to subjects like death, divorce, racism and even the inevitability of nuclear war. Many of these episodes were controversial, but the show reflected the world. It didn’t present a happy go-lucky fantasy world where bad things can’t reach children. Fred Rogers made sure that kids were educated about the world, but he never pushed too hard. He handled every topic, especially the most sensitive, with care, and delivered them in a way that wouldn’t scare young viewers.
Of course, the show mostly covered more kid-friendly topics, but the instances where Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood covered more adult issues were invaluable. Every lesson Rogers taught helped children grow in a way no other show could. It simultaneously prepared kids for the real world while also encouraging children to be themselves.
While the show is gone, its approach and spirit remain valuable, even essential. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? will be a wonderful way to bring Fred Rogers back into our lives, especially as it offers an open, optimistic, and family-oriented view of the show’s host and his world. The documentary highlights how Fred Rogers educated young minds, showing that good people can still make a valuable impact. Most of all, it shows Fred Rogers as a beacon of hope and inspiration who will live on in the hearts and minds of generations to follow.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? opens with a limited release on June 8.