I suspect everyone has a Mr. Rogers story. Yes, that Mr. Rogers, host and creator of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, ”
which ran for 31 seasons and was produced at the WQEDTV studios in Pittsburgh, Pa.
I grew up on Fred Rogers’ television show, which featured Daniel Striped Tiger, Handyman Joe Negri and — my personal favorite — visits to Chef Brockett’s bakery.
My Mr. Rogers story took place eight years ago when I met David Newell, who portrayed the Neighborhood’s “Speedy Delivery” mail carrier, and had the opportunity to tell him how much the show meant to me.
It was especially a joy to be able to tell him how much my brother and I enjoyed watching the operas, such as “Windstorm in Bubbleland” and “Key to Otherland,” which were presented periodically on the show.
“Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” is a safe place for fun and escape. It also had the groundbreaking idea to treat children as thinking, feeling human beings. Mr. Rogers discussed how feelings matter and if we only have the strength to talk about them, everything in life turns out to be manageable.
Not perfect by any stretch, but manageable. “We were creating programs that had very good messages for children. And that was a lot of fun for me to be able to work on something that taught good lessons to young children and
their families,” David Newell told me in 2010.
“Sometimes the programs live on because they’re such good stories. The stories he made will last forever.” It’s true. These days, my two nieces and nephew watch “Mr. Rogers” episodes on my sister’s iPad. Mr. Rogers’ legacy is again at the forefront of the public consciousness with last month’s release of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” into movie theaters.
The documentary by Morgan Neville paints a portrait of Fred Rogers through behind the-scenes video and interviews with his family and cast members. David told me Mr. Rogers’ absence continues to be felt. “He was a good friend of mine. My wife and I would go to his house and have dinner sometimes. And we’d go on different trips together. He was a very good friend and I miss him.”