By Dr. Laura Wilhelm, LauraWil Intercultural
The #MeToo Movement has tragically toppled many a childhood idol, the first and foremost of these probably being Bill Cosby. While Cosby certainly seemed to understand children better than most of us ever will, he was unquestionably a very flawed adult. No one ever said the truth couldn’t hurt.
Thus it is a relief to realize that some of the adults who inspired us were just what they seemed: caring, patient, supportive, and, above all, trustworthy. Their unconditional love and acceptance nurtured us and, hopefully, made us want to be like them even when we fell short of perfection.
For some, Fred Rogers of MR. ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD seemed like nothing less than a living saint. He was a deeply religious man who never stayed removed from mundane reality. The intelligence of this Ivy League-educated master musician was easy to underestimate since Rogers was able to step into the shoes of his child viewers with uncanny conviction and relate to them in ways few adults ever have.
Rogers made everyone feel welcome in his own home in his own neighborhood. When he said, “It’s you I like!”–you really believed him. Whereas other distinctive media personalities from the same time like Julia Child and Richard Nixon were relentlessly parodied, few would-be satirists had the courage or even the inclination to touch Fred Rogers.
For there was more to Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood than met the eye. Dark subjects like divorce, death, war, and prejudice were dealt with as perceptively and compassionately as common childhood fears such as being flushed down the toilet or going to kindergarten. Rogers knew that you could release pain and anger by pounding the keys on a piano or going for a swim in the pool rather than passing along the hurt to others.
“The world is not always a kind place,” he said, talking about his show. “That’s something all children learn for themselves, whether we want them to or not, but it’s something they really need our help to understand.”
Rogers passes all the tests put to him by a world-weary journalist with characteristic dignity and grace in the new film A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD directed by Marielle Heller and written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster. The film was inspired by the 1998 article “Can You Say. . .Hero?” by Tom Junod that was published in ESQUIRE Magazine.
A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD stars Matthew Rhys as the journalist, Lloyd Vogel, and Tom Hanks as the inimitable Fred Rogers, a role he seems born to inhabit. Vogel’s editor (Christine Lahti) assigns him to write a 400-word profile on Rogers that ultimately expands into a 10,000-word cover feature owing to the fascinating and fruitful interplay that develops between the two men.
Thanks to Fred Rogers’ watchful eye and unobtrusive intervention, Lloyd is able to heal some of the wounds from his troubled childhood and forgive the ailing father (Chris Cooper) who inflicted so many of them. He is better able to appreciate the future hopes represented by his warmly sympathetic spouse Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), a public interest attorney, and their totally adorable newborn son, Gavin.
This charming film has received deservedly positive reviews from critics, with widespread praise for Hanks and Rhys. Lovers of film, television, and print media should particularly appreciate A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD.
But the real star is, of course, Fred Rogers. His unconventional hero tale feels both timeless and very timely.
A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD has this reporter’s highest recommendation for the holiday season. Let your inner child rejoice!
About Fred Rogers:
Fred McFeely Rogers (1928-2003) was an American television personality, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer, and Presbyterian minister. He was the creator, showrunner, host, head puppeteer, and chief composer for the preschool television series MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD, which ran on PBS from 1968 to 2001.
Born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, Rogers briefly attended Dartmouth College and earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Rollins College in 1951. That same year he began his television career at NBC in New York, presciently sensing the possibilities of this new medium.
Rogers died of stomach cancer on February 27th, 2003 at the age of 74. He received over 40 honorary degrees and several awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in 1997 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002. In 1999 he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.
Rogers profoundly influenced many writers and producers of children’s television shows. Even after his death, his broadcasts have often served as a source of comfort during tragic national events such as 9/11. The life and work of Fred Rogers were recently depicted in the 2018 documentary WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?