Fred McFeely Rogers single-handedly changed the face of children’s television when his show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” first aired on WQED Pittsburgh in 1968.
And he did it without frills or a big budget.
What he did do was foster a connection with children by making them feel valued and loved while teaching them about subjects that were considered “radical” for children’s television at the time, like divorce, war, death, assassination, and race relations.
Rogers, a Presbyterian minister, taught children about love, compassion, friendship, imagination, and kindness while touching the hearts of millions in the process.
That’s why he is the subject of the new documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” currently in theatres all around the country.
The documentary was directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville and distributed by Focus Features. It currently has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 99 percent.
Source: Focus Features
The film’s title comes from a phrase that Rogers would sing on his show.
“Won’t you be my neighbor is an invitation for somebody to be close to you. The greatest thing we can do it is to help someone know that they are loved and capable of loving,” Rogers said, according to the documentary’s trailer. “Love is the root of everything. All learning, all relationships. Love or the lack of it.”
Rogers’ wife, Joanne Rogers, recently appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” to continue sharing her husband’s message of love and promote the documentary.
She shared stories about their romance and the significance that the number 143 had in their relationship.
The number 143 represents the number of pounds Rogers weighed all his life. It also stands for “I Love You.” She also shared how she knew right away that he was the one when they met in college.
“He was lively and full of fun. He would talk about his feelings and I could talk about my feelings to him,” Joanne, who was married to Rogers for 50 years, told Fallon.”You can’t build a friendship without doing that. And don’t you have to have a friendship to fall back on through your married life. And we had it for 50 years. So, that was nice.”
She also spoke to Fallon about his passion to for tackling big issues, like racism during a time when some Americans were calling for segregation.
Joanne recalled a time when white people didn’t want black people to swim in their swimming pools so they would pour acid into the pools.
But Rogers, a Republican, decided he would fight against that. His show featured a black man who was a police officer to show African Americans in a positive light.
One episode features Officer Clemmons soaking their feet together in a kiddie pool and Rogers offering to share his towel with him. The gesture was meant to showcase equality and the respect that all human beings deserve.
“And it’s a very basic Christian right as well,” Joanne explained.
At the end of the segment, Fallon passed Joanne a note with the number “243” on it and explained that it meant, “We Love You.” This made her clap with delight and smile knowing that her husband’s legacy really does reach people even today.
You can see part of Mrs. Rogers’ interview with Fallon in the video below.
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