If you were a small child in the late ’60s or later, you probably grew up with “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” And, if you are one of these people Morgan Neville new documentary “won’t you be my neighbor?” will probably bring a tear or two to your eye. I first heard about this movie from a tour manager, who was previously a special forces soldier, I guess even us tour managers have a soft spot 😊
“What changes the world is the idea that love can abound, and be shared,” says Fred Rogers in the film’s footage “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” isn’t really a biopic of Rogers, who died in 2003 (two years after the final season of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” which debuted nationally in 1968); instead, it’s a portrait of one soft-spoken man’s ideas, which were both simple and deeply profound. Kindness, he felt, was always the answer; love, or the lack of love, was “at the root of everything.”
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” puts “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” in cultural context; it’s fascinating to ponder how his show, with its modest sets, handmade puppets and homespun morals, ran in the complete opposite direction of other children’s television of the time. (Nothing on “Mister Rogers” was animated; nothing ever seemed zippy or loud or fast.) We’re reminded of how Rogers quietly made a civil-rights statement on his show, back in 1969, by companionably sharing a wading pool on a hot day with Officer Clemmons, who is black — at a time of segregated pools in much of the country.
Watching this film, I suspect takes many of its viewers, immediately back to their early childhood and to the Neighborhood, where Mister Rogers reminded us, in gentle song, that we were special and that he liked us as we were. Fred Rogers is gone and the world is a much scarier place; this film briefly transports us back to the calm we felt long ago. Maybe there’s a part of us that still misses the man in the cardigan, who always promised that he’d be back tomorrow, at the time his show was a hint of the innocence that seemed to have been lost starting with the Vietnam War and the intensity of the unrest and violence that surrounds us today.
His history as a Navy Seal I am sure is just the stuff of urban legend and I am sure it is as far from the truth as you can imagine. He was an ordained Presbyterian minister living out his calling as a children’s TV host, Fred Rogers helped generations of kids cope with issues like death, divorce, and anger. I may not always agree with his liberal theology, but it would be difficult to overestimate how much good Fred Rogers did for our society.
A few months before his death in 2003, Fred Rogers recorded this video message for those who grew up watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” This message was one of the last things he recorded in the WQED studio, according to the Fred Rogers Company. He died of stomach cancer on Feb.27, 2003.