He came into our homes for thirty-three years, 895 episodes and we knew hardly knew him. In 1968, that might be perfectly alright. But in an age of social media, camera phones, and general nosiness, we want to know everything about the stars on TV.
A Mr. Rogers biopic is being developed to look at the man in the sweater. His family isn’t involved although the producers claim they’ll be respectful. Well, what else were they going to say about America’s favourite neighbour? But you know they’d be secretly thrilled to find Some-thing controversial about the man.
Good luck with that. Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister with a music degree. He was married for over fifty years and had two sons, Biblically named James and John. Neither a smoker nor a drinker, he was also a vegetarian at a time when it was unheard of. And he once said he went into television because he “hated it so.”
He went on to explain that he “thought there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen.” Ah, now there’s the Fred we all loved.
What many Canadians may not realize is that Mister Rogers, Trolley, the tree, and even the castle were created by CBC designers when he moved to Toronto to host a new show. He also brought his friend and understudy, Ernie Coombs, to Canada. (a.k.a. Mr. Dressup)
Never a pushover, Rogers fought funding cuts to public broadcasting and testified in the Senate in 1969. In 1979, while production companies were in court fighting the manufacturers of VCR’s over copyright infringement, Rogers testified that families benefited from being able to record his shows in order to watch them together at their discretion.
Mister Rogers was almost too good to be true. Today, that, in itself, would instill distrust and animosity. And he’d be laughed off the air the moment someone tweeted that his middle was “McFeeley.”
Yet, according to everyone, he really was the nice man we saw on screen because he believed that “kids can spot a phony a mile away.” He wrote the music, told the stories, and taught the life lessons.
But what if there was something else behind that smile? What if he was human and made mistakes like the rest of us?
Would we want to know? And who would watch a biopic that didn’t have some titillating facts?
Me. Mister Rogers – along with Mr. Dressup, The Friendly Giant, and Captain Kangaroo – was my safe place. My friend who said I was special just the way I was. That memory is sacred.
Last week, beloved Coronation Street patriarch Bill Roache was arrested for the rape of a teenager 45 years ago. Viewers are shocked and dismayed.
I don’t want to see any of Fred Rogers’ human weaknesses exposed, whatever they may be. The truth? I can’t handle the truth.