The RiffTrax Blog header image 1

Remembering Mr. Rogers

February 27th, 2009 by Bill Corbett · 70 Comments

This may seem odd coming from someone known for what we do here, but I miss Mr. Rogers.

Mr. Rogers

Fred Rogers died six years ago today after a long and often parodied career in children’s television. He was always good-natured about himself as a source of satire, accepting that it came with the territory. By all accounts, he was a genuinely warm, gentle man; an ordained minister who lived his faith every day, and did so with a smile.

To some degree, I can personally attest to that. When I was in college, Mr. Rogers visited to give a lecture on children and the media. It helps to know that this was at Yale University, from whence come future leaders, intellectuals, and super-high achievers… as well as occasional weirdoes like myself. I remember everyone joking around when they saw the posters on campus: would he change into his sweater and sneakers when he entered the lecture hall? Would he bring King Friday?… etc. etc. & so on.

My friends and I decided to show up just for giggles. When we got to the building where Mr. Rogers was supposed to speak, there was a big notice: the event had been moved to a much larger venue because of the numbers of people already showing up.

Mr. Rogers was a rock star that afternoon. Everyone at Yale wanted to see the man — most of us had distinct memories of him. Many like myself wanted to be all ironic-like, I’m sure.

When he stepped out and began to speak, the cognitive dissonance spiked. It was funny, of course — that WAS his actual voice on the show. But with that hyper-gentle voice he gave an intelligent, scholarly lecture passionately defending children. He insisted that the media lets young children down, pushing and selling things they’re not ready for; and that his show, silly as it was to adults, was specifically designed to go at a young child’s pace. He thought of young children as human beings with emotional lives worth addressing, even if it came at the price of being occasionally parodied. In fact, he said he enjoyed those too.

He left to a standing ovation.

Having young children myself now, I appreciate that not all is snark and irony. Or worse: nihilism. We love doing what we do here, but I’m ever grateful for people like the late Fred Rogers, and my daughter’s wonderful preschool teachers, who do what THEY do so well, and so generously.

I do have one problem with Mr. Rogers, however — one that has occasionally overpowered the sentiments expressed above about this lovely man. And that problem is:

LadyElaine

All that said, I realize you may not feel the affection I do for this late children’s TV star. But please know that if you badmouth this kind, dedicated man, who always taught us to be considerate and gentle, I will gut you like a damned fish. Thanks, neighbor.

Tags: RiffTrax

70 responses so far ↓

  • 1 TheDave on Feb 27, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Well said, Bill.

    On an entirely different note, doesn’t that puppet resemble Alex from “A Clockwork Orange” when he dons the mask and attacks that writer and rapes that woman in red?

  • 2 Sveden on Feb 27, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Mr. Rogers and Jim Henson are about the only two people in the world whose memories I would defend to the death.

  • 3 josh a cagan on Feb 27, 2009 at 11:57 am

    A few years back, there was a PBS documentary about Fred Rogers, narrated by former cast member Michael Keaton. It’s just wonderful, and if by the end, you’re not weeping like a roomful of children who all dropped their ice cream cones at the same time, you’re made of stupid, and also a jerk.

    Just one unbiased opinion. Buy the DVD, won’t we?

    http://www.shoppbs.org/sm-pbs-fred-rogers-americas-favorite-neighbor-dvd–pi-1859429.html

  • 4 kerry on Feb 27, 2009 at 11:57 am

    very touching. it’s a shame there are not more people like him.

    and i agree with you about lady elaine, too. yikes!

  • 5 Max "Bunny" Sparber on Feb 27, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    I don’t especially like children, and I didn’t much watch Mr. Rogers when I was a child (preferring Electric Company and the urban-themed and almost-hallucinogenic Vegetable Soup.) Nonetheless, the man is something of a hero to me, in the way that some heroes are — he’s a constant reminder of how kind and decent people can be, and how far I fall from that mark. I can never be Mr. Rogers, but thanks goodness at least one person managed ot.

  • 6 blablover5 on Feb 27, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    I remember PBS was planning on finally taking their re-runs of Mr. Rogers off the airwaves a few years ago (no idea if they have) and it just feels wrong.

    So much kids stuff now is more of a talking down and just one long product placement after another. You will never see another Animaniacs or Muppet Show again.

  • 7 Bill Corbett on Feb 27, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    And yet children love you, Max. I’ve seen ‘em flocking to you.

    Agreed about the kindness & decency, and personally falling short. I’ve been known to myself, astonishingly.

  • 8 Ariel on Feb 27, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    I HATED Mr. Rogers as a child. I felt like he thought I was stupid or something. But now as a parent I wish my daughter wanted to watch him.

  • 9 Matt on Feb 27, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Mr. Rogers attended my grandmother’s funeral. It was a very strange feeling–I was 10 and loved Mr. Rogers, but hey, my grandmother was dead.

  • 10 Markowitz Communications on Feb 27, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Hi! We saw that you have previously blogged about Fred Rogers. Last year, viewers from around the world showed their support and wore their favorite sweater in honor of Mister Rogers on March 20, which would have been his 80th birthday. We just wanted to let you know the tradition is continuing on March 20 of 2009, as “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Day.

    Here is the link to the new video. Feel free to leave comments here about your favorite memory of Mister Rogers Neighborhood or last year’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Day. We would love for you to post it and send it to all your friends!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGiKc7KuZ4A

    Thank you!

  • 11 R. Totale on Feb 27, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    If you haven’t heard it, check out a song called “Hank and Fred” by Loudon Wainwright III. It’s a moving tribute to Mr. Rogers and Hank Williams.

  • 12 askbotboy on Feb 27, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Bill, as a similarly aged adult human, I have a tender spot for genius’s that make a living with their hand up the underside of puppets. Like Svenden mentioned above, Jim Henson, Fred Rogers and Paul Winchell were a part of my childhood. Wait… I just realized why I love MST so much – more people with their hands up….never mind.

    Oh, and Fred Rogers was an early supporter of the home VCR when he spoke in front of the Supreme Court of it’s virtues of recording his show for later viewings! Genius!

  • 13 Bill Corbett on Feb 27, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Wow, cool. Never heard that song, but I love Loudo. I’ll look for it.

  • 14 Houndstooth Mind on Feb 27, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Y’all leave Lady Elaine alone! She was one of my first strong female roll models.

  • 15 jfruh on Feb 27, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    My father-in-law new Fred Rogers vaguely (both lived in Pittsburgh) and said that yes, he was every bit as great as you’d think.

    When I was a little kid, I has my own take on his whole schtick where he comes in at the beginning of every show and changes from his suit jacket into his comfy cardigan. I guess the idea was supposed to be that he was comng home from work, like your dad, except that didn’t make sense to me because the show was on during the day. My thought was that he had a family or whatever who thought that he had a normal job, like as a banker or something, and he left the house wearing a suit and saying “Yup, honey, I’m off to my job! You know at the office! Where I have to wear a suit! Yes, sir!” Then he got to his real job, which was being the host of this great show where he got to spend time with all his cool friends and puppets. This was a secret just between him and us kids, and other grown-ups didn’t know about it.

    I realize this doesn’t really hold water logically, but it seems a lot more magical that way, and that’s how I’ll always think about the show.

  • 16 Krud on Feb 27, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    What Sveden said.

    (Wonderful post, btw. He was the real deal.)

  • 17 Rebecca Watson on Feb 27, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    I loved Mr. Rogers (and especially Daniel the Tiger) and will now look forward to wearing my favorite sweater March 20!

  • 18 Ryan on Feb 27, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Respect for kids’ minds is sorely lacking on TV and society these days (mostly by parents).
    Mr. Rogers is like the Garrison Keeler of kids television (intended as a compliment). Low key, pleasant to listen to, friendly, intelligent, and respects the intelligence of his audience.

    Wait, Bill went to Yale?

  • 19 rebisaz on Feb 27, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Aww, this was heart-warming. I loved him. Sometimes I miss the innocence of that time, before I learned about the world. I’m glad he was there.

  • 20 Dewitte Baisch on Feb 27, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    About 15 years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Fred Rogers when he visited DC. His incredibly kind demeanor and his genuine interest in everyone he met really put the kibosh on my usual cynicism.

  • 21 PG on Feb 27, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    My son, now 9, was deeply offended last year by a parody in which an actual conversation of Mr. Rogers was bleeped, thus giving the effect that he was swearing when he actually wasn’t. I was proud of my son for this.

  • 22 Faded Ink on Feb 27, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    [...] Mike Nelson, and Kevin Murpy–are doing now) reading their blog, and Bill Corbett has written a very nice post about Mr. Rogers. Apparently he gave a lecture at Yale when Bill was in school there (Wow! Mr. [...]

  • 23 Carpeteria on Feb 27, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    I was able to meet David Newell, the man who played Mr. McFeely, a few years ago at a PBS event at a small theme park in New Hampshire. He is continuing to pass on the same philosophy and care that Fred Rogers did in his lifetime. He travels with the Daniel Tiger puppet, though he doesn’t do the voice, as well as the Purple Panda (who terrified me as a kid, and slightly disconcerted me as an adult, and who will likely cause me mild discomfort in my elderly years).

    It was a pleasure to meet him, someone who had been so connected with the show and Mr. Rogers since its inception. Bill, I second all that you say; Mr. Rogers was it, and I hope he’s never off the air on PBS (though they’re beginning to pull him off the air in some markets, which is blasphemous to me).

  • 24 Carpeteria on Feb 27, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Boomerang Toomerang Zoomerang, beyotch!

  • 25 Chris D. on Feb 27, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    I too have had my fun goofing on Mr.Rogers over the years but there can be no doubt he was a very wonderful person. I miss the pre-cable TV days when all us kids had was the powerhouse combo of Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers (with occasional re-runs of Gilligan’s Island in there). These days most kids shows are all just loud noises and bright colors.

  • 26 Bill Corbett on Feb 27, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    “I was able to meet David Newell, the man who played Mr. McFeely, a few years ago at a PBS event at a small theme park in New Hampshire.”

    You may know this, but Mr. Roger’s mother’s pre-marriage name (do you say “maiden” anymore? sounds medieval) was McFeely. Apparently he was also very close to his maternal grandfather.

  • 27 Katie M. on Feb 27, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    Mr. Rogers was one of the few kiddie shows I watched when I was little. So I guess it’s only fitting that I attended the same college as he did (Rollins College in FL)! He used to come back every year just to check out how the ol’ alma mater was getting along.

    One Sunday afternoon, I was working as a student assistant in one of the computer labs in the library. I saw a couple people enter the room, and when I looked up, I was gobsmacked to see the president of the college escorting Mr. Rogers inside! I was so taken aback and abruptly thrown back into my childhood that all I could think to do was wave vigorously at the man! He smiled at me and waved back like we were old pals. Holy crap!!!

    Yup, that man was a class act. ;-)

  • 28 Gina on Feb 27, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    He was indeed. Great post, Bill!

  • 29 JT on Feb 27, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    Mr. Rodgers was soul food for us. He may not have been our first show to watch, but man did we feel good when we did catch his show.

    Thinking today, I have a two year old girl, I can only say that one person seemms to be from the same mold, and that would have been Steve Burns from Blue’s Clues. It was set at such a pace that children–toddlers–could grasp it, and yet it was not too Teletubbies for adults.

    That new guy makes me throw things.

    All in all, rest in peace Mr. Rodgers.

  • 30 Carpeteria on Feb 27, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Which makes it all the more bizarrely coincidental that he had a fictional character on his show with the same name. Crazy.

  • 31 Scott on Feb 27, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    There’s a local legend that Mr. Rogers’ car was stolen from the TV station where he filmed his show. The theft was covered on the news and the next day the car was right back in the very same spot with a note saying that if the thieves knew whose car it was they’d never have taken it.

  • 32 NanoRiffite on Feb 27, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    I don’t remember watching Mr. Rogers much when I was a kid, but I think that was mainly that something about the signal of the local PBS station meant we got lousy reception during the day. (happily it was fine at night, when shows like Monty Python were on!).

    When I was a kid, I thought he was a little low-key for me, but I also thought he was a great guy. He always seemed to genuinely like the kids he was talking to, and that meant a lot to me. As I got older, I thought it was probably good that he was as laid-back and calm as he was, even though I personally wished he would talk a little faster!

  • 33 Laura on Feb 27, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    May have been posted, but Fox news has a segment on how they believe Mr. Rogers was evil because of the way he taught kids that they’re special. They compared this to being 18 years old and getting a C on a college exam and remembering Mr. Rogers saying it was ok.
    Look, the 18 year old doesn’t take advice from Mr. Rogers anymore. He most likely stopped watching when he was about six years old.
    So a big ‘fuck you’ to Fox News :) .

  • 34 Chris D. on Feb 27, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Wow. Way to ruin the pleasant and gracious vibe of a thread.

  • 35 doggans on Feb 27, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    Mr. Rogers was indeed a childhood hero of mine. As a very-very-young-boy, it was the only show I would watch because “Sesame Street” scared me.

    (As a slightly-older-but-still-very-young-boy, I also watched Sesame Street, but not as religiously as Mr. Rogers.)

  • 36 Remmie Barrow on Feb 27, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Unfortunately, there are not that many shows (if any) like Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood (or the Electric Company or even 321 Contact) since Barney came on the air…So I blame Barney…and Elmo…that grandstanding little S.O.B. Muppet…(I bet he was the one who did away with Harry Monster)

  • 37 jfe on Feb 27, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    I miss him, too. Thank goodness for reruns. My son used to watch him as a child but it gave him the willies when during an interview Mr. Rogers said he liked to swim in the nude. Not a vision my son wanted to think about.

  • 38 michael on Feb 27, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    Ditto.

    Now if we could find someone who could help middle school kids.

  • 39 Ronin Fox on Feb 27, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    A few years ago I saw Bill Cosby perform live in Dayton Ohio, taking a very good friend along. Before his show started he pulled out a chair to the center of the stage and draped a sweater over it, dedicating the show to the late Fred Rogers.

    For a show that was hilarious from start to finish, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place during that moment.

  • 40 OxfordProle on Feb 27, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    I loved Mr Rogers and was truly saddened by his death. Unfortunately that didn’t stop me from laughing hysterically at Eddie Murphy’s fine parody on SNL.

  • 41 Scott on Feb 27, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    More Susha (Saturday morning spanish-language kids show), less Land of The Lost with Sleestaks. Those things, it was like a light bulb is to a moth, way too slow to catch anybody but, it never failed, everybody ran right into their arms.

  • 42 Jeffrey Thames [King of Grief] on Feb 27, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    Yeah, Fox News has a knack for soiling pleasantry and grace.

  • 43 Spooky Janelle on Feb 27, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    Bill, I absolutely love you for posting this.

    Thank you.

  • 44 jennifer on Feb 27, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    Is it wrong that I laughed at this – a lot? Am I going to hell? *scared*

  • 45 Ian on Feb 27, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    He is missed by me for his great ability to eliminate the element of power control. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXEuEUQIP3Q

  • 46 ShutterBun on Feb 27, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Mr. Wainwright III is occasionally described as “vociferous,” but isn’t “Loudo” a bit harsh?

  • 47 Libby on Feb 27, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    I grew up watching Mr. Rogers (and have a precocious anecdote that I’ll refrain from sharing here), and I remember crying in the middle of health class the day after he died.

    There’s an adorable inspirational book called Life’s Journeys According to Mister Rogers. Reading through it makes me remember what a good person he was.

  • 48 Houndstooth Mind on Feb 27, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    Aw yeah!

  • 49 Eric on Feb 27, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    I just want to express my admiration for Mr. Rogers.

    Rogers encouraged the best in humanity-sharing, friendship, and citizenship-the last being perhaps the most lacking in current day society.

    Looking back as an adult, his show might be “corny” to most, but to children, he taught important lessons in morality and the importance of imagination, which applies to every profession. Especially to us who were without paternal role models, Rogers gave us someone to look up to.

    I will be indebted for life to Fred Rogers for the person I am today and will be tomorrow.

  • 50 Barry on Feb 27, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Mr. Rogers never lied to me, not once. I take a shower almost every day, and I have never gone down the drain.

  • 51 smallerdemon on Feb 27, 2009 at 8:29 pm

    Mister Rogers and Star Trek were the moral foundations of my childhood. Growing up in Alabama in the 1970s the fact that the showed Star Trek makes in, in retrospect, glaringly obvious that the station’s owner just thought “Hey, scifi show on the cheap in syndication. Get it.” instead of “WHAT? BLACK PEOPLE AND WHITE PEOPLE KISSING?!” But Mister Rogers spoke to my kid side so much when I was a kid, and frankly, I never found it in me to feel snark at all for the man. People who live in such a profoundly honest and kind way are impossible for me to feel any ill will for. Kindest and honest together are something we easily have forgotten are important virtues of the human race. Indeed, a sense of humor is as well, of course, which is why I love both MST3K and RiffTrax along with, quite often, the movies in question. There is no way for me NOT to have affection for It Conquered The Earth, for example, or the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy. Similarly , Fred Rogers stands in my mind as a small gentle man communicating directly to me in a tumultuous time in which the world seemed to be falling apart. He was the representation that the present wasn’t falling apart while Star Trek was my representation that the future was worth striving for.

  • 52 Heather on Feb 27, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    *sniff* Bill, you make me think I’ll never love again by posting videos of dancing midget Spider-Man molesting random passers-by, and… and then you go and post something like this! *sniff* Thank you!

    I’m going to go watch the Harry Belafonte episode of The Muppet Show and have a good, happy cry…

  • 53 Dover on Feb 27, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    where is Bob Ross on that list? I think that more kids should watch him, he had a lot of little things to say.

    Old man Rogers was pretty cool too though.

  • 54 Paul on Feb 28, 2009 at 12:37 am

    Mr. Rogers’ death was one of the very rare celebrity deaths that brought me to tears. The world is a much poorer place without him.

  • 55 Henry Slinkman on Feb 28, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    Anyone that doesn’t have respect for Mr. Rogers has a cold, black heart.

  • 56 Laurie on Feb 28, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    I was always more of a Sesame Street fan when I was a kid, but as I got older, it was Mister Rogers I turned to when I needed comfort. He had a rare gift, and I miss him more than I could possibly say.

  • 57 Dustin Jenkins on Feb 28, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    First of all, I wanna say, Mr. Rogers is a hero to all and a top notch role model. smallerdemon, you were amazing with your post! I just wanted to remind everyone, even though Fred Rogers is dead, and I hope to see him one day when I die, nothing of good dies, when a good man like that dies. And as long as his shows on syndication, he’s still touching hearts the world over! Thanks Mr. Rogers!!!! and the magic kingdom!

  • 58 Carpeteria on Feb 28, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    As cool as Mr. Rogers was, he never played music with members of the Flaming Lips…

    http://www.steveswebpage.com/

    (as opposed to Steve Burns, that is)

  • 59 Justin on Mar 1, 2009 at 2:00 am

    Mr. Rogers was incredible. The day he died I was working and saw a little on the news – I was heartbroken. I knew the show had stopped production years earlier, but still knowing that the man was alive made it seem like he would always come back and do another show. Of course, EVERYONE I’ve heard who has talked to him has said the same thing as Bill — he didn’t talk down to you as an adult, but it was the demeanor and voice that locked you in. In many ways, he was selfless and if the Presbyterians have saints in their theology they need to add him to the list.

    Slightly off-topic, but if you’re still looking for good PBS kids shows, check out WordGirl. It’s by no means Mr. Rogers (actually closer to Rocky and Bullwinkle meets classic Electric Company), but it’s absolutely hilarious and like Mr. Rogers will not talk down to kids. Adults should be hooked, especially since the humor is sharp and not derived from pop-culture references.

  • 60 Courtney on Mar 2, 2009 at 8:51 am

    My mother once told me that, as a toddler, I chastised her for making fun of Mr. Rogers.

    I probably watched Mr. Rogers through Middle School, as I had two younger sisters who always had Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street on. I always looked forward to the Operas, and I think I can still sing most of the songs from the Bubbleland one.

  • 61 Kyrie on Mar 3, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    I always wondered where he was coming from, wearing that suit like he did. May I share your theory?

    I don’t remember being sad at all over Mr. Rogers’ death, but I was young and stupid in 2003. Having since come to my senses, I will be wearing my favorite sweater on March 20 in honor of one of the greatest of us all.

    (PS Did anybody know he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian award – in 2002?)

  • 62 Holly Yarbrough on Mar 19, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    I missed Fred’s music too….and I wanted to keep listening to it as an adult. So I made a tribute album….called Mister Rogers Swings! It’s an adult, vintage jazz take on Fred Rogers tunes. I wanted to keep his songs alive and uncover the true jazz artistry of his songwriting. You can listen at http://www.hollyyarbrough.com. If anyone wants to blog about it, send me an e-mail and I’ll send you a copy. Enjoy!

  • 63 Suzie on Mar 20, 2010 at 7:45 am

    Awesome post!
    Mr. Rogers has left his mark on the world, and the world is better for it.
    He was a kind man with a generous heart and enjoyed his Calling to the fullest.
    I didn’t think I’d feel this way, but I felt the slightest twinge of sadness when I realized my kids weren’t into the show.

  • 64 Daryl on Mar 20, 2010 at 9:54 am

    One of my last memories with my grandfather was sitting with him in the hospital in my 20’s watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood just like we had when I was a kid. As crassly commercial as they are in a way, I love the little pocket books that they sell at Hallmark stores with quotes of his. I’ve given away many to friends and acquaintances. Miss you, Fred; and thank you for the great blog, Bill.

  • 65 Meltha on Apr 30, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    Just followed the link from your Twitter feed. I could not possibly agree more. Mr. Rogers was, and remains, possibly the best example of a decent human being I have ever seen. Very, very rarely, the human race gets it right. Mr. Rogers is an example.

  • 66 AEROKEADJURSE on Jul 30, 2010 at 4:30 am

    визитки образцы

  • 67 parastang on Dec 25, 2010 at 7:15 am

    Wow, I got hit with a serious sense of loss and sadness on reading this blog and everyone’s responses to it. This has brought out a true feeling of melancholy in me. While I do remember feeling a sense of sadness on hearing of his death in 03, I truly didn’t grasp this man’s greatness until I had kids of my own. I have a tear in my eye as I type this.. The shining light that is the human race dimmed a little at this man’s passing. Rest in peace, Mr. Rogers.