The vast majority of us millennials have fond, if vague, memories of Mr. Rogers and his cozy neighborhood. I, for one, can just about sing the theme song on command, and if I close my eyes, I can exactly picture the spot where he would take his shoes off every day and hang up his sweater. Even twenty-five years after watching an episode of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, I'm still just as captivated as I was decades ago. And these fascinating facts about Mr. Rogers will make his fans love him even more.
Fred McFeely Rogers was a fixture in most households between 1966 and 2000, when Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood aired almost 1,000 episodes. Mr. Rogers not only starred in the show, but he voiced all of the puppets, composed the music and wrote the scripts. And somewhat unsurprisingly, he "personally answered every piece of fan mail he received," according to The Atlantic. In an age when I can barely manage to respond to all my direct messages on Instagram, that's darn impressive.
Mr. Rogers was a relatively simple personality on television, creating a safe place for children and constantly reminding them that they were lovable and worthy. But he was downright fascinating offscreen, too. From his consistent weight down to the pound, to the maker of his sweaters, he's worth learning about even almost two decades after his death.
1. He Was An Ordained Presbyterian Minister
Though he never preached onscreen, Mr. Rogers was an ordained minister, reported The Atlantic. “After graduating from seminary, the Presbyterian Church didn’t know what to do with Fred,” revealed Amy Hollingsworth, author of The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers. "In 1962 Rogers received the Bachelor of Divinity degree and was ordained by the United Presbyterian Church with the charge to work with children and their families through the mass media," noted the Museum of Broadcast Communications.
2. He Composed 200 Songs For Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood
Most of us remember the theme song to Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, but that's not the only tune he wrote and contributed to the show. Pittsburgh Music History reported, "Fred Rogers composed over two hundred songs, nine children’s operas and released twelve albums of children’s recordings." That's no small body of work for one man who was also hard at work recording over 900 episodes of a television show. The site proclaimed that he was well-recognized for his efforts, "He was a Grammy Award winning song writer, a pianist, a singer, and a four time Emmy winning performer."
3. He Was An Only Child Until He Was 11
It's fairly hard to picture Mr. Rogers as anything other than the somewhat grandfatherly adult in a sweater and sneakers from television. But Rogers was once a child. In fact, he was once an only child, until "his parents, James and Nancy, adopted a baby girl," when he was 11, according to Biography. That baby girl, Elaine, became the inspiration for the puppet Lady Elaine on the show.
4. All His Cardigans Were Made By His Mom
Is that not the sweetest thing? "Until she died, those zippered sweaters that I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother," Rogers told Emmy TV in an interview in 1999.
5. He Couldn't Cut It In The Ivy League
While he spent his freshman year at Dartmouth College in Massachusetts, he soon transferred to Rollins College in Florida to pursue a degree in music composition. However, he did return to Dartmouth in 2002 to give the commencement address, according to The Neighborhood Archive, in which he encouraged the graduating class, "So in all that you do, in all of your life, I wish you the strength and the grace to make those choices which will allow you and your neighbor to become the best of whoever you are."
6. He Was A Vegetarian
Mr. Rogers' friendliness extended to animals as well, but it went far beyond that to his Presbyterian ministerial roots. The Huffington Post explained, "Fred Rogers practiced a spiritual vegetarianism grounded in gratitude to God," and apparently often said, “I don’t want to eat anything that has a mother."
7. He Liked To Weigh 143 Pounds
The Huffington Post reported that Mr. Rogers preferred to weigh 143 pounds because "143 was his favorite number because of its association with “I love you.” As he put this, “It takes one letter to say ‘I’ and four letters to say ‘love’ and three letters to say ‘you.’ One hundred and forty-three.” Now that, is undeniably quirky.
8. He Saved Public Television
In 1969, Mr. Rogers testified before Congress asking for renewed funding for public television programming. In his testimony, he said, "I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health," according to American Rhetoric's transcript of his remarks. TalentSmart.com reported that in just six minutes of speaking, Rogers convinced the Senate committee to give public television $20 million in funding.
9. He Was Colorblind
Good Housekeeping reported that while Rogers' two most memorable sweaters were red and green, he actually couldn't differentiate either color!
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