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Generations of children grew up watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the brainchild of Fred Rogers that aired for 31 seasons. As a musician and ordained Presbyterian minister, he was a role model for imagination, kindness and compassion. Through his show, he brought children to his Neighborhood of Make-Believe, and taught them about life with songs, puppets and earnest conversations about difficult topics.
Rogers passed away at the age of 74 in 2003, but his legacy lives on. His life will be the subject of a documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, which is set to premiere on June 8. The beloved childhood icon will also be portrayed by Tom Hanks in the upcoming biopic, “You Are My Friend.”
Plenty of people probably felt like Rogers was their real-life neighbor as they got to know him through his long-running show. But even the biggest fans may be surprised to learn a new thing or two about the TV star!
Here are 15 facts about Fred Rogers you probably never knew.
1. He talked out loud about feeding his fish for a blind fan.
On his show, Mr. Rogers always announced aloud that it was time to feed his fish. He started making the announcement when a visually impaired girl wrote to him that she was worried about whether his fish were eating because she couldn’t see him doing so. How sweet!
2. He’s featured on a stamp.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the premiere of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the late star got a stamp dedicated to him in 2018. He appears on the stamp alongside King Friday XIII, ruler of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
3. His mother knit his sweaters.
The only thing more iconic than Rogers himself are the cardigans with zippers that he always wore on his show. Rogers once revealed that his mother was the one who knit the colorful sweaters. He said that knitting was one of the ways his mother showed her love.
4. He composed the music on his show.
Rogers wrote more than 289 songs over the course of the show’s run. He was often backed by the show’s musical director, Johnny Costa, a pianist from Pittsburgh. (You can still find Rogers’ music on vinyl via Amazon.com!)
5. He was a vegetarian.
Saying he didn’t want to “eat anything that has a mother,” Rogers abstained from eating meat and fish. He also refused to portray people eating animals on his show, even during an episode that took place in a restaurant. Rogers was reportedly influenced by the book “Diet For A Small Planet,” by Frances Moore Lappé, which was published in 1971.
6. He testified in a Supreme Court case.
Rogers supported the use of the VCR to record television shows, allowing his fans to watch his program when it was convenient for them. However, the VCR was initially controversial, as content creators worried about copyright infringement.
In 1983, Rogers testified as part of the landmark case on the issue, Universal Studios v. Sony Corporation of America. “I have always felt that with the advent of all of this new technology that allows people to tape the ‘Neighborhood’ off-the-air … they then become much more active in the programming of their family’s television life,” Rogers told the Court. “I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important.”
7. There are nearly 900 episodes of his show.
A total of 895 episodes of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” were filmed between 1968 and 2000. If you want to introduce your kids to the classic show, Seasons 1 through 7 are available to stream through Amazon Prime.
8. He never threw away a letter sent from a child fan.
Rogers received countless letters from his legions of young fans over the years, and he never threw them away. He also made an effort to respond to each one personally. In 1996, a book of fans’ letters and Rogers’ replies, called “Dear Mr. Rogers, Does It Ever Rain in Your Neighborhood?”, was published.
9. He had a wife and two sons.
10. He named characters in his show after people he knew in real life.
Fred McFeely, the mailman on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” was named after Rogers’ grandfather.
11. Micheal Keaton once worked on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
Before he was a star in his own right, Michael Keaton worked as a crew member on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” He started working for WQED in Pittsburgh, where Rogers filled his show. While talking about his first job on “Live! With Kelly and Michael,” Keaton called the TV host “one of the nicest, authentically good people you’ve ever met. … A kind of sneaky, sly sense of humor.”
12. He was bullied as a child.
Rogers believed in making all children feel special, which was likely informed by his own experience of being bullied and teased for his weight as a child.
13. He pursued a career in television because of his dissatisfaction with the medium.
Rogers originally began his career as a piano player and composer, which led him to working in children’s television. However, he was disappointed with the quality and believed that he could do better.
“When I first saw children’s television, I thought it was perfectly horrible,” Rogers once told Pittsburgh Magazine. “And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen.”
14. He was colorblind.
Because he could not tell the difference between red and green, Rogers once asked a friend to tell him if he was about to eat tomato or pea soup.
15. He has an asteroid named after him.
Scientists dubbed an asteroid 26858 Misterrogers in his honor.