To prep for the highly-anticipated documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, opening in select theaters next Friday, June 8th, I decided to watch an episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”. To be honest, this PBS program wasn’t one of my childhood TV staples, but over the past two decades, Fred Rogers has been a major cultural influence on the world of entertainment and society.
I recorded a 1990 episode that my local PBS station recently ran on a Saturday morning at 6am. I watched it a few days ago and was quite stirred and moved by the half hour.
The title: “Mister Rogers Talks About the Environment.” The episode opened with Rogers opening the door and walking into his house to greet everyone with the “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” song. He put on a red sweater and then began discussing how certain things shouldn’t be thrown away because of their potential value.
Rogers took a block of wood that was going to be thrown away and decided to take out all the tiny compartments to show what it’s made of. While doing this, soothing piano music is playing in the background. “Now the trick is… how to get that puzzle back together. It’s really difficult to put together, but it is beautiful.” He stressed an idea of all the things that people can do.
Then, we flashed back to a memory – a scene from an episode years earlier, clearly when Rogers was much younger, in which he interacted with one of his neighbors, who showed him how she made a pillow and a rug out of other items and materials. “A lot of thought goes into that work,” Rogers said.
This was followed by a line from Rogers that is destined to be included in his new documentary, from Oscar-winning “20 Feet from Stardom” director Morgan Neville: “Memories are things that you can use over and over again. It’s good to have memories that don’t wear out – no matter how much you think about them.” Mind. Blown.
Rogers was so soft spoken. It’ll be interesting to see how soft Tom Hanks’ voice can get when he plays the icon in “You Are My Friend”, set for release in October 2019. Rogers sang the “You Are My Friend/You Are So Special” song towards the end of this episode.
More ideologies from Rogers, always looking directly into the camera:
- “People can do so much with their imaginations.”
- “We lead free lives every day.”
- “It’s a good feeling that you don’t have to solve everything by yourself. You can always ask for help.”
And as he closed the episode, getting ready to leave, Rogers finished with a song about the joys of being alive and experiencing “a snappy new day.” “A feeling you know that I’ll be back when the day is new – and I’ll have more ideas for you.” When it comes to things to talk about, Rogers finished with: “You can always talk about them with the people you love – and the people you know love you. I like being with you.”
And for that half hour, even though it was taped 28 years ago, I felt this kind of unique connection to Rogers. His presence had a kind of delicacy that’s rare to find from TV personalities these days. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” has been one of my most anticipated movies of the year – with many who have already seen it saying it’s impossible not to tear up. So… I guess my episode viewing affirms the idea that I should probably stock up on some Kleenex.