Thursday, March 20, 2008


A couple of quick links to celebrate a couple of important birthdays.

First, my Cousin David is coming up on the one year anniversary of starting his blog. It actually happens this Saturday. Won't you drop by over there and say "Happy Anniversary!" or "Happy Birthday!" or something like that? The story he tells of how he came to start blogging is a good one. It's doubly so because it has a lot about ME in it! Go to SullsBlog.

Now, the second birthday I have to talk about should have been mentioned yesterday. That's because there was something for you to do today to celebrate it, and now it's probably too late. Unless you knew about it before reading this, you probably won't be doing it. That's a shame, because it's a cool little thing.

Today would have been the 80th birthday of Fred "Mister" Rogers. In celebration, many people are wearing sweaters today. You can read all about that HERE.

(I am thankful to the ever-delightful Tara for reminding me about it. By the way, she's looking for a job, and she's one of the best people I've ever had the pleasure of working with. If you're in Massachusetts, and you need an office manager/secretary/wiseass, you couldn't do better. Seriously, if you've got an opening, e-mail me at and I'll relay the pertinent information.)

And now, in honor of Won't You Wear A Sweater Day, here's something I wrote a while back concerning Fred Rogers. I hope you enjoy it.


I think Fred Rogers was a living, walking saint among us.

When you watched Fred Rogers, there was absolutely no pretense. What you saw was the real man. That same gentleness and childlike quality displayed on the screen was present always. He was not an actor. You may be surprised to find out what he actually was.

Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. His special charge, given upon his ordination, was to minister to children through the media. He did so – and continues to do so, even after death - with amazing grace. He has been a part of TV, in one way or another, for well over 50 years now.

He had planned to become a minister while still a very young man. He was attending Rollins College, in Florida, earning a degree in music composition. The plan was that he would enter the seminary after graduation. However, on a visit to home – Pittsburgh – he saw television for the first time. What he saw appalled him. It was a children’s show and there were people hitting each other in the face with pies.

If there was one thing that made Fred Rogers truly mad, it was when one person demeaned another person. This feeling stemmed from his childhood. He had been a fat kid and teased a lot because of it. He developed a strong sense of advocacy for the underdog. What he now saw on this new medium was despicable to him. Fred thought that hitting someone in the face with a pie was about as demeaning as it gets. He thought it was a horrible lesson to be teaching children. And, at that moment, he changed his plans. He decided to go into television.

Since television was in its infancy, it wasn’t as hard to get into as one might think it would be for a man with no previous experience. Using his musical degree as a way to open doors, Fred landed a job with NBC in New York, becoming stage manager for The Kate Smith Show and other musical programs.

After gaining valuable insight into how television worked, he went to WQED, a fledgling public television station back in his hometown of Pittsburgh. This was his first opportunity to actually do something for children. He, along with a woman named Josie Carey, created a show called The Children’s Corner. Josie Carey was the host, while Fred was never seen on camera. He stayed behind the scenes, manipulating and providing voices for puppets, writing songs, etc.

(Meanwhile, during his lunch hours, he worked towards his degree in divinity. It would be some seven years of lunch hours later before he finally became an ordained minister. During this time, he also married his wife, Joanne, whom he had met while at Rollins.)

After his ordination, he received a call from the Canadian Broadcasting Company. They wanted Fred to develop a children’s show for them. He assumed that he would once again operate out of sight, as writer and puppeteer, but the head of the CBC had seen Fred interact with children and what he saw was a man with a gift. He knew that if Fred could get that quality to come through on camera, it would be something special. And thus was born a show known as MisteRogers.

He was “Mister” because, despite changing from suit coat to sweater and dress shoes to sneakers on every show, he remained an authority figure, albeit an extremely friendly one. He would be akin to an uncle or perhaps a very nice neighbor (or, as he aged, a kindly and gentle grandfather, which he himself had become in real life by the time he stopped production of the show on PBS almost forty years later.)

The Canadian show was relatively short-lived, but Fred took the concept back across the border and started Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. It was, and remains, the most relaxed children’s show on television; thirty minutes of peaceful talk, thoughtful songs, whimsical visits to a very well-delineated “Neighborhood Of Make Believe”, and pacing that encourages children to express their emotions freely, but in ways that will not hurt others.

I said at the beginning of this piece that I believed Fred Rogers to have been a saint walking among us. I came to this conclusion through both personal interaction and then further reading concerning his life.

I wrote a letter to him, back in the early 90’s, asking him a few technical questions concerning the show. As you may know, I’m involved in what might be loosely termed “show business,” although in an extremely tangential way. In any case, I was interested in how certain aspects of his show were created and performed. I expected a short reply, if any at all, knowing that I was asking for an expenditure of his personal time.

Instead, Fred Rogers replied with a multi-page handwritten letter, explaining in great detail the answers to my questions. In addition, he included 15 or 20 pages of printout material concerning the show, as well as an autographed photo personally inscribed to both MY WIFE and me.

(I had told him that we both watched the show, even though we had no children. This was the truth. MY WIFE and I find the show to be extremely relaxing, the video equivalent of a martini after work.)

To say that I was impressed by his response would be understating the matter. I had written similar letters to a few different performers whose work I admired. Some remain unanswered to this day. Those that did answer did so by dashing off a couple of quick lines. Fred Rogers was the only one who sent me a handwritten in-depth reply and it was obvious that he had given my questions quite a bit of his time and effort.

From that point, Rogers could do no wrong as far as I was concerned. And from everything I’ve ever seen or read concerning him, Fred Rogers did no wrong, period.

Last week, I had the great pleasure of reading a wonderful book about Fred’s life. It was written by Amy Hollingsworth and is called The Simple Faith Of Mister Rogers. It details her relationship with Fred Rogers, which blossomed following her having done an interview of him for television, and the ways in which he infused his shows with his strongly-held religious beliefs. I had little doubt Fred was a good man BEFORE I read this book. AFTER reading it, I am of the opinion that there have been few who walked this earth with a more profound spirituality.

Reading this book has re-energized my own sense concerning what a Christian should do. Since finishing it, I have tried to keep Fred’s example of patience and forbearance in mind, while attempting to see that of Christ which is alive in others. I’m no saint, by any means, nor do I think I ever will be, but I hope I’m able to hold on to some of the lessons that Mister Rogers has taught me, even at this advanced age for childhood.

(Don’t worry – I’ll still be obscene, free with my opinions and otherwise the asshole I’ve always been here. I don’t think any of that is necessarily at odds with being a Christian. Anyway, one of the most important lessons Fred teaches is to be your honest self and that people can like you just the way you are.)

(One thing I think I should clear up is the seeming dichotomy between my liking Fred Rogers and also liking, say, The Three Stooges. He found people being hit with pies demeaning. I find it funny. To each his own.

OK, that’s a bit too flippant. I look at it this way: He was seeing people hitting each other with pies as being a bad object lesson for children. Maybe so. I think it depends upon the child in question. I love slapstick comedy. I also love violent cartoons, i.e., Tom & Jerry. I never considered hitting someone on the head with a frying pan as a way to truly solve problems, nor do I have an urge to run a ripsaw across anyone’s noggin. I was able to determine what was reality, and what was humor, at an early age. This was largely because I had parents who made sure I knew the difference. If a kid has less insight and non-caring parents, maybe it would be a different story; I’ll concede that point.)

Fred was a generous man, giving of himself in so many ways. In an attempt to emulate his niceness, I’m going to make you an offer. If you’d like to read the book, and you can’t find a copy available through your public library system, I’ll buy you a copy of it. That’s how much I admire this man and how much I enjoyed this book.

I expect you to make an honest effort to find the book at your library. If you don’t find it available, drop me a line at Include your mailing address. I’ll send you a copy of the book. I ask only that you pass it on to someone else (or donate it to your library) when you’re done, OK?

(I think I should mention that the book is valuable as either biography or religious tract [or both, as for me] so if you aren't a Christian, you'll still enjoy it.)


Speaking of Christians, tomorrow is Good Friday. I'll be re-printing something I wrote last year about that tomorrow. You could pray for me to get my ass in gear and post something new, instead, but some things are seemingly even beyond God.

Soon, with more better stuff.


John-Michael said...

My greatly admired and cherished Friend, Jim ... I dropped in today to let you know that my desire to introduce you to others has motivated me to link you on my blog as "Quality Entertainment @ SulDog's".

But, true to form, you have stilled me with something that you and I have a kinship in ... what I just discovered is our shared regard for Fred Rogers. So, I'm gonna tell you my "Mister Rogers story."

I was shaving one morning, in preparation for the commencement of the day's 'stuff', and heard Matt (my son who has cerebral palsy) talking with someone. Now, Jim, you should understand that I had run the gauntlet of specialists, therapists, teachers, and doctors in an attempt to discover a way to open Matt to expression of himself so that I could 'plug in' to him 'where he was' in mental ability and cognitive awareness. No luck!

So, on this occasion, i was intrigued as to what or who was evoking such deliberate and direct conversation from Matt.(inasmuch as it was just him and me at home) So, around the corner I peeked. And there Matt sat ... inches away from the TV ... listening to Mister Rogers' questions (in that slow, patient, deliberate, gentle way of his) ... and having been given the time to process each question ... and being looked directly at with eyes that bespoke respect and interest in just him out of all of the whole wide world ... Matt responded.

From that moment on, I was the only person in Matt's world with whom he was comfortable communicating on an intimate, vulnerable and sensitive level.

I have loved Fred Rogers since (and am adding his image to my blog's "Gallery of Significants."

Thank you, Jim, for awakening me to recollections of one of life's truly great men.

Balcony Gal said...

I second that about Tara. If I had a job for her then I'd have her in a heartbeat.

John-Michael, what a fantastic story!! I'm glad I got to read that today, too.

Suldog said...

John-Michael - You honor me by providing a link over at your place. Thank you! And thank you, most sincerely, for the Mister Rogers story. It was wonderful.

Balcony Gal - You're a good soul, too. Go Celtics!

Chip said...

Have you seen our video blog/comic strip?



CrazyCath said...

Suldog my friend (if I may call you friend) -
That is a truly wonderful post and I choose to reply before I read any comments to be sure I write what is in my head and heart without distraction.

I have never heard of Mister Rogers, yet I understand the need for the type of television he produced (we used to have it too) and the need for individuals like him in the world.

It reminded me of the response I got from John-Michael, who I see has commented to my left as I write and I will read in a mo. He too is one of those rare individuals who could, without offence, run off a two line or two word response to acknowledge a visit or agree with a point of view.

But no, John-Michael takes the time to think about his reply, what it will mean to the poster and offer a balanced and calm response. That speaks volumes that some one would take the time to do that for a fellow human being, simply because they are a fellow human being.

You, my friend are the same. I read many of your comments as well as your posts and they are deep and well thought out on many occasions, without losing the humour. I can understand your admiration for Mr. Rogers and the influence on your own responses.

Thank you for posting this, especially at this time, to remind us of what makes this world go round. It is love. Proper, real, Christian (or brotherhood) love.

Thanks for stopping by mine and I'm waving at you from across the little pond!

CrazyCath said...

PS. What's "link love"? How does that get traded?

Sorry, brit language required. :0(

Dave Daniels said...

Wow, I thought I was the only one who wore a zippered cardigan to work today, and thought of ol' Fred. Dorks, we're everywhere.

Suldog said...

Chip - I don't have the slightest idea what this has to do with Mister Rogers or My Cousin. However, I wish you luck!

Suldog said...

Crazy Cath - Thanks for the lovely words. I'm not as wonderful about answering comments as John-Michael is, but I try sporadically.

Trading "Link Love" is just when I list your blog on the sidebar, with a link, and you (if you wish) do the same in return. I hope you didn't think it was anything obscene - or, if you did, you at least found it worth thinking about :-)

Stu said...

Mr. Rogers speaks to Congress on behalf of children. He was a mensch of the highest order.

Suldog said...

Dave Daniels - Dorks? DORKS?!? How dare you! I've never been so insulted in my entire life! Of course, I haven't lived my entire life yet, and there was that time in Singapore with the monkey and the crab salad, but...

Oh, wait a minute. It's an acronym, right? Delightfully Old-fashioned Radical KidS. In that case, thank you!

Suldog said...

Stu - Thanks, Stu. That is one of my favorite video clips of all time. A mensch, indeed.

CrazyCath said...

Suldog - that'd be great and I am honoured. No I didn't think it would be obscene (not from you surely?) but I was a little puzzled and intrigued!

Thought I might've got lucky,....
Ah well. (sigh)

I haven't learnt all the lingo on blog yet. So far I understood this to be 'linking' so if that is what it is, you're linked mate! And I'm indebted to you for the recommendation through your blog. Thanks.

Buck said...

Thanks for this post (re-post?) Jim. Much appreciated. Both of my adult children were a part of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and so was I.

I'll have to pass on your "wear a sweater today" proposition though... being as how it's nearly 80 degrees today and I'm breaking a light sweat clad only in a tee shirt and shorts. Other than that... I'm right here along witcha.

Candelaria said...

I watched Mr. Rogers with my children when they were growing up. He calmed them tremendously unlike the frenetic pace of Sesame Street. I also use an article her wrote about explaining war to children in parenting workshops that I lead.
Thanks for sharing even more insight into this wonderful man.

Lyss said...

I was lucky enough to meet the man himself at a friend's bar mitzvah. David just sent Mister Rogers an invite and he came. He's the only celeb I've ever been nervous to upon meeting.

I bought my mom a copy of The Simple Faith Of Mister Rogers for her birthday a few years ago. She always adored him and his calming tone of voice, and still likes to watch Mister Rogers when she can.

Merelyme said...

love, love, loved mister rogers. he was from my hometown. i grew up with him and then when my kids were tots they watched the many re-runs. he was a very genuine and caring man...and is very missed.

Minnesotablue said...

Thnks for this great post. My kids grew up watching Mr. Rogers. He made them better adults!

Suldog said...

Crazy Cath - You're very welcome, and thank you to you, too. Lovely post about your Dad today.

Suldog said...

Buck - You're excused. I don't think Fred would have wanted you to suffer heat stroke for his sake!

Suldog said...

Candelaria - You're welcome. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

I think we share the same feeling, in that "Sesame Street" (while entertaining) is antithetical to some of Fred Rogers's theories concerning child development.

And you mention his teachings on war. The thing I found most endearing about Mister Rogers is that he rarely outright preached, no matter how strongly he may have believed in something. He usually trusted in the theory that if you teach children to handle their feelings in a responsible and reasonable fashion, they will find the responsible and reasonable answers for themselves. It's a marvelous attitude, and I personally believe it is effective. Of course, it takes dedicated parents to provide that ability to their children, something sometimes sadly lacking in today's world.

Suldog said...

Lyss - How wonderful for you! I would have loved to have had a chance to shake his hand and try to convey to him how much he meant to me and MY WIFE.

Suldog said...

Merelyme - Ah, that's right! You're from Pennsylvania! Interesting folks who came from Latrobe - Arnold Palmer & Fred Rogers. Disparate, certainly, but tops in their field.

(And, of course, you! And Rolling Rock!)

Suldog said...

MinnesotaBlue - My pleasure, of course. I'd love to someday find a breakdown of those who watched Mister Rogers and those who didn't, and see the percentages of those people who did well in life or who did time, etc. I have the feeling that it would prove that he made everyone who ever watched him, for a decent length of time, a better person.