Brief Sound Clip:
You all know that music -- those familiar opening chords for the longest running children's television show currently on PBS, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, which premiered on May 22, 1967. The late Fred McFeely Rogers was born in Pennsylvania in 1928, studied music composition at Rollins College in Florida, and went to New York in the 1950s to learn about that new medium of television. After working on a few shows, like Your Hit Parade, he returned to Pennsylvania where he hoped he could find some way to use TV to speak to young audiences.
He studied child psychology and later became an ordained minister -- no wonder, then, that when Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood appeared, a decade later, it sought, as Joyce Millman put it for Salon Magazine, "to nurture both psyche and soul."
Over the years, Mr. Rogers won numerous awards for his program, which never strayed from its basic premise, as he told CNN's Jeff Greenfield: "the whole idea is to look at the television camera and present as much love as you possibly can to a person who might feel that he or she needs it." This generous spirit created the safe context for him to address those fears and anxieties that are of deep emotional concern to children, and he did this with puppets, songs, and gentle conversation. He spoke with children about basic values long before politicians took over the word for their slogans; he tried to show children how to channel their anger in a ground-breaking series called What Do You Do; and always, he tried to allay their fears -- about the monsters, large and small, imaginary and real, that pop into their lives.
One of my favorite programs involved the appearance on his show of Margaret Hamilton, the great character actress, whom we all know as the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. On the program that day, she removed her witch's hat and makeup, the fright wig and fingernails, and showed the children watching that she was, really, very much like their grandmother or favorite aunt. Quietly, patiently, Mr. Rogers tried to calm things down for children, to comfort and reassure them, and to demystify that which needs to see the light, at the same time honoring the deepest mystery of them all -- the precious mystery of our individual beings.
Copyright 2007© John Cech
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Wednesday, 02-May-2007 18:48:01 EDT