Talking About America’s Favorite Neighbor: Mister Fred Rogers

Mister Rogers
A magazine article about the iconic Fred Rogers is the inspiration for the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” starring Tom Hanks. CREDIT GENE J. PUSKAR / ASSOCIATED PRESS

From 1968 to 2001, Fred Rogers shared his encouragement and curiosity with generations of Americans on the long-running PBS program “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

His message was that every being is deserving of compassion and kindness.

In 1998, Esquire magazine was publishing a series of short profiles on American heroes.

The assignment to write about Rogers went to hard-hitting journalist Tom Junod. His assignment to write a 400-word profile became the November ’98 cover story, which chronicled his burgeoning friendship with Fred Rogers. That story is the inspiration for the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” with Tom Hanks in the role of the iconic Rogers.

Junod stopped by WABE last week to speak about that life-changing assignment with “City Lights.”

“Everything that he did was with purpose. He was a casual guy in the way that he was sort of relaxed, but it was all thought out, and it was done with purpose. So many people are inspired by him, but also reassured by him,” Junod said. “The very fact of Fred’s existence means that humanity has a chance to be kind. I think he was challenging people to be kind and not just trying to reassure them. I think he meant kindness would be the product of a kind of discipline and practice.”

This story was originally published with audio on WABE.org.

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