HOME   |   ABOUT   |   FORUM  |   BLOG   |   F.A.Q.'s   |   PODCAST   |   STORE   |   DONATE

Fred Rogers, TV's Man of Many Friends

PUBLICATION: St. Louis Post-Dispatch / Television
AUTHOR: John J. Archibald
DATE: May 28, 1978


Fred Rogers is talking to grownups now, but he says his message is much the same as it was when he was conversing with pre-schoolers for eight years on "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood."

"It is obvious from the response to our new programs that people want to learn the simple truths about other human beings, to learn how we've become what we are," said Rogers. "It was this same curiosity in children that I dealt with in the earlier years, but explanations had to be a little more basic, of course."

Rogers stopped filming his "Neighborhood" shows for the Public Broadcasting Service in 1975 after he felt he had exhausted the number of topics, at least for the moment. The collection was trimmed to 455 segments which are still being shown on Channel 9 and other educational stations.

After a couple of years of travel and relaxation, Rogers and producer Arthur Barron put together a 7-part series titled "Old Friends...New Friends," which appears on Channel 9 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays. The series will be repeated, starting in June.

Songwriter Hoagie Carmichael and his son, Hoagie B. were Rogers' initial guests.

"We talked about what it is like to be the child of a famous, career-oreinted father," Rogers said. "But we all have problems, whether or not our parents were famous. We would be unhuman if we didn't.

"Hoagie B. is one of the world's best fly rod makers and on the program he showed me how to cast."

Other Rogers guests have included comedian Milton Berle, Lesley Frost Ballantine, the daughter of poet Robert Frost, blues singer John Jackson, Helen Hayes, William Sloan Coffin, Jr., pastor Riverside Church, barber Nick Failla, and Father William Wasson, the priest from the United States who over the past 25 years has adopted 4,000 orphaned children in Mexico.

"Along with my talk with Milton Berle I taped a conversation with a new comedian, Joe Restivo, and the audience could see both ends of the spectrum," said Rogers, "and they were not totally different. Milton, despite all his success, still is afraid that some night he will not be funny. Restivo is at a stage in his career where he dares not be funny."

In a typically relaxed atmosphere in which Rogers persuades his subjects that it is safe to lower their defenses, Berle discusses the powerful effect that his mother had on his career.

"There was a constant pressure to please his mother," Rogers said. "When he was the most popular entertainer in America in the infant days of television, he revealed that he was driven by his mother, who lived vicariously through her son's successes."

The parents of William Wasson had always spent much of their time helping the minority groups in Phoenix when William was growing up and Rogers wonders what effect this background had on William after he became a priest.

"Lesley Frost Ballantine, a poet and author herself, showed us The Mending Wall that inspired one of her father's best-known poems," Rogers said. "Mrs. Ballantine, now in her 70s, remembered that it was a strict rule in the Frost family that all the children were expected to read by the time they were four years old."

St. Louis area viewers may be interested to know that Arthur Barron, the producer-director of Rogers' new series, was the producer of "Sixteen in Webster Groves" and "Webster Groves Revisited," a controversial pair of CBS documentaries about the St. Louis suburb a decade ago that still are being used in some college sociology courses.

And what about "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood"? Are youngsters still interested in the programs in which Fred leads them through a range of experiences such as visits to the dentist, inoculations by the doctor and sadness over the death of a pet?

"We get more mail than ever," Fred said. "There are new children every year, of course, so after they've seen the 460 episodes a time or two, it is time for them to move on to new experiences."


This site is best viewed using the most current version of Google Chrome.
Content copyright © The Fred Rogers Company. Used with permission.
Corner image by Spencer Fruhling. Used with permission.
Do not duplicate or distribute any material from this site without the consent of The Fred Rogers Company.