9 fascinating facts about Mister Rogers
Mr. Rogers welcomed everyone to his neighborhood, from Michael Keaton to Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
Image: The Everett Collection
Mister Rogers was one of those rare TV personalities who saw the medium as his instrument for positive change. The man who became the world's friendliest neighbor, Fred Rogers saw the television as an underused educational tool, and he built a legacy that proved the TV could be just that.
Fifty years after Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered in 1968, we're all still ready to make-believe with one of TV's greatest hosts. Here, we go back through the neighborhood to remember all the colorful details that kept us so captivated by Mr. Rogers, his puppets and all those cardigans.
1. Despite common myth, Mister Rogers actually shook Mr. McFeeley's hand more than once.
Fans of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood often note the only time Mister Rogers shakes hands with Mr. McFeeley is in the series finale. But anyone who caught the one and only holiday special from Mister Rogers - Christmas Time with Mr. Rogers - knows it happened more than just that one time. The pair shake hands in the holiday special too. Read more about the only Mister Rogers Christmas special here.
2. Fred Rogers' mom handknit most of his sweaters.
Everybody knows Mister Rogers' trademark look: sneakers and a cardigan. The sneakers he started wearing because they made less noise on set. But his impressive collection of cardigans is mostly all thanks to his mom. She reportedly handknit his sweaters, and now his most famous sweater sits in the Smithsonian Institution, considered a "Treasure of American History." Few other moms can claim such an honor.
3. He appeared outside of character only once on TV.
We saw Mr. Rogers appear outside of his show on other programs like Sesame Street and heard his voice on hit educational animated shows like Arthur, but only once did the TV personality break character on TV. On Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Fred Rogers appears as a reverend in the episode "Deal with the Devil." It's the only other character Rogers ever played.
4. The Wicked Witch appeared on his show to help calm kids' fears.
Mr. Rogers knew kids were affected by what they saw onscreen, so in 1975, he invited Wizard of Oz actress Margaret Hamilton on his show. The purpose was to help kids ovecome their fears, but despite his best efforts, many kids remained afraid of the Wicked Witch.
5. Michael Keaton was a stagehand on 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood'
Golden Globe-winning actor Michael Keaton has played iconic roles from Batman to Birdman, but his career got started in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. As a stagehand and volunteer, Keaton even appeared twice as a black and white panda. That's why in 2004 after Rogers' passing, Keaton was called upon to host PBS' TV special Fred Rogers: America's Favorite Neighbor.
6. They named an asteroid after Mr. Rogers.
The year before PBS aired their special, in 2003, scientists named an asteroid after Fred Rogers, expanding his neighborhood into outerspace. The asteroid 26858 Misterrogers is only one way kids can connect with Mr. Rogers by looking to the stars, though. There was also a planetarium show developed by Rogers' Family Communications and designed for preschoolers, called "The Sky Above Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" that keeps the gentle giant's legacy going, and beyond.
7. Mr. Rogers wrote books!
Although Rogers was fascinated by TV, it wasn't the only medium he used to communicate with parents and kids. He also wrote books that spanned developmental stages, from Going to the Potty to Making Friends, to this one pictured here that tackles a difficult subject for any pet-loving parent: When a Pet Dies.
8. In the '90s, Mr. Rogers celebrated real neighborhood heroes.
We know by now that Rogers was gifted in reaching children, but he set his sights on educating everybody with his 1994 PBS special, Fred Rogers' Heroes. In his special, he introduced audiences to people who were impacting communities in the real world, and to signal this important audience shift, Rogers set aside the cardigan and sneakers, instead donning a suit.
9. Mr. Rogers wrote his own songs and put out records.
Starting in the '60s, kids could enjoy the sounds of Mr. Rogers' soothing voice on records like Won't You Be My Neighbor?, Let's Be Together Today, Josephine, the Short-Necked Giraffe and more. This continued into the '90s with releases like Bedtime and Growing. Rogers actually studied music during his bachelor's degree, and so many of the songs you heard on the show were penned by the host himself. He also wrote every single episode.