It was always a beautiful day in Mister Rogers Neighborhood for the crew of the classic PBS kids show to play pranks on its host. "One day, he was changing out of his loafers into sneakers, and he wore a size 10, but the crew gave him a size 8," David Newell, who played Mr. McFeely on the series, exclusively told Closer Weekly in a new interview. "He was trying to get his foot into the sneakers, and the crew started laughing, then Fred Rogers just broke up laughing." Fred was a perfect fit as the host of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, and the show's 50th anniversary is being celebrated with a pair of new documentaries, including Mister Rogers: It's You I Like, airing on PBS in March.
"He was pretty much the coolest guy on the planet," says Nicholas Ma, who appeared with his dad, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, on the show when he was a kid and produced the doc Won't You Be My Neighbor?, which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Off-screen, Fred was a devoted family man; he was wed to his college sweetheart, Joanne Rogers, for 50 years until his death at 74 in 2003 and was the proud father of two sons.
Fred's wife, Joanne, and former co-star David.
"They were perfect together," says David of Fred and Joanne. "They were both musicians, and they had twin pianos in their living room, which they would play together." Many of Fred's famous fans sing his praises to this day, including Michael Keaton, who worked on the crew of Mister Rogers Neighborhood in Pittsburgh before Fred put him on camera. "One day, Michael and the crew did a skit and wanted Fred to see it," says David. "Fred came into the office laughing and said, 'That boy is going to be a star,' and Michael proved him right."
"Fred's passion for quality kids' TV inspired generations," says David. "He went into TV because in the '50s he saw a lot of people throwing pies in each other's faces and said, 'We can do better,'" David adds. "He was the real thing."
For more on your favorite stars, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!