There is something of a renaissance happening when it comes to the late Fred Rogers — better known as Mister Rogers on the PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood — with the recent documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor and, now, a biopic with Tom Hanks starring as the children’s show host. Given Tom’s personality and the newly released images of him in character below, the casting seems perfect.
The show, which was aimed at preschoolers ages 2 to 5, had its start on October 15, 1962, on CBC Television in Canada, before shifting to the United States in 1968 and running until 2001. Fred, who passed away two years later, is described by Wikipedia as follows: “Fred McFeely Rogers was an American personality, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer and Presbyterian minister. He was known as the creator, composer, producer, head writer, showrunner and host of the preschool television series Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. The show featured Rogers’ kind, neighborly, avuncular persona which nurtured his connection to the audience.”
There is, admittedly, a tendency among many to perhaps roll their eyes when they hear the name of the show or Fred gently singing, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”, but under closer examination, you come to realize how important a role he played in the lives of so many children, and the power of the gentle lessons that he attempted to instill. That element certainly plays a role in the biopic.
The film, being released later this year, is based on the true story of the friendship between Fred and journalist Tom Junod (played by Matthew Rhys). The irony of that friendship stems from the fact that Junod was a pretty cynical magazine writer who was assigned a profile of Fred for Esquire magazine and went into it reluctantly. In the end, though, he was reportedly so impacted by Fred’s empathy and kindness that it actually caused him to take a new look at life.
After Fred’s passing, Junod wrote a eulogy for TheDQTimes.com, writing in part, “I wrote about Fred for Esquire in 1998. People were always amazed when I said that Fred and I had stayed in touch after my story — that we spoke on the phone a couple of times a year and that Fred had written me well over 100 emails — but once you entered into Fred’s life, well, there was no doubt that he would enter into yours. He was not only the kindest man I’d ever met, but also one of the most fiercely disciplined, to the degree that he saw nothing but the good in other human beings. When he saw the good in me, he fixed on it, and there was never a moment in which he didn’t try to make me live up to it, by word, or by example, or, most often, by prayer.”
The newest Mister Rogers film, titled A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, will be released on October 19, 2019.