Interesting Facts About Fred Rogers: Everyone’s Favorite “Neighbor

Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness.
Now, thanks to Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a new documentary from Morgan Neville and Focus Features, audiences will get to see the private side of the legendary TV personality.
Growing up, you probably watched Mister Rogers head to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and sing songs with his puppet friends. But what do you really know about the show and its creator, Fred Rogers? We’ve dug up some little-known facts that you might find surprising.
Here are 9 interesting facts you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”
1. One of his sweaters was donated to the Smithsonian. In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
2. Unlike on most children’s shows, Mr. Rogers played himself not just in name, but also in personality and mannerisms, changing nothing about how he acted off camera to how he acted on camera. His reasons for this were that: “One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self. I also believe that kids can spot a phony a mile away.”
3. Contrary to rumors spread about on the Internet, Mr. Rogers was never a sniper in the military nor was the reason he wore sweaters because he had tattoos all over his arms and body, one for each person he killed. These, and other similar rumors, first started on the Internet around 1994 and saw a surge in popularity after his death. Mr. Rogers never served in the military and was a pacifist.
4. Mr. Rogers was a vegetarian. He didn’t smoke or drink or seem to have any major vices. He also stayed married to the same woman until his death; their marriage lasted 47 years. About the only even slightly “scandalous” thing Mr. Rogers seemed to do, which he revealed in an interview, was that he swam laps completely in the buff nearly every morning of his adult life at various clubs that allowed nude swimming at certain times of the day.
5. He wore sneakers as a production consideration. According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.
6. He was an accomplished musician. Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.
7. He responded to all his fan mail. Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.
8. He also saved the VCR. Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.
9. Rogers began playing piano when he was 5. While growing up in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, he spent a lot of time with his grandfather, who had an interest in music. He sang along while his mother played piano and quickly took an interest himself.

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