Fred Rogers Biography

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Birth Name: Fred Rogers
Born: 03/20/1928
Birth Place: Latrobe, Pennsylvania, USA
Death Place: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Died: 02/27/2003

Born Frederick McFeely Rogers on March 20, 1928, in Latrobe, PA, Rogers spent the majority of his youth as the only child of James and Nancy Rogers. He credited the many years he spent alone for shaping his creativity and imagination. In childhood, Rogers spent much of his free time with his maternal grandfather, Fred McFeely, who gave his beloved grandson a lifelong interest in music and puppetry.

After high school, Rogers studied briefly at Dartmouth College before transferring in 1948 to Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. There, he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in music composition. Rogers would also meet his future wife, Sara Joanne Byrd, there. The two married a year after Rogers graduated in 1951. After college, Rogers had originally intended to enter the seminary, but fate had different plans for Rogers altogether.

Discovering the new invention of television for the first time while visiting his parents in the early 1950's, Rogers had a life-changing experience. Enthralled by the possibilities of this new medium, he changed his mind and decided to explore broadcasting as a career. In 1954, Rogers landed his first job at the Pittsburgh public television station, WQED. Originally hired as a puppeteer for a local kiddie program called "The Children's Corner," (1955-1961), Rogers quickly became the driving creative force of the show. Working largely in a live, unscripted format, Rogers developed characters and wrote music for "The Children's Hour" for nearly eight years. During his tenure there, he created a number of memorable puppet characters who would later re-surface in "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," including King Friday the XIII, Daniel the Striped Tiger, X the Owl, and Lady Elaine Fairchild to name a few.

Moving to Toronto in 1962, Rogers was hired by the Canadian Broadcasting Company to develop his own 15-minute children's program for television. The result was "Mister Rogers" (CBC, 1963-66), a precursor to his landmark series, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." In addition to pioneering the format that he would later use in "Neighborhood," the show allowed the puppeteer to appear before the cameras as himself. As it turned out, it was a role he was extremely well suited for.

In the mid 1960's, Rogers bought the rights for his CBC program and returned to Pittsburgh's WQED, where he had begun his career. There, Rogers developed a new show that incorporated elements of both "The Children's Corner" and "Mister Rogers." Produced originally for the Eastern Educational Network, this early version of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" aired on only a handful of stations, initially. The show proved such a hit, however, that in 1968, the show moved to the Public Broadcasting System, where it could be distributed nationwide.

A visually colorful, calmly-paced show, "Neighborhood" lacked the frenetic animation and fast cuts of such contemporaries as "Sesame Street" (PBS, 1969- ) and "The Electric Company" (PBS, 1971-77) , but therein was much of its charm. Themes were kept simple and lessons were delivered via small skits and songs that Rogers wrote himself. One of the featured highlights of every "Neighborhood" episode was a visit to the "Neighborhood of Make-Believe," a large puppetry set which housed a chiming trolley, a castle, and a cast of colorful citizens including old favorites, King Friday the XIII, Lady Elaine Fairchild, X the Owl and more. As a matter of course, the subjects discussed in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe usually reflected the theme or lesson of the day.

The popularity of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" garnered its creator international fame and celebrity, but also made him ripe for parody. His ever-polite persona, to say nothing of the omnipresent cardigan sweaters, were both cruelly played for laughs by a number of comics over the years - most famously, Eddie Murphy on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) with his urban-dwelling Mr. Robinson send-up. Though some of these routines were rather tasteless, Rogers, himself, remained above the fray and never commented on any of them.

In 2001, after more than two decades on the air, production on "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" ended. In addition to earning countless awards and honors in its lifetime, the show, along with its creator, was inducted into Television Hall of Fame. Rogers died in 2003 at the age of 74 after a difficult battle with stomach cancer, leading numerous TV luminaries to lament his premature passing. His legacy, however, continued to live on in syndication, as well as in the fond memories of fans who had grown up wanting a neighbor just like him.