Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was one of those rare shows that, though made for children, managed to touch all who watched it. Fred Rogers found a way to discuss important topics — like getting along with siblings, dealing with bullies in school, and even divorce — in a way that never felt condescending. Now, more than five decades after the first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood aired, Mister Rogers’ legacy continues to thrive. With plans for Tom Hanks to play the beloved TV icon in an upcoming biopic You Are My Friend, Mister Rogers will finally be on the big screen, all these years later.
Though we all know Mister Rogers as a kind-hearted older man — a grandfather, really — who always has a wise word to say (seriously, Mister Rogers’ quotes will leave you feeling calm, comforted, and ready to take on the world), there’s so much we don’t know about the real Fred Rogers. Maybe you’ve heard those pesky rumors that Mister Rogers was a Navy SEAL? What about Mister Rogers’ wife and children? We answer all your questions — and even some you didn’t know you had — so read on!
Keep scrolling to learn more about everyone’s favorite neighbor.
Mr Rogers A Navy Seal
Was Mister Rogers a Navy SEAL?
Mister Rogers was a beloved TV icon, but was he also a Navy SEAL? Perhaps you've heard the rumors that he was not only a Navy SEAL, but a sniper during the Vietnam War. Apparently, so many people spread these rumors that the Navy has a page on its website debunking the gossip.
Fred Rogers was born in 1928, which means he would have been 37 years old when the United States entered the Vietnam War in 1965 — too old to enlist. (The Navy's cutoff for enlistment is 34 years old.) Mister Rogers also wouldn't have had the time to go to war because right after high school, he entered college; after college, he went straight into a TV career.
Mr Rogers Young
Mister Rogers once testified in front of Congress to lobby for funding for PBS.
In 1969, Mister Rogers spoke before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communication in an effort to sway senators from cutting funding for public television from the budget. "This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique," he told Sen. John O. Pastore. "I end the program by saying, 'You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.' And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health. I think that it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger ― much more dramatic than showing something of gunfire."
Throughout his career, Mister Rogers was a big proponent of public television. "I believe that those of us who are the producers and purveyors of television — or video games or newspapers or any mass media — I believe that we are the servants of this nation. I got into television because I hated it so," he said. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."
Mr Rogers Wife
Mister Rogers was married to his wife for more than five decades.
Mister Rogers and his wife Joanne tied the knot in 1952 and were married until Mister Rogers' death in 2003. The couple met in Florida when Mister Rogers transferred from Dartmouth to Rollins College in Florida. They had two children: James (born in 1959) and John (born in 1961).
Today, Joanne carries on her husband's work. At the Fred Rogers Company, she is the chair emeritus of the board of directors. She also works with The Fred M. Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
"I don’t have the background in early childhood education that Fred had, but I’ve always tried to support the Fred Rogers Company and give guidance where I can," she said in 2016. "I’m surprised by the strength of his legacy and its length, how people still take comfort in his words."
Mr Rogers Stamp
Mister Rogers has his own stamp.
On March 23, 2018, 50 years after the first episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood aired, everyone's favorite neighbor received his very own Forever stamp. The United States Postal Service receives nearly 40,000 submissions for stamp designs every year, so we're glad Mister Rogers Forever stamp was chosen from among the many thousands of options. The stamp features Mister Rogers in one of his iconic red sweaters holding his puppet, King Friday XIII.
Mr Rogers Neighborhood Cast
Mister Rogers only broke character once.
Mister Rogers appeared on several other TV shows, including Sesame Street and Arthur, but he always played himself. The one exception was when he appeared alongside Jane Seymour in Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.
In a 1996 episode titled "Deal with the Devil," Mister Rogers played Reverend Johnson. "I'm not a religious person, but Fred is a holy man, a holy person. He really is," Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman producer Beth Sullivan said. "Truly a Mother Teresa type of person. He does what he does because it comes from very deep inside, and he does it with every fiber of his being."
And this role was not far off Rogers' first career path. In 1963, he graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and became an ordained Presbyterian minister. However, at the time Rogers did not like how TV addressed children, which is why he developed his own show.
Mr Rogers Sweaters
Mister Rogers' mom knit all his iconic sweaters.
It's hard to forget the opening scenes of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Every episode, Mister Rogers' theme song, "It's a Beautiful Day in This Neighborhood," would play as he took off his suit jacket and changed into a comfy cardigan. What makes this scene even sweeter is knowing that all the sweaters were knit by his mom.
Bonus fact: Mister Rogers was red-green colorblind. "He was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup," according to an article published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was." Carey was confused — "Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in? 'If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it,'" he told her.
Mr Rogers Statue
Mr. Rogers has a statue in Pittsburgh.
The Mister Rogers Memorial Statue in Pittsburgh is a large bronze figure that sits in the North Shore area. It was commissioned by Cordelia May, a lifelong friend of Rogers who was also a philanthropist and heiress of the Mellon fortune. The 10-foot statue cost nearly $3 million dollars and weighs about 3.5 tons (roughly 7,000 pounds). It was built on an abandoned pier to honor Mister Rogers' love of swimming. Perhaps the sweetest fact about Mister Rogers' statue is that back in 2011, an artist named Alicia Kachmar crocheted a big red sweater for it to wear to celebrate the icon's memorable TV wardrobe.
Mr Rogers Last Episode
Including specials, there are 912 episodes of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was on the air from 1968 to 2000, so as you can imagine, Mister Rogers filmed many, many, many episodes. Just how many episodes of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood are there, you ask? Including specials, Mister Rogers filmed an astounding 912 episodes during a span of more than three decades.
The final episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, which was taped on December 1, 2000, surely brought tears to the eyes of many. Fred Rogers was a TV icon who brought comfort and joy to millions of children and adults. At the end of the last episode, Mister Rogers promised his viewers that he would be back. "Retire? No, I'm not retiring," Rogers said. "There are so many things Family Communications is involved with."