Fred Rogers profiled in The Good Neighbor

Fred Rogers on the set of his show, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, from the film, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, a Focus Features release. Credit: Jim Judkis/Focus Features.

Fred Rogers, host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, was the subject of a biography in October, The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers.

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers
The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers (Abrams Press)

It’s no surprise that the television icon is seeing the spotlight in 2018.  After all, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in 1968.  This summer saw the release of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? while the USPS honored the legend with a postage stamp.  What is a surprise, however, is that The Good Neighbor is the definitive biography of Rogers.  How we as a nation were able to go so long without such a book is shocking to say the least.

Pittsburgh Foundation CEO Maxwell King delivers a a book that Rogers could certainly be proud of.  King interviewed a number of people including Rogers’ family members.  Interview subjects include wife Joanne Rogers, sister Elaine Rogers Crozier, sons James and John Rogers among others.  It’s through these interviews and more that King can deliver us the definitive biography of the man we call Mister Rogers.

While Morgan Neville’s documentary left audiences in tears, this book lets you in on more of the story.  After all, the 94-minute film can only tell so much of the story.  King’s book takes on the challenge of telling us more.  With over 300 pages of text, The Good Neighbor is not a quick read by any means.  This isn’t to say that it’s not worth it because it absolutely is!

Told over the course of five sections, it’s not until the third section when we reach the headlining chapters.  The documentary film touches on Rogers’ upbringing and how religion played a large role in his life.  But the real reason we’re all nostalgic over his work is because of the show he created in 1968.  First airing on February 19, 1968, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood–taped in Pittsburgh’s WQED studio–would run some 912 episodes over the 31-season series that came to an end on August 31, 2001.  This final episode had been taped some months before on December 1, 2000.

There’s something about the way that Fred Rogers was able to teach children.  We saw this in how the TV icon responded to the tragic assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in June 1968.  One could also argue that Rogers had a way with Congress, too.  After all, Rogers made a considerable impact during the Pastore hearings when he opted against delivering his prepared remarks.  If there was ever a champion for public television, Rogers was that person.  After all, his testimony made the rounds in 2017 when funds were being threatened once again.

Rogers’ life could be compared and contrasted to many others of his era.  He could have left public broadcasting but chose not to do so.  Even when other programs took advantage of toys, Rogers refused to market such things to children.  At least not directly.  Regardless, it’s harder to watch these programs unless you have Amazon Prime.

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers is long overdue but the definitive biography was well worth the wait–even if the book leaves you an emotional wreck.

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King is available in bookstores now.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.