A Neighborly Review: 'Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: A Visual History'


Reading Time: 4 minutes

We have covered the topic of Mister Rogers quite a bit here on GeekDad because many of us grew up watching the show just as our own children have. But what really excites me is the whole new audience that is about to be introduced to Mister Rogers when the new movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks is released in November. I think this movie is going to introduce the world to the “real” Mister Rogers. Mister Rogers wasn’t just a persona he used for the show, he was the real deal and his knowledge of child development and his insights into personal relationships was astonishingly deep. But you don’t have to wait until then to learn about the world’s most iconic neighbor. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: A Visual History is the latest Mister Rogers book to hit the book shelves and it is not to be missed.

Reprinted with permission from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: A Visual History, by Fred Rogers Productions, Tim Lybarger, Melissa Wagner, and Jenna McGuiggan; copyright © 2019. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.

So What’s In the Book?

There are quite a few books that have been published about Mister Rogers, but Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: A Visual History has a lot that sets it apart from its predecessors:

  • Explores the history of Mister Rogers, from its very beginning all the way up to present day
  • Chronicles the 50-year history of the show with never before seen photographs
  • Contains original interviews with memorable guests like Yo-Yo Ma and the cast and crew behind the show
  • Includes a sneak peek at the making of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  • Weighs in at a whopping 336 pages and 3.4 pounds (coffee table worthy for sure)
‘A Visual History’ has quite a few of these hidden gems… handwritten notes and original set designs scattered throughout the book (Image by © 2019 Fred Rogers Productions)

Star Trek, a Hulk, a Witch, and Some Zombies!

These may not be the things that first come to mind when you think of Mister Rogers, but these things all have a connection with Mister Rogers. Plus, Halloween is right around the corner.

The first one should be pretty obvious… Levar Burton. Levar Burton played Geordi La Forge on the television show Star Trek: The Next Generation. But Levar Burton was also the host of the children’s television show Reading Rainbow. But his tie-in to Mister Rogers was that he was a guest on episode 1725 in 1998, and similar to his role on Reading Rainbow he shared the book The Daddy Book with the viewers.

Levar Burton of Star Trek and Reading Rainbow reads a book with Mister Rogers (Image by © Richard Kelly)

The Hulk also came to visit on a much earlier episode in 1980. Mister Rogers was concerned to hear about a little boy in the news that hurt himself trying to “fly like Superman” and he wanted to reach out to kids and help them understand the difference between real life and superheroes. With the copyrights in place, Mister Rogers couldn’t use Superman for the show. So that was when David Newell (the actor who played Mr. McFeely) chimed in and said that his daughter was terrified of the Hulk on the television show running at the time, The Incredible Hulk. So the actor that played the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) came on as a guest and not only was Mister Rogers able to talk to children about make-believe and super heroes, but with Lou Ferrigno he was able to talk to kids about anger and what you can do with your anger (other than ripping off your shirt, of course).

Speaking of being absolutely terrified, the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz is what terrified me as a young kid. Turns out Mister Rogers had actress Margaret Hamilton on the show, who of course played the famous witch in The Wizard of Oz, and that gave him the opportunity to talk to children about dressing up and what’s its like to play something scary. Turns out I wasn’t the only one scared of The Wicked Witch of the West, because David Newell (Mr. McFeely) talked about his own fear of the witch with Fred Rogers and asked if this is something they could address on the show. Fred Roger said if you can find her I will write the script… and the rest was history. After appearing on the show, Margaret Hamilton became close friends with Fred Rogers and his wife and would call them every Sunday evening to chat.

Margaret Hamilton paid Mister Rogers a visit to help children understand pretending to be a scary character (Image by © 2019 Fred Rogers Productions)

So what about zombies? Don’t worry, you didn’t miss or forget about the episode with the zombies because it never happened. But there is still a tie-in to zombies, believe it or not. Mister Rogers had several short films produced, one about how people make light bulbs and another about the time Mister Rogers went to the hospital for a tonsillectomy. It just so happened the the man that created those short video for Mister Rogers was George A. Romero… who later went on to direct Night of the Living Dead, a cult classic horror flick and arguably the modern re-boot of zombies in cinema.

Verdict

There shouldn’t really be any question about it. I mean if the folks behind Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: A Visual History were true to the essence of Fred Rogers and his much beloved television show then the book was pretty much guaranteed to be amazing. And amazing it is. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: A Visual History is just packed full of behind the scenes information, both about the show and all of the incredible people that helped to create it over the years. I didn’t even get to the part of the book that gives you a sneak peek at the upcoming movie so you will just have to read that part for yourself. But I will give away one nugget from that part of the book because it sums up Fred Rogers and Mister Rogers so well. Tom Junod, the real life reporter from which the story for the upcoming movie was based, was asked a series of interview questions. The final question asked of Tom Junod was what he hopes people will take away from the upcoming A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood movie, and he had this to say:

“His spoken message is simple but the message of his life is not simple, because the message of his life is goodness in action. If the movie captures that… maybe we should all aspire to be a little better.”

This statement right here is why I am so excited for the upcoming movie. Fred Rogers was an amazing person who shared his gifts not just with children but with the entire world. The upcoming movie will help ensure his legacy of “goodness in action” continues for a very long time.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: A Visual History is available for approximately $30 in hardcover only starting today, both on Amazon and pretty much anywhere they sell really good books.

Photo by © The Lynn Johnson Collection, Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, Ohio University Libraries

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: A Visual History for the purpose of this review, but Clarkson Potter Publishers had no input into the review content.

Please note: This post contains affiliate links.

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