Mr. Rogers and the Urban Myths
As Opposed to Our New Normal Times

This essay deals with a time a half century ago. It was a time that could be seen as normal. While life wasn’t perfect, America was finally addressing racism, the war in Vietnam was protested in the streets, and sexism debated. Nonetheless, it wasn’t like today, and we are confronted by the new normal by a president far from normal. In the first half of the 60s, I graduated from college and spent three years in graduate school in Pittsburgh. During my senior year, I had an assignment to go to WQED, which was a Public Broadcasting TV station, and observe Fred Rogers in his nascent program for young children, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Starting in 1968, it was watched by young children for over three decades.

However, Fred Rogers was the subject of a long list of urban myths. Everyone loved Mr. Rogers. Look at the expression of this young child being able to touch the face of his idol.

“Mr. Rogers….”

Fred Rogers was my children’s first TV personality that they watched as young children. Mr. Rogers was an icon for millions of other children, especially during their preschool introduction to TV. As my children started elementary school, they moved to Sesame Street. However, Mr. Rogers was their first introduction to someone who cared about them. “Feeling good about ourselves is essential in our being able to love others.”

This video was the hallmark of how Mr. Rogers felt about his audience, “I like you as you are.” The first time that he used this theme was at the beginning of the airing of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’s at WGED in 1968. I cannot imagine one program not having his one-liner about how he views children. The following video was aired on his first program in 1968.

I like you as you are
Exactly and precisely
I think you turned out nicely
And I like you as you are

I like you as you are
Without a doubt or question
Or even a suggestion
Cause I like you as you are

I like your disposition
Your facial composition
And with your kind permission
I'll shout it to a star

I like you as you are
I wouldn't want to change you
Or even rearrange you
Not by far

I like you
I like you, yes I do
I like you, Y-O-U
I like you, like you as you are

Why the urban myths started is the subject of many books and articles. One of the reasons is that Mr. Rogers was the model or mentor for millions of young children. Hence, he was an excellent target. For example, one of the urban myths was that Fred Rogers was a Navy SEAL and was a sniper in Vietnam. One researcher, Trevor Blank, wrote, “So it makes sense that Rogers—associated with childhood, purity and moral decency—would inspire a few tall tales of his own.”

Additionally, Blank added, “Mr. Rogers, by all accounts, seems like a very mild-mannered, Puritan-esque character…Him having a very macho back story or being a ruthless killer is kind of titillating; it runs counter to what you’re presented as true in your day-to-day experience.”

Nonetheless, it is not an urban myth that he was an only child for over a decade until his parents adopted his baby sister.

Elaine and Fred

Fred Rogers was shy as a child and had a great deal of problems with asthma. Also, he had some weight issues and was called Fat Freddy. Therefore, he would deal with the issue of loneliness and being picked on by retreating to his neighborhood…his bedroom where he played with a closet filled with stuffed animals and would carry on a dialogue with them. When he started Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, it was merely an adult version of this early childhood with his retinue of puppets.

Some of Mr. Rogers’ puppets

Now, in our world of the new normal, there are others that don’t sing I love you as you are nor do they believe it.

Apparently, Trump missed Mr. Rogers’ insight. Fred Rogers said, “Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”

This is a video of Fred’s last show.