10/1/13

Mr. Rogers: A Beautiful Man in the Neighborhood


This photo accompanied a February 28, 2003 tribute to Fred Rogers in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by Rob Owen (twitter) and Barbara Vancheri.  Rogers grew up in Latrobe, PA, 40 miles to the east. 


*

My friend Barbara Schauer (website) posted someone else's version of the following story about Fred Rogers on Facebook, but I think Marc Acito (website) could be the  original source.  According to A.W. Hatano-Worrell in 2006,  he's quoting Acito from "A Sad Day in the Neighborhood:  Mr. Rogers, Gay Men, and Me" published in Lavender Magazine.  As as a young man in the 1980's, Acito recognized Fred Rogers at an airport and approached him "wearing legwarmers and a sweatshirt – with one shoulder intentionally exposed." 
Rogers took one look…and politely inquired as to whether I’d seen Torch Song Trilogy.  ‘I hear that Harvey Fierstein is awfully good,’ he said.

A couple of years later, my roommate, Lisa, got an internship on "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," and she began a lifelong friendship with Rogers.

Lisa's most cherished memory is of a trip to Boston they made together for a concert...Upon arriving at the fancy home of a WGBH executive, the limo driver, Billy, turned to Rogers and asked when he should return to pick them up.

"Why, where are you going?" Rogers answered, and promptly invited Billy to join them for dinner - much to the bewilderment of the hostess.

On the way back to the hotel, Rogers sat in front, so he could find out more about Billy.  When he discovered they'd be passing Billy's house, Rogers suggested they stop in to meet Billy's parents.

"So there we all are," Lisa says, "getting out of a limo in the middle of West Roxbury, Massachusetts, to meet the driver's parents.  We walk in the door, and there's Billy's dad coming down the stairs in his bathrobe, a cigarette dangling from his lips.  He takes one look at Fred and yells, 'Holy (sheepdip)!  You're Mister Rogers!'"

"Then, suddenly it was like the whole neighborhood showed up," Lisa continues. "People brought cookies, and Fred was playing the piano - it was just magical."

Billy and his family never forgot that night (who could?), but apparently, Rogers didn't either.  A few years later, when he learned that Billy was dying of AIDS, he took time out from his vacation to call the hospital.

Think about it.  You're on your deathbed, and Mister Rogers calls to comfort you.  That, indeed, is a beautiful day in the neighborhood.