A touching tribute to Fred Rogers in The Spectator of all places, perhaps all the more affecting because of its foreign origins. The author presents Rogers as something of a paragon of Christian virtue. A few of its discoveries were new to me, and frankly rather astounding. I’m talking about Mr. Rogers’ policies regarding advertising, correspondence and the way he signed his letters. Turns out the guy who many viewed as the archetypal wet noodle had more backbone in his pinky than most of us in our entire bodies. And what’s perhaps most impressive is how abundantly clear it is who his role model was – no, not Ghandi, ht JD:
Mr Rogers evidently understood what most who broadcast to children do not: that, of course, kids can be driven into frenzies by noise and nonsense and crassness and, of course, they will enjoy while it is happening. But it is not what they crave. What they crave is comfort, and kindness, and the security of knowing that those to whom they look for protection take seriously their every idea and emotion…
For decades, he was probably the most trusted man in America; generations of children would have done anything he told them to do simply because he told them to do it. Because of this he was an invaluable property for advertisers and, because of this, he refused ever to feature in an advert. Imagine for a moment the money he forewent by that decision.
Imagine, too, the number of letters he received in 30 years as perhaps the person to whom American children most wanted to write. He answered all for which he had a return address – and I don’t mean by this that he sent a perfunctory note and a signed photograph, although he certainly did send signed photographs. I mean that he wrote a engaged and detailed reply dealing with whatever ever issue the child had raised, from how to cope with divorce or the death of sibling, to whether or not he lived inside the television and if he’d like to come round for tea.
…every article about Mr Rogers seems, to those who know little of him, to stray into hagiography. This impression is unavoidable, but it also incorrect. The simple truth is that no worthwhile criticism can be made of his work and no believable criticism can be made of his character…
I have many firm convictions about children’s television, but the firmest of them is this: the best method of making it is, in every circumstance, to ask oneself what Mr Rogers would do, and then to do it. This is also, incidentally, a rather good way to live one’s life.
And this little tidbit from the lead amazon review of Dear Mr. Rogers, Does It Ever Rain in Your Neighborhood?: Letters to Mr. Rogers was too priceless not to include:
He was a man who loved children and the adults who once were children as much as he loved himself. He hated television. He believed (or so his actions seem to convey) that his outflow of compassion was as much a necessity for his survival as his intake of oxygen. And his favorite word was grace. In fact, if you met him in person and received his autograph, he would write the word “grace” underneath it – in Greek.