They were beautiful days in the neighborhood

Robert Houk • Jun 27, 2018 at 8:53 PM

How we need Fred Rogers today. What I wouldn’t give to visit his neighborhood again.

I’ll always be a child of the 1970s. I grew up learning lessons from TV produced by the Pubic Broadcasting System and the Children’s Television Workshop. What was great about educational shows like “Sesame Street” is that we got to watch TV in the classroom, a dream come true for a boy whose TV watching privileges were very restricted at home.

Like the rest of the nation, “Sesame Street” was my introduction to The Muppets and the genius of Jim Henson.

In the third grade, I got hooked on “The Electric Company.” Talk about a star-studded production. Oscar-winning actress Rita Moreno was one of my favorite cast members, as was a up-and-coming young actor by the name of Morgan Freeman.

And of course there was Bill Cosby, an educator and comedian who was already leaving his mark in the movies and on TV.

I cringed recently after reading of the sexual harassment complaints against Freeman, who will always be “The Easy Reader” in my heart.

I don’t even want to talk about Cosby. It hurts too much. The child in me who grew up watching him on “Electric Company” and “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” on Saturday mornings just can’t comprehend such vile behavior.

That’s why we need someone like Fred Rogers to help explain such rotten things. And not only to children.

“Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” was a quiet place to go. Many children need that. I did. I still do.

Rogers had an easy-going and friendly style. He wasn’t a wacky costumed clown or a character in a purple dinosaur suit. He was thoughtful and earnest.

We certainly can use some of that on TV today.

Over the years, Rogers has been lauded for not only what he said, but how he said it. Clips of him explaining about “the helpers” make the rounds on the internet and social media whenever we are hit by a natural disaster or similar calamities.

Rogers said his mother always told him “to always look for the helpers” in times of such tragedy. He said it was reassuring to see so many people rushing to lend a hand in such situations.

That story is among the many uplifting tidbits in the newly released documentary film, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” from Focus Features. The film takes a look at the life and career of Rogers, a writer, puppeteer and Presbyterian minister, who died in 2003. The director of the documentary, Morgan Neville, says there are scenes in the film that will bring tears to many in the theater.

After seeing clips of the movie on the internet, I believe him.

The film is being shown in limited number of theaters, which means Bristol may be the closest that “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” comes to the Tri-Cities. I expect streaming services will soon be picking up rights to show the movie, which has become a hit where it has been seen.

Local fans of Mr. Rogers shouldn’t fret. There is another Mr. Rogers movie in the works that is sure to make it to area theaters next year. “You are My Friend” is a fictionalized account of the relationship between Fred Rogers and a reporter who interviewed him in 1998.

And who will be donning the signature sweater and canvas sneakers? None other than Tom Hanks, who may be among the last truly decent men left in Hollywood.

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