Friday, April 17, 2009

Biography Magazine [March 2000]

Back when I was in college, a classmate of mine knew of my respect for and admiration of Fred Rogers and came across an article she copied for me to read. Found in the March 2000 issue of Biography Magazine, author Claudia Rowe does a very nice job detailing a short account of Fred Rogers' background and the essence of who he became as an American icon.

Rather than transcribe the article in its entirety, I thought I would share a few of the more significant and memorable quotes from "Some Things Never Change, and Thank Heavens Mister Rogers Is One of Them."

Mister Rogers' ability to connect with children:

"Even the most jaded have to admit that in our Nintendo-paced world, this soft-spoken man has a strangely captivating hold over kids."

The experience of visiting Fred Rogers' office:

"Visiting Rogers in his office at Public Broadcasting Station WQED, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is a bit like going to see a shrink. It's a quiet, comfy room devoid of the many awards and citations he has earned during 31 years in the Neighborhood. Instead, stuffed animals and baseball caps line the back of the sofa, and the word GRACE hangs above it, carved in Greek letters. There is no desk, no telephone, and no computer. Rogers writes every episode of his program -- almost 900 to date -- on a yellow legal pad with a blue Flair pen in his neat, crisp longhand."

Simplicity and vegetarianism:

"Rogers is frugal, tickled to find pants and a shirt for $7 in a Florida thrift shop not long ago. And though they have two grand pianos in their Pittsburgh apartment, a plate of moo shu vegetables at their favorite Chinese restaurant constitutes 'a special night out' for Joanne and Fred, who is a vegetarian. 'I just don't like to eat anything that ever had a mother,' he says."

Not mincing words:

"He can be curt on occasion, especially when discussing Hollywood's addiction to violence. 'It's cheap,' he says simply. 'It's a cheap-and-easy way out. It's loud and superficial and shallow.'"

Friday, April 10, 2009

Mister Rogers & Big Bird

After looking at Episode 1483 and watching Big Bird's appearance in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, I decided that I wanted to know more. Much like my temporary obsession with Mr. Allmine, I began scouring the internet for information on this appearance as well as Mister Rogers' appearance on Sesame Street. What I hadn't realized was that there are two very interesting "behind the scenes" stories that go along with Episode 1483.

Details of the first come from Muppet Wiki, a fantastic resource for anyone interested in the extensive work of Jim Henson. According to the entry for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood on Muppet Wiki, there was a difference of opinion between Fred Rogers and Caroll Spinney as to how Big Bird should be presented on the program. Below is a very interesting description of these opinions as written on Muppet Wiki:
Caroll Spinney agreed to appear in the episode as Big Bird after some dialogue with Fred Rogers; when Spinney originally received the script for the show he saw it required him to remove the costume and discuss the inner-workings of the Big Bird puppet. Spinney protested, as he didn't believe in ruining the illusion of Big Bird for the children. Rogers agreed, but only under the stipulation that Big Bird’s appearance was restricted to the fantasy segments of the "Neighborhood of Make-Believe," as he didn’t believe in perpetuating the deceitful blur of real and pretend to children that occurred when presenting the character as real in the "real world."
While Sesame Street Unpaved mentions that Rogers understood Spinney's concern over showing the children how Big Bird works, Spinney said at some of his book signings (promoting his autobiography, The Wisdom of Big Bird) that he and Fred Rogers argued over the phone for roughly twenty minutes over whether or not to have him tell the kids how he performs Big Bird.
In the same episode, Rogers still throws a disguised punch back at Spinney by putting on a tall giraffe costume shortly before Big Bird's appearance, stating to the child viewer "When you see big make-believe creatures in parades or in plays or on television, you can know that the people inside are just pretending to be something else." He adds "There are people inside. Sometimes of course there are machines inside of them too, that make them move. But they're just pretend. Just pretend."
Secondly, I had never considered the fact that there is somewhat of a controversy surrounding the true species of Big Bird. This highly debated topic has pinpointed him as everything from a bizarre chicken to a large canary. As you can read on, I am not making this up.

If you're still reading and haven't yet visited the BirdChannel link, you may be wondering what in the world that has to do with Mister Rogers. Well according to multiple internet sources, Big Bird's appearance in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe is one of the few instances where this debate has been somewhat settled. While in the book Sesame Street Unpaved, Big Bird's "scientific name" is listed as "Bigus canarius" (big canary), in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, Big Bird himself provides conflicting information. In conversation with X the Owl, Big Bird says that he is a "Golden Condour" (which, by the way, does not exist) and later tells King Friday that he is "like a condour." Maybe this just stirs the pot a bit rather than solving the mystery.

As many of you are already aware, around the same time as Big Bird's appearance in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, Mister Rogers also made a visit to Sesame Street. First aired on May 22, 1981, the season finale of Sesame Street featured a familiar face to many viewers.

Muppet Wiki describes the scenes of Episode 1575 of Sesame Street featuring Mister Rogers as follows:
Big Bird passes by a man standing in front of Hooper's Store [and] wonders, "Where have I seen that face before?"
Big Bird announces to everyone at Hooper's that he's preparing to have a race with Snuffy, but since everyone thinks Snuffy is imaginary, he can't find anyone to judge the race -- especially on such a hot day. Luckily, the man in front of the store is willing to oblige.
Big Bird gives Snuffy the low-down on the race, and they go for it. Since Snuffy is so slow, however, Big Bird ends up finishing before him.
Big Bird suddenly fears that he may have hurt Snuffy's feelings by finishing before him. The man sees the issue from both sides, but points out that Big Bird can still be Snuffy's friend. Just then, the man has to leave, and it is at that point where Big Bird finds out who he was just talking to: Fred Rogers!
Snuffy comes to the finish line, and tells Big Bird that he doesn't feel bad for finishing last, because he knows that he and Big Bird are still friends. However, he doesn't believe Big Bird when he hears that Mr. Rogers judged the race. This upsets Big Bird. He laments to Maria, "It was the most exciting day of my life, and I don't want to talk about it!"
[Later in the episode] Mr. Rogers comes to visit Big Bird at his nest. Big Bird wonders if Mr. Rogers is really here, because no one believed him before. Mr. Rogers observes that sometimes it's hard to distinguish between fantasy and reality, and suggests that they both pretend some more. Big Bird imagines a teddy bear riding a race car, and realizes that he can't touch him - except in his imagination. Mr. Rogers, on the other hand, is real. They both share a hug.
A quick Google search may turn up some footage of this episode, but unfortunately, the clips that originally accompanied this post have since been removed.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Betty Aberlin Interview Link [2009]

After my recent post about Mr. Allmine, I still needed to know more about this character. Why do I not remember him? I contacted the one person who I thought could shed some light on this mystery for me -- Betty Aberlin.

As usual, the one and only Lady Aberlin was gracious enough to send a prompt reply to my email. Her response set my mind somewhat at ease about Mr. Allmine:

I believe he was only in one, maybe 2 episodes in the Neighborhood, as this character who appropriated everything for himself. He was wonderful in the opera, wasn't he? "In the palm is the the palm, in the palm, in the palm..."

Knowing that Mr. Allmine only appeared in a few episodes makes me feel better about the fact that he has escaped my memory. Again, if anyone knows anything more about Bert Lloyd or his character of Mr. Allmine, I'd be very interested to learn more.

Ms. Aberlin also passed along a link which I think all of you will find very interesting as well. Recently, Bill Madison (not Billy Madison) sat down with Betty Aberlin for an interview for his blog Billevesées. I'm sure you'll find the interview interesting and enjoyable as Mr. Madison and Ms. Aberlin discuss topics ranging from Mister Rogers and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to current issues of race and politics.

---] Billevesées Interview: Betty Aberlin