When Bad News Broke, This Public Radio Veteran Turned To Mister Rogers09:32
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Fred Rogers on the set of his show, "Mister Rogers Neighborhood." (Courtesy Jim Judkis/Focus Features)MoreCloseclosemore
Fred Rogers on the set of his show, "Mister Rogers Neighborhood." (Courtesy Jim Judkis/Focus Features)

Fred Rogers, the beloved creator and host of the long-running program "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," returns to the screen in the documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" Rogers is known for his work with children, but he could also be a voice for the nation in times of trouble — and he sometimes offered thoughtful advice to parents as well as kids.

Longtime NPR host and correspondent Susan Stamberg (@stamberg) joins Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson to recall her favorite moments with Rogers.

Interview Highlights

On if she recalls speaking with Rogers about the Iran hostage crisis in 1979

"Not that particular moment, but I certainly remember turning to him at situations like that: the Challenger explosion, Three Mile Island, I think. This was in the '70s, and at a time when we didn't have enormous resources, but we had wonderful, wonderful people to whom we could reach out and get to be experts on such matters, and I, as the mother of a very young child, lobbied all the time to get family issues on our air, particularly in connection with the news. That's how Fred ended up on our program.

"And I just remember what it meant to hear that gentle, steady voice speaking on the telephone as he did on television, dealing with that issue of anger, which was a big one in his shows. He had these puppets, and those puppets got angry. And then the soothing person in the cast would come out and calm them down, and give them language in which to express the anger, rather than hitting or fighting. He just gave people — young people particularly, but all of us could learn those lessons — tools with which to handle the big emotions."

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On how Rogers made it simple to understand complicated things

"There's so much wisdom in the things that he says, because he knows how frightened children can be, how lonely and isolated and alone they can be in a difficult situation, and so he knows that they need to be grounded in something that will be permanent and make them feel safe."

"He just gave people — young people particularly, but all of us could learn those lessons — tools with which to handle the big emotions."

Susan Stamberg

On Rogers' religious training, and how he would use it in his programs

"He went to seminary, he became an ordained Presbyterian minister and it was never a question of his having a church and having a congregation — the television audience was his congregation. And you can hear it in every word he speaks, really, because he's speaking about love, and reaching out. So I adored him in many, many ways. I think I loved him most because of the way, every program, he said, 'I like you just the way you are.' Who in our lives ever says that to us? They say, 'Stand up straight, go on a diet, get your hair cut.' But there was Fred Rogers, saying, 'I like you just the way you are.' And what that did for children, and grownups, to be hearing that all the time."

On why it's meaningful for many to hear Rogers today

"Well, because we need it now more than ever. I think we need somebody kind who speaks in a reasonable fashion, and calmly and in a nurturing way. It seems to be few and far between in our society right now. I'll tell you something, my son took one of his daughters to see this — 4 years old, and she'd never seen Fred Rogers on television. But she was mesmerized. And they called me to tell me they had seen it, and she spent the whole time singing the theme song. But Josh Stamberg looked at Fred Rogers as a child, but wasn't a huge fan, I don't think. He said, 'You know, I was a little skeptical about it, as many children are,' and as Saturday Night Live used to spoof. But he said, this time really touched his heart, and he realized how important and powerful those messages were."

This segment aired on June 28, 2018.

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