Lessons in Life from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood -June 2018

Documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville delves into the simple goodness of a man, and Madaket resident, who taught us how to be kind

by: John Stanton

It began the way documentary film projects sometimes do, with a conversation, with a simple question that seemed almost random at the time but which opened up the moment into something larger, something worth exploring.

Morgan Neville was making a film about cellist and classical-music superstar Yo Yo Ma, and his exploration of different cultures through the music of his Silk Road Ensemble. The film, which was released in 2015, was called “The Music of Strangers.” One day the two were having lunch.

Fred Rogers created and hosted the iconic children’s television show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” It was a staple on PBS between 1968 and 2001.

“I asked him casually, how did you figure out how to be a famous person,” Neville said. “And he said it was Mr. Rogers who taught him. I laughed. He said, ‘I’m not kidding. He mentored me over the years and showed me how to turn being famous into a positive thing and not a weight around my neck.’ That blew my mind. I hadn’t thought about Mr. Rogers since I was 7 years old.”

You might remember “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” If you are of a certain age now, you remember the kind, soft-spoken man, who lived in a friendly neighborhood, the mailman stopping by, the songs, the quiet talk from a gentle grownup wearing a cardigan sweater. You remember Mr. Rogers.

It was the seminal public-television program, beloved, sane, very worthwhile, and something you just couldn’t find anywhere else.

After that lunchtime conversation, Neville began to surf the Internet in search of Mr. Rogers.

“I think people are thirsty for someone to speak up again about goodness. I think it’s dangerous to think kindness is naive.” Morgan Neville

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