Mr. Rogers’ Widow Didn’t Want a Saintly Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Portrayal of Her Husband

Mr Rogers movie Mister Rogers Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Tom Hanks Noah Harpster

Families of public figures sometimes object to movies that portray their loved one as anything but saintly. But that wasn’t the case with the Mr. Rogers movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

The film’s screenwriters, Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue, said that Fred Rogers widow, Joanne Rogers, and the other keepers of his memory wanted to make sure their film didn’t gloss over how difficult it was for him to live his exemplary life.

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Harpster said at a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood screening Saturday at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival that Fred Rogers “was a real person who had real struggles like we all do.”

“And if you paint him as a saint, if you say that, then somehow his way of life and the work that he does is unattainable,” Harpster said. “He worked very hard at it. It was a practice for him.”

Joanne Rogers appeared twice onscreen Saturday: First, in an introduction to A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, in which she said Fred Rogers would approve of Tom Hanks filling the cardigan and sneakers. And second. in a cameo in the film, in a scene that also includes others who worked on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Harpster and Fitzerman-Blue were joined onstage by Tom Junod, whose beautiful 1998 profile of Mr. Rogers for Esquire provided a main influence on the film. Junod also inspired Matthew Rhys’ character, a fictional Esquire writer named Lloyd Vogel.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood shows how Fred Rogers used television to reach into the hearts of children (and maybe a few adults) to help them cope with difficult feelings. It was the final film of the SCAD Savannah Film Festival, and sent the audience off thinking about how they could be kinder. Never has an audience filed out of a theater more politely.

You can read Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue talk about the A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and the art of writing biopics in the upcoming issue of MovieMaker Magazine.

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