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

Mr. Rogers' widow Joanne Rogers 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 Mr. 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.

Harpster said at a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood screening 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.”

Also read: Why Fred Rogers Always Weighed 143 Pounds

Joanne Rogers appeared twice onscreen at the Nov. 2 screening: 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.

Also read: Where That Navy SEALs Rumor Started

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 new issue of MovieMaker Magazine.

You can also read our interview with Harpster, Fitzerman-Blue and Junod on the new MovieMaker Interviews podcast, on your favorite podcast platform (see links below) or right here:

The interview includes Harpster explained why Mr. Rogers isn’t the main character in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the screenwriters explaining why Mr. Rogers’ widow and estate once vowed that there would never be a Mr. Rogers movie, and more.

The podcast includes not only our interview with Harpster, Fitzerman-Blue and Junod, but also an interview with Daniel Kaluuya, star of the new Queen & Slim. You can find it on:

Apple 

Spotify  

Stitcher

Here are some highlights of the episode, with timestamps:

1:15: Daniel Kaluuya interview begins. Audio is dodgy for a few seconds. It gets better at…

2:14: Audio issue fixed. Enjoy Daniel Kaluuya’s awesome British accent in all its glory.

3:30: Why he knew he wanted to play Slim.

4:54: Why “Queen & Slim” is more “Thelma & Louise” than “Bonnie & Clyde.”

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
In A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Rhys plays journalist Lloyd Vogel, who is based on real-life writer Tom Junod. Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing

10:01: He weighs in on the supposed fight between cinema and the Marvel Universe

13:40: He discusses the upcoming film “Jesus Was My Homeboy,” in which he’ll play Black Panther activist Fred Hampton.

16:05: Interview with “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” screenwriters Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue, and Tom Junod, whose Esquire article “Can You Say… Hero?” helped inspire the film.

17:15: Let’s talk about anger.

21:00: How much is Mathew Rhys’ “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” character, Esquire journalist Lloyd Vogel, based on Esquire journalist Tom Junod?

26:20: Would Fred Rogers be disillusioned by the world today?

26:40: About that Navy SEAL/sniper thing

28:50: How Noah discovered Mister Rogers was “a warlock who speaks toddler.”

30: At one point Mr. Rogers’ widow Joanne and the Mr. Rogers estate said there will “never ever be a Mister Rogers movie.”

34:10: Where the Mister Rogers sniper urban myth came from.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is in theaters now. This post has been updated.

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