The Mr. Rogers film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood offers a vivid portrayal of the heroically kind children’s television host—but leaves out a fascinating detail from the magazine article that helped inspired the movie.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood borrows from Tom Junod’s moving and expansive 1998 profile of Rogers for Esquire, and Junod inspired Matthew Rhys’ character in the film, a fictional Esquire writer named Lloyd Vogel. Tom Hanks plays Fred Rogers.
The film makes clear that he, like everyone else, had to work hard to be patient and kind. Junod’s profile includes an amazing detail that illustrates Rogers’ personal discipline, as well as his devotion to serving his young audience.
Junod wrote that Rogers stepped on a scale in the late 1960s and took note of his weight: 143 pounds.
“No, not that he weighed 143 pounds, but that he weighs 143 pounds…. And so, every day, Mister Rogers refuses to do anything that would make his weight change,” Junod explained, adding that he would not drink, smoke, eat “flesh of any kind,” go to bed early or wake up late, or even watch television.
Junod noted that Rogers swam every day, and weighed himself in his swimsuit to make sure he was always 143 pounds—the weight at which his audiences knew him over the 33 years that his show aired.
But the number had even greater significance. The host explained in his interview with Junod that 143 means “I love you.”
“It takes one letter to say ‘I’ and four letters to say ‘love’ and three letters to say ‘you.’ One hundred and forty-three. ‘I love you,'” he told Junod. “Isn’t that wonderful?”
In fact, the host would often tell friends, “1-4-3,” to tell them how much he cared for them.
Rogers died in 2003 at age 74, after dedicating his life to using television to help children (and a few adults) learn to deal with complicated feelings.
The Fred Rogers Center, which is dedicated to continuing his work, has a fundraising group called the 143 Club. You can become a member with an annual donation of—you’ve probably guessed it—$143.
Earlier this year, Rogers’ home state of Pennsylvania even honored him on the 143rd day of the year—May 23rd.
“I’ve proclaimed today to be 1-4-3 Day, Pennsylvania’s first statewide day of kindness,” Gov. Tom Wolf tweeted. “As governor, I’ve met countless Pennsylvanians. And I know we’re genuinely nice people. Join me in spreading love today and seeing just how far a little kindness can go. #143DayInPA.”
You can listen to our MovieMaker Interviews podcast with Junod and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood writers Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue on your favorite podcasting platform:
Here are some highlights of the episode, with time stamps:
16:05: Interview begins 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’ 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 now available on video on demand.