Mr. Rogers' Widow Told A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood Filmmakers Not To Make Her Late Husband Look Like A 'Saint'
Joanne Rogers - the widow of TV legend Fred Rogers - has revealed in a new interview that she asked the filmmakers of A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood to avoid portraying her late husband as a “saint” because she is tired of everyone putting him “on a pedestal.” The film stars Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, and it tells the true story of his encounter with investigative journalist Tom Junod in 1998.
Joanne is now 91-years-old and she was married to Fred for 50 years before he passed away from stomach cancer in 2003 at the age of 74. According to The Los Angeles Times , before she gave her blessing for the movie, Joanne’s only demand to filmmakers - like writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster - was that they “not treat her husband as a saint.”
When Junod met with Mr. Rogers, he was trying to find some dirt on the TV icon or at least discover a darker side of his persona because he had such a cheerful and wholesome public image. However, Junod ended up becoming friends with Mr. Rogers, and the two were pen pals until he died.
Joanne wanted fans to know about how funny her husband was - and his jokes weren’t always PG.
“He was not prissy. Not at all,” she said. “He ran around the house in the droopiest drawers. They were at least three sizes too big but they were comfortable, and he liked them. It didn't matter if there was company here — he'd wear those and a T-shirt. He was not a modest person.”
But after his death, Mr. Rogers has become an even more popular figure who was seemingly infallible.
“He's out there now as somebody who's somehow way above all the rest of us,” Joanne said. “People invariably say, 'Well, I can't do that, but I sure do admire him. I would love to do it.' Well, you can do it. I'm convinced there are lots of Fred Rogerses out there.”
Joanne met with Los Angeles Times writer Amy Kaufman to share details about her life with Fred. The two formed a friendship after a brief interview ahead of last year’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor , which focused on how Mr. Rogers and his TV show made goodness and kindness desirable personality traits.
Despite her age, Joanne is quite tech savvy, and she regularly corresponded with Kaufman via texts on her iPhone and email on her Macbook Air. And, she often included emojis in her messages. Joanne also likes to use her computer to keep up-to-date with pop culture, but she says all of the movie stars look the same.
“The movie stars all look alike to me now. I can remember their names — Aniston and this one and that one. I still haven't figured out what it is that Kardashian does,' she told Kaufman. “What I've enjoyed most is Lady Gaga and what she's done with her talent. How she can do anything she wants by just being crazy, funny-looking in outfits, you know? I think that is really smart.”
In Joanne’s Pittsburg apartment, she still displays family photos and numerous awards that Fred won during his career. She has also kept the letters they wrote to each other when they were dating.
To feel close to Fred Rogers, Joanne says she grabs one of those letters.
A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood is now playing in theaters nationwide.