Cardigans and Keds — both images are synonymous with Mister Rogers, who hosted "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" from 1968 through 2001. The almost 900 episodes live on today in reruns.
The famous entertainer died in 2003 but would have been 84 on Tuesday. In celebration of his birthday, PBS began airing a documentary called "Mister Rogers & Me," produced by two brothers who detail their experience of living in a summer home next to the television pioneer on Nantucket Island.
Through personal reflections, photos and interviews, the documentary primarily focuses on how Rogers influenced others. But it also offers telling facts about the TV legend, such as how "the man who cared so much about the well-being of children was bullied as a shy, overweight boy," according to The New York Times.
Here are 10 more facts you might not know about Rogers:
- Many of his ubiquitous sweaters were knitted by his mother, Nancy, says Legacy.com. One of the sweaters she made for him is displayed in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
- Rogers began wearing his trademark sneakers for practical reasons — they didn't make a sound. In his first foray into children's television, Rogers worked as a puppeteer in Pittsburgh on a show called "The Children's Corner." His hard-soled shoes made too much noise on the live show, said a Canadian obituary. So he decided to change into a pair of sneakers at the beginning of the taping of every show, and Rogers carried that ritual with him to "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," when he would put on his famous sweater and sneakers while singing the opening song.
- Despite his squeaky clean television image, the LA Weekly reports that writer Tim Madigan claims Mister Rogers' favorite word was the s-word, according to Rogers' wife. And it wasn't "ship."
- Rogers was aware of Eddie Murphy's "Mister Robinson's Neighborhood," a skit on Saturday Night Live in the 1980s. The antithesis of Rogers' PBS program, Murphy talked about topics like drug busts and eviction. But instead of being offended, Rogers found the parody funny, according to Legacy.com, and sought out Murphy to tell him so during a visit to NBC.
- Every summer, Rogers treated the children of his employees to an amusement park that he rented out near his hometown of Latrobe, Pa., according to The Washington Post.
- Rogers graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1962 and was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church. But he had no desire to preach, so continued his work in children's television. The New York Times points out that he never spoke about God or religion on his show.
- Rogers' parents were foster parents to an African-American teenager, who came to live with the family after his mother died. Rogers considered him his older brother, and when George became an instructor for the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II, he taught Rogers how to fly, according to Legacy.com. The Rogers family also adopted a girl named Elaine. She was the inspiration for the puppet Lady Elaine Fairchild.
- Shortly after Rogers retired, he died of stomach cancer about a month before his 75th birthday. An avid swimmer, Rogers was a vegetarian who didn't smoke or drink. He had two children and three grandsons, the third of whom was born 12 days after Rogers died.
- Rogers made no commercial endorsements throughout his career.
- "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," which spent its first season broadcast locally in Pittsburgh before moving to PBS, was the longest running program on PBS, winning four Emmy awards, including one for lifetime achievement. Rogers, who earned his B.A. in music composition at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., composed all of the music on his show so that the focus would remain on his main message — teaching children to love themselves and others.