Fred Rogers was as G-rated as they come, but the late star of the classic kiddie series, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, still appreciated adult humor once in a while. In the new feel-good documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the Mister Rogers star’s life is profiled 50 years after the debut of his iconic children’s show. But there is one surprising incident that seems to be behind the biopic’s PG-rating.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the film’s Oscar-winning director Morgan Neville confirmed that the kind and mild-mannered Fred Rogers was exactly the way he appeared on television, right down to his signature sweaters. Neville revealed that Rogers, who died in 2003, was “a man of incredible routine” who would wake up at 5 a.m. and read the Bible, then go to the Pittsburgh Athletic Club and swim a mile every morning.
“He had such a strong devotion to everything he did from what he ate, to what he did every day, to his program,” Neville said.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood made its nationwide debut in 1968. The show, which was aimed at preschoolers, aired for more than three decades. But while Fred Rogers appealed to generations of young fans, he did have a grown-up sense of humor. As an example, in Won’t You Be My Neighbor it is revealed that a Mister Rogers crew member routinely swiped people’s cameras and snapped a photo of himself mooning the camera lens, before returning the camera to where he found it. After Rogers became the victim of the prank, the mild-mannered boss remained silent and didn’t address it. But at Christmastime, he presented the crew member with a framed, poster-sized print of that bare butt photo.
“I think the film actually gets a PG-13 rating because of that,” Neville told EW.
Fred Rogers also reportedly enjoyed a dirty joke here and there, but he stopped short of ever telling one himself. Neville recounted a tale about Mister Rogers piano player, Johnny Costa, who was a staple on the children’s show until his death in 1996.
“He and Fred were really close,” Neville said.
“Johnny was a really salty character, hard-drinking, off-color, and Fred loved him. Johnny would tell a dirty joke and Fred would laugh and somebody else would come in and Fred would never repeat the joke. He’d say, ‘Johnny, tell them that joke.’ Fred would never repeat anything.”
In an interview with NPR, Neville said it is important to remember that Fred Rogers wasn’t a saint.
“He was a human who had insecurities and doubts and made mistakes,” the director said. “And, really, throughout his entire life, from his earliest days to his deathbed, was wondering if he had done enough…. I think it’s important to understand that he was human and not a saint, because if you sanctify somebody like Fred Rogers it means that we don’t have to try and live up to him.”
You can see the trailer for the new Mister Rogers movie below.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is now playing in select movie theaters.