When the writer and producer of Mister Rogers and Me, Benjamin Wagner, met Fred Rogers, it had a profound effect on him. It was the early nineties, and Wagner was a hot-shot twenty-something working for MTV in New York. He accepted an invitation to spend a weekend in Nantucket, MA, where Mister Rogers summered with his wife. Wagner met him at a barbeque, and it changed his life. Specifically, it was these words that Rogers said; “I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.”
They were words that would echo in his mind long afterwards, and which eventually led to the making of this film. The title is a cute play on Michael Moore’s classic Roger and Me (1988), and the structure is somewhat similar. Wagner interviews a number of people who knew Fred Rogers, and whose lives were touched by him. Mister Rogers died February 27, 2003, which was long before this project got off the ground, so he is present only through video. But that is way most of us knew him anyway, was it not?
Wagner begins by interviewing the author of Deep & Simple, Bo Lozoff. He explains that for years he had no idea that the Fred Rogers who ordered his books 20 at a time, was actually Mister Rogers, until one day his wife asked. Fred Rogers liked Bo’s simple words of wisdom so much, he would hand out copies of the books to friends. Quite an honor. Like everyone else in this film, Bo describes the incredible sense of gentle spirituality he felt when he spoke with Fred Rogers.
The list of people Wagner spoke to is long, and includes Linda Ellerbee, Tim Russert, Marc Brown (who created Arthur), authors Amy Hollingsworth and Tim Madigan, and (among many others) Susan Stamberg of NPR. What comes through in all of these interviews is the sense of a very spiritual and giving man, who devoted his life to doing good works.
Mister Rogers and Me is a wonderful documentary about a man who lived an exemplary life, and touched literally millions of lives in a positive way. It is never wrong to hear the words “You are special,” and that is the message Fred Rogers wished to convey to everyone he came in contact with. This film captures that spirit in a remarkable way.