Last week we looked at the recent movie ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ which featured Tom Hanks as Fred Rodgers and followed the character Lloyd Vogel and his conflict with his father. This week we are going to take a look at the article that inspired the movie as well as what the author has to say about it today.
In actuality, Lloyd Vogel does not exist. He never fought his father in a fight that ended with a black eye. The real man, Tom Junod recognizes this, Lloyd Vogel is a fictional character inspired by a real life person. But, as Tom Junod implies in his recent article from the Atlantic, that despite having a story that was creatively different, ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ still contained a story that captured the core of who Mr. Rogers was.
Mr. Rogers was a man who knew that everyone was once a child, he was consistently kind, and he was a man of faith
EVERYONE WAS ONCE A CHILD
According to Tom Junod in his original Esquire article he met Mr. Rogers in his apartment. Fred Rogers was wearing a blue bathrobe and has just taken his daily nap, nevertheless, Mr. Rogers agreed to welcome him to his New York apartment. In the movie, this did happen, though there were a few differences. In the movie this wasn’t his first meeting with Mr. Rogers, but was only one of the many . Also, Mr. Rogers did not wake up from his nap, nor was he in a blue bathrobe in the film.
In the film Mr. Rodgers shows Lloyd his puppets and asks him if he had any special friends as a kid. This did happen. Lloyd, and in reality, Tom answered the question telling Mr. Rodgers about a stuffed animal he called ‘Old Rabbit.’ Humorously, in both the movie and perhaps reality, the interview was two sided, as both of them asked each other questions.
Many of the other events seen in the movie did not actually happen to Tom at all, but either happened around him or was recounted to him. For instance, in the movie there is a notable scene where Mr. Rodgers asks Lloyd to take a minute to think of those who gave him life (people such as their parents). In the movie, this was a pretty vital moment for Lloyd, but in reality, Mr. Rodgers was in front of a crowd of well-dressed men and women as he received his third Daytime Emmy and asked for only 10 seconds of their time. Wherever he went, he wanted people to remember that they too were once children.
Other moments in the movie were described in Tom Junod’s article that Tom/Lloyd were not apart of, some of these include singing on the subway and talking to a boy with a sword who wouldn’t immediately respond to him. The movie also described the various disciplines that Mr. Rodgers used throughout his life, including swimming, scripture reading and prayer.
Despite some of these creative license, the heart of the movie and the heart of the article are basically the same.
Tom Junod writes, “You would think it would be easy by now, being Mister Rogers; you would think that one morning he would wake up and think, Okay, all I have to do is be nice for my allotted half hour today, and then I’ll just take the rest of the day off….But no, Mister Rogers is a stubborn man, … he has already gotten up at five-thirty, already prayed for those who have asked for his prayers, already read, already written, already swum, already weighed himself, already sent out cards for the birthdays he never forgets, already called any number of people who depend on him for comfort.”
Mr. Rodgers was a disciplined man, he tried to always live his life for others. He never let his guard down. Being Mr. Rodgers was not an act, being nice and kind was not a part he had to play, rather everyday he chose to love others, to be genuine and to be kind. This is something I think the movie did very well. In the movie Lloyd keeps trying to dig deeper into Mr. Rodger’s life away from the screen, looking for junk. Loyd had what author Jerry Bridges might’a critical spirit’ which is when you”look for and find fault with everyone and everything” (Respectable Sins, 142)) but would not act like that. Mr. Rodgers admits that he is not a perfect person, admitting some of his faults, but he is always focused on being a better person.
A MAN OF FAITH
Another large aspect of Tom Junod’s article was hinted throughout the movie, although the depths of it, in my opinion, were not reached. Mr. Rodgers was a man of faith. Throughout his article, Tom Junod often describes Mr. Rodgers’ obsession with grace, noting how he saw God’s grace in many aspects of life and in many of the people he came into contact with. One could say that Mr. Rodger’s faith was the bedrock of who he was, that, I believe is a very accurate description.
In the article Tom explains Mr. Rodger’s interaction with a child who had Cerebral palsy (a disorder that affects muscle movement), who was convinced that he was a bad child and believed that God didn’t like what was in him. Mr. Rodger’s met the boy when he was fourteen.
Mr. Rodgers leaned down to the boy to whisper to him. When asked him what he had whispered, he told Tom that “I asked him [for prayer] because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession.”
Those who saw the movie might recognize those lines. This line was repeated in the movie, as far as I can remember, verbatim, but with an important difference. They were not repeated to a boy, rather to another prominent and older character.
CREATIVE DIFFERENCES, SAME MESSAGE
Although ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ alters the details of the story in many ways, it is a faithful representation of who Mr. Rodgers was and what he stood for. Mr. Rogers was a man who played like a child, realizing that he and everyone else was once a child. He was a man of consistent and disciplined kindness, who strived to be as caring off screen as he was on screen. And he was also a man of faith, believing that God’s grace could be seen in and shown to others. ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ touches all of these points in different ways.
You can read the original Esquire article written by Tom Junod here [Be warned, there is a bit of language in it]: https://classic.esquire.com/article/1998/11/1/can-you-say-hero
You can also read Junod’s view on the movie at The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/12/what-would-mister-rogers-do/600772/