Monday, July 09, 2007
Jeff Erlanger (1970-2007)
I got a nice email just now from someone I don't know who found our "Mister Rogers & Me" trailer on You Tube.
So I was showing Abbi all the great Mister Rogers clips there, like when he saved congressional funding for the newly formed Public Broadcasting System, or his farewell message to viewers.
The third video we watched was beloved "Neighborhood" guest Jeff Erlanger's remembrance of appearing on the show. Christofer and I have discussed flying to Madison, Wisconsin, to meet Jeff, as his story has resonated with generations of viewers.
"Mister Rogers made me feel as if he was talking to me," he said.
Before I had time to tell Abbi that Mister Rogers made me (and everyone he met) feel the same, I read in the comments below the video that Jeff -- who was just a few months older than me -- had died last month.
This is obviously sad news. Jeff was brimming with joy and hope, whether surprising Mister Rogers upon receiving his Lifetime Emmy, or speaking at his tribute. He was a living legacy to Mister Rogers' goodness.
The first person Chris and I discussed interviewing for this film just prior to their passed away unexpectedly was Mister Rogers. Jeff -- a key character in the warm and wonderful story of Fred Rogers life -- is the second.
Now, we're not trying to make the definitive Mister Rogers biopic here. We're trying to tell a story about how one person can inspire change in another. Moreover, I'm pretty sure we're not going to interview Mrs. Rogers (who is 79-years-old), or David Newell (aka Mr. McFeely), as Family Communications CEO Bill Isler pretty much told me so.
Still, it drives home that whole carpe diem thing. "This moment," as singer/songwriter Victoria Williams sang, "will never come again."
In the face of a challenging summer of work, a wedding and honeymoon to plan, and a triathlon and marathon for which to train, it feels overwhelming again.
Even in his absence, then, Mister Rogers speaks to me.
"I know how tough it is some days to look with hope and confidence to the months and years ahead. But I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger: I like you just the way you are."