Monday, February 18, 2008

Mister Rogers Photographs

Mister Rogers loved taking photographs far more than being photographed.

The afternoon I met him, he snapped a few of my mother and me, and later sent them to her. Tim Russert tells a similar story. And Bev Hall has more than one photo of Mister Rogers taking photos. Apparently, he was never far from his camera.

I spent the balance of this afternoon watching The Graduate on DVD while scanning and sizing the nearly six dozen photographs that Davy Rothbart and Beverly Hall sent to me.

It's an extraordinary blessing, really, that they've shared entire photo albums with me. Not only do appreciate their generosity and confidence, these photos make the construction of the film possible. I'm still waiting on Lynn Johnson's photo archive, plus the results of Katia's photo agency research, but already we already posess enough supporting material to finish the film.

Many of Bev's photos are from an blustery afternoon in 1967 when Mister Rogers shot an interview with local legend Madaket Millie for air on the "Neighborhood." As I think I've mentioned, her photos of Fred and Millie from that afternoon is a beloved image on Nantucket. It hangs framed in many an island cottage. The photos she shared with me -- over fifty in all -- afford an even warmer, more intimate portrait of that day. There's also more current fare, like this one she took at a Nantucket wedding. That's how I remember him.

Davy's photos look like they were pulled from the pages of my family's photo albums. I recognize the 70s well: the short shorts, Sesame Street t-shirts, a Dutch Boy haircut. And I recognize all the locations in the photos: Eel's Point, Madaket Bay, and -- of course -- Mister Rogers' Crooked House.

I finished scripting Davy's segment last night. Despite having interviewed him at three o'clock in the morning, he nailed the essence of the man:

It's easy to feel isolated, like you're dealing with something and you're the only one. But you pick up some note off the ground from a total stranger and it turns out they're experiencing the same difficult experience you're going through. It's a powerful thing to realize, 'I'm not alone here.' Somebody else is dealing with the same thing. Mister Rogers dealt with some pretty difficult things on his show especially for public television -- death, divorce -- and I think that was what he wanted to communicate. This is stuff we all have to deal with yunno? You're not weird because you're afraid you're gonna go down the drain, or your parents are getting divorced.

It's one of Mister Rogers' greatest lessons, I think, that we're not alone.

In fact, Abbi's out of town, so I've been alone with "Mister Rogers & Me" all weekend. Pouring over these photos and screening interviews with Bev and Davy, 826NYC and the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, though, I feel warm and welcome, like I'm a part of some great big circle of friends. I don't feel lonesome at all.

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