Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Mister Rogers (& Me) In The Nantucket Independent

I was thrilled when I received an email from Nantucket Independent reporter Mary Carpenter last week.

Mary and I spoke on Wednesday. I turned my chair away from my desk, and looked out across Times Square towards the sea. I spoke slowly, both because she was taking shorthand notes, and because I wanted to sufficiently communicate the reverence I feel for the man right. Somehow, staring at the clouds made that reverence a bit more approachable.

Here's an excerpt of how Mary's article turned out.

Professional photographer and Madaket neighbor Beverly Hall met Mister Rogers shortly after his family started spending summer seasons on the island. Not only did she treasure their friendship and the fact that they shared being ministers, she produced an extensive collection of photos of him she lent to summer visitor Benjamin Wagner, who works for MTV News and met Mister Rogers six years ago. Wagner felt so much admiration for him he is producing a documentary called "Mister Rogers & Me."

Wagner, now 36, met Fred Rogers on his 30th birthday and the following day was given a tour of his home during which time Rogers played "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" on his piano. Wagner's mother Mary Bolster rented a cottage next to the Crooked House and became friends with the Rogers in part because she was studying for her master's degree in theology, a deep interest of his.

"He took an interest in everything and everyone he met. I have yet to meet an adult who is more thoroughly invested in the moment or the person before him than Mister Rogers," said Wagner, whose documentary represents his personal memories and impressions.

"In short, he changed my life," said Wagner, recalling a conversation they had about Wagner's job and Rogers' observation he never forgot. "Standing on his back porch he said 'I feel so strongly that deep and simple are far more essential than shallow and complex.' In his show he took time to explain things well and clearly in a way kids and adults could understand, and he didn't shy away from hard questions like what happens when my goldfish dies or why are my parents divorcing. I think that takes a special kind of courage, especially in the culture we live in."

Wagner's documentary is in the editing stage and he anticipates it will be released as an independent film next year.

"It is my remembrance of him and goes into details of our conversations about crucial cultural values," said Wagner. "I grew up watching Mister Rogers, but he moved me as an adult. There are very few people in the world who have that curiosity in others. He was a really special, unique man."

I'm not entirely sure how I did. Feels like an understatement. Still, it's nice.

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