A look at the ‘Neighborhood’: Gov. Wolf names today a tribute to Fred Rogers

Courtesy photo Cory Geishauser (right), who interned in the art department of WQED TV, where the "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" show was produced, is shown with Fred Rogers.

Take time to spread a little kindness today as Gov. Tom Wolf declared today “1-4-3” day in tribute to the late Fred Rogers, creator of “Mister Rogers’ Neighbor-hood” a nationally-televised children’s show that demonstrated kindness and respect for others.

Today, the 143 day of 2019 is appropriate to emphasize kindness, said David Newell aka Mr. McFeely, who remembers Rogers’ using “1-4-3′ in his autographs, letters and sign offs. The phrase is a numeric representation for the the letters in the phrase “I love you,” Newell said Tuesday.

“Pennsylvania is a commonwealth founded in kindness, and I invite everyone to join me in finding small ways to make others happy on 1-4-3 Day,” said Gov. Wolf in a news release. “I’m thrilled we have already a great response to the announcement of this event, and I hope the momentum grows and we launch a movement with the kindness we show on May 23.”

To celebrate 1-4-3 Day, First Lady Frances Wolf will read “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” an illustrated collection of Fred Rogers’ poetry and song lyrics, to schoolchildren. The book’s publisher, Philadelphia-based Quirk Books, will provide giveaways themed for Fred Rogers and his beloved television character, Mister Rogers. Other schools, businesses and organizations have committed to activities sharing kindness in honor of 1-4-3 Day, including the Pitts-burgh Pirates, the Philadelphia Phillies and Steel City Brand.

A knee infection will keep Newell, 80, of Pittsburgh from attending any of the day’s celebrations but he will call Joanne Rodgers to reminisce and remember her husband.

“The day means a lot,” Newell said. “1-4-3 represents who Fred was as a person. He was such a loving person. It was from the heart and it wasn’t for show. It was Fred. So, 1-4-3 is Fred and symbolizes him, his work and thoughtfulness. It was his mission to create a program for children based on love and respect for others. The respect he had for the children in his audience comes through and is summed up by 1-4-3,” Newell said.

Rogers borrowed the numeric phrase from Nanntuckett sailors who exchanged messages to loved ones through lighthouse keepers. But there is also another meaning.

“Comically, it was also Fred’s weight –143 — Fred always kept his weight at 143 which also correlates to ‘I love you’ and that he worked to maintain. He swam intensively every day and would weigh himself at the gym. If his weight went up, he adjusted his eating habits. And, he did maintain it, which is tough. It all ties in with who he was.”

Altoona resident Cory Geishauser also said Rogers was exactly off-screen as he was on-screen. While a student at the Art Institute in Pittsburgh, Geishauser interned in the art department of WQED TV where the TV show was produced.

Geishauser, now 46, of Altoona worked as an extra during the filming of the movie “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” co-starring Tom Hanks in a supporting role as the late Fred Rogers and actor Matthew Rhys as cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel who reluctantly accepts an assignment to write a profile for Esquire on Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). As the two men get to know each other, Vogel’s perspective on life is transformed as he overcomes his skepticism and learns about empathy, kindness and decency.

Rogers died from stomach cancer in 2003 at the age of 74 — two years after “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” ended filming new episodes.

Geishauser remains friends with Joanne Rogers, Newell and other cast members. When the movie filmed in Pittsburgh all were included in a restaurant scene. Geishauser is a passerby on the sidewalk. Newell, Mrs. Rogers and the others are seated at a nearby table and have a “featured cameo” during a significant passage of dialogue.

A graduate of Bishop Guil-foyle, Geishauser described his relationship with Rogers as “very much like a grandfather and grandson relationship. When he passed away, it was just like my own grandfather died,” Geishauser said.

Geishauser would hold Rogers’ scripts as he manipulated the puppets during scenes from the “Neighborhood of Make Believe.”

The two remained in touch with Rogers writing a letter of recommendation for Geishau-ser and Geishauser creating a caricature of his mentor.

“I think we connected because he knew I wanted to work in media and with children. He saw my excitement. He was so easy to talk to,” Geishauser said. “When I met Fred he was just so genuine. What you saw on television was what he really was. There was no acting — he was 100 percent himself, honest and genuine.”

Geishauser accompanied Rogers to many public appearances where he was “received like a star and bigger than a president or a pop star. But he was as simple as simple could be. There was no celebrity to him but he was an icon.”

The November film is the second to feature Rogers and his philosophy of kindness and respect. Last year, a documentary played in theaters.

Geishauser who works as a freelance artists and as an activity director at a senior living program said Rogers had a “huge impact on me. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about him or ask, ‘What would Mister Rogers do in this situation.”

A parent himself, Geishauser said the iconic program calms his 8 and 6-year-old children.

“Fred is so calm and peaceful and the kids pick up on that,” he said, noting that Rogers was comfortable with silence as he worked on scene activities.

Rogers, an ordained minister, never spoke about God, Geishauser said. “But he was very Christ-like. People nowadays are just getting it, he said, describing Rogers as the “best listener I ever met in my life. I never met anyone like him.”

Altoona licensed counselor Mark Frederick said he believes Rogers’ enduring appeal and the movies about him are because today’s life is so fast-paced.

“I know we live in age where everything is fast-paced and instantaneous regarding news and sharing on social media,” Frederick said. “There is a real thirst out there for a more simple, measured lifestyle, to be more present and intentional and also to be appreciative and grateful. I see it in my own life and especially with clients who comment all the time about being too busy, life is going too fast. Social media, cell phones and the immediate gratification they provide has outpaced the human response. We haven’t caught up and the result is that people want a more measured, quiet pace.”

Rogers’ calm demeanor, unhurried actions and comfort with silence were the antithesis of common TV programming practices — especially for children — but these qualities appealed then and even more so now.

“Rogers exemplified simpleness and was very intentional with everything he did,” Frederick said. “He had a calm about him. You can see that in the time he took when he did things and the very measured approach he had.”

Staff Writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.