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Born: July 9, 1956
Concord, California, USA
Born: March 20, 1928
Birthplace: Latrobe, Pennsylvania, USA
Death: February 27, 2003, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA (stomach cancer)
Born: November 8, 1974
Cardiff, Wales, UK
Born: April 9, 1958
Birthplace: Wantagh, New York, USA
Born: October 31, 1952
Lowell, Massachusetts, USA
Birthplace: Jacksonville, Florida, USA
Born: February 14, 1963
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The film is not a traditional biopic, nor is it primarily about Fred Rogers, the creator and host of the long-running children's TV show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood (1968 - 2001), which aired nearly 1,000 episodes. Instead, the plot focuses on the real-life friendship between Rogers and cynical journalist Tom Junod (renamed Lloyd Vogel in the movie and portrayed by Matthew Rhys). The hard-hitting journalist reluctantly takes an assignment to write a profile story about the cherished TV icon for a special 1998 "Heroes" issue of Esquire. At first skeptical of Rogers, his perspective begins to change as Rogers helps him explore his own feelings, including his troubled home life and fractured relationship with his father. The real-life piece, titled Can You Say...Hero?, was published in Esquire in November 1998 and is included in the book A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Neighborly Words of Wisdom from Mister Rogers.
No. While conducting our A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood fact check, we discovered this to be false. "I did not get into a fistfight with my father at my sister's wedding," said Tom Junod, the real-life journalist who loosely inspired Matthew Rhys character. "My sister didn't have a wedding."
Yes. While it seems like a nice movie moment that's hard to believe happened in real life, it actually comes straight from Tom Junod's article. Like in the movie, the subway car was crowded with schoolchildren, none of whom approached Mister Rogers. "They just sang," wrote Junod. "They sang, all at once, all together, the song he sings at the start of his program, 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?' and turned the clattering train into a single soft, runaway choir."
For the most part, no. While they did become close friends and have many exchanges – in person, on the phone and via email – the movie's conversations are mostly fictional. For example, at one point Matthew Rhys' character tells Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), "You love people like me," to which Hanks as Rogers responds, "What are people like you?" Rhys answers, "Broken people." The real-life journalist, Tom Junod, admits that he was broken back then, but he says, "I had never uttered those words to Fred in my life." -The Atlantic
No. The acclaimed Mister Rogers documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor?, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, was not part of the basis for 2019's A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks. The documentary offers a much more comprehensive look at the life of Fred Rogers.
No. In the film, Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) and his patient wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) have a newborn baby. While researching the A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood true story, we discovered that the real-life journalist and his wife did not have a newborn child. Tom Junod does credit Fred Rogers with giving his wife Janet and him the courage to adopt their daughter. However, that encouragement came during his last conversation with Fred Rogers (after the events in the movie), at which time he and his wife began the adoption process. -The Atlantic
Fred Rogers' faith in God is integral to understanding who he was, yet it's mostly absent from the film. "Fred's faith in God was unshakable," says journalist Tom Junod, "and so was his faith in goodness itself." Junod, who loosely inspired Matthew Rhys character, says that Rogers was more overtly religious in his emails than he was in person or on his TV show, the latter of which almost lacked the mention of God entirely. In real life, Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. -The Atlantic
Yes. It was an "enduring" friendship that lasted from the moment they met in 1998 until Rogers death in 2003. Tom Junod indeed found himself opening up to Fred Rogers, asking him his "deepest and most troubling questions." They exchanged no fewer than 70 emails during the first year of their friendship alone. Rogers mostly wrote about faith, closing each email by telling Junod that he kept him in his thoughts and prayers. "And, I guess you know, each morning I pray for you; I really do." -The Atlantic
Yes, at least much more accurately than any of the other main characters. In exploring the A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood fact vs. fiction, we learned that Fred Rogers really was a vegetarian. He had given up meat in 1970 when his father died, and had often stated, as he does in the movie, that he wouldn't "eat anything that had a mother." He even became a co-owner of Vegetarian Times magazine and appeared on the cover. During a 1987 interview with Rick Sebak, Fred said that he gave up fish in the 1980s after hearing someone's reply when he said, "I heard that fish was very good for you." They told him, "Yeah, but it's not good for the fish."
Like Fred's wife Joanne tells Lloyd in the movie, Fred started every morning by swimming and praying for people by name. Tom Hanks' mannerisms seem very accurate as well, including his slow way of speaking and use of silence, considering each word carefully and giving his audience time to ponder them. Anyone who has seen Mister Rogers' Neighborhood will also recognize Hanks' accurate wardrobe, including the blue sports coat and the red cardigan.
It's a question that fans were asking even prior to the movie's release. "How accurate is the Tom Hanks Mister Rogers movie?" Perhaps the film's biggest error is one of omission. In order to evoke who Fred Rogers was, the film focuses on how he helps a cynical, anti-social (largely fictional) journalist to understand his feelings and come to terms with his deep-seated issues. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood did this regularly with children, using puppetry, songs and straightforward talk to help children understand their feelings. While the movie's story offers an example of Fred Rogers' impact on people, we arguably don't get to know him any better than we already did.
By creating a story arc around the movie's largely fictional journalist, Lloyd Vogel, there's no time for an actual story arc about Fred Rogers. For instance, one that delves into his childhood, the creation of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, how he spent his three-year retirement before deciding to bring back his beloved TV show. And then there's the enormous influence of religion on Fred Rogers' life and career (he was an ordained Presbyterian minister but thought he could better spread a positive message to young people through public television).
Christianity provided the foundation for Fred Rogers' message and it was the bedrock of his life. Yet, it's all but absent from the movie. Instead, the film focuses much of its time on the skeptical Lloyd (Matthew Rhys) trying to figure out if Fred Rogers is the real deal. Is Mr. Rogers like his television persona, or is he an impostor? The problem with this approach is that the answer has already been well established. "It is a truism by now that there was no difference between Fred Rogers and Mister Rogers," says Tom Junod, the real-life journalist who loosely inspired Matthew Rhys character (The Atlantic). Perhaps it's because I grew up in Pittsburgh, where Fred Rogers lived and his show was created, but no one I know has ever questioned his sincerity. Simply watch his 1969 speech before congress asking for funding for public television and it's on its own enough to erase any doubt.
In the end, while Lloyd's fictional storyline is effective and moving, we get a film in which Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) is onscreen for only about half of the running time. Instead of spending more time exploring his "neighborhood" and what was at the heart of it, the true story of Fred Rogers is left largely untouched and Tom Hanks is underutilized in a role he was born to play.
Yes. "Fred Rogers was a HUGE fan of Tom Hanks," says Fred's widow Joanne. His son John said that his dad had probably seen Forrest Gump 100 times. He also loved the movie BIG.
Dive deeper into the A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood true story by watching Fred Rogers testify before Congress in the video below, as he attempts to secure $20 million in federal funding for PBS. Then view a trailer for the Fred Rogers documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor?