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Fred Rogers' 'retirement' busy with books, songs, appearances

Tuesday, April 09, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

When "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" ceased production, the staff at Rogers' Family Communications bristled at the word "retirement," insisting Fred Rogers would remain active, just not in TV production.

So he has.

Rogers' "Playtime" (Running Press, $12.95), a book of children's activities, was published in November, and "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" (Running Press, $12.95), a book of magnetic postcards, was issued within the past year. A miniature edition of Rogers' "You Are Special" (Running Press, $4.95), including a trolley charm bookmark, hits stores soon.

A playground based on the Neighborhood of Make-Believe recently opened at Monroeville Mall, the Mister Rogers planetarium show has expanded to the Maryland Science Center and a musical for students featuring nine of Rogers' songs will be published this year as part of McGraw-Hill's kindergarten music curriculum.

With college graduation season approaching, Rogers will be traveling a lot in the coming months, and that means more opportunities for meeting fans.

Rogers' wife, Joanne, didn't witness what's become her favorite Mister Rogers fan encounter story.

As Fred Rogers, who often wears eyeglasses and a bow tie, boarded a flight, he could see a flash of recognition in the flight attendant's eyes.

"I just love your popcorn," the flight attendant said, mistaking him for Orville Redenbacher.

"He was a little nonplussed," Joanne Rogers said, her generous laugh following. "He said, 'Well, I like popcorn, too,' and went on to his seat."

Last week, Rogers was at the White House on behalf of PBS, which announced a new public service campaign promoting children's literacy.

"There's a larger-than-usual contingent of White House staff here today," said President Bush in a transcript provided by the White House. "I know they're not here to see me. They're here to see Mister Rogers."

Bush thanked Rogers for his service to America's children, which resulted in a standing ovation:

"It is impossible to count the number of lives you have touched, but you've made a huge impact on thousands and thousands of children. And there are thousands and thousands of parents and Americans who are grateful for your service to the country."

A year and a half removed from the end of production on "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," Fred Rogers said he doesn't miss being in the studio, except the people he worked with there.

"Whenever we'd go in the studio, it was like playing," Rogers said.

Even with new episodes a thing of the past, Joanne Rogers doesn't see her husband more than before.

"He keeps pretty much the same hours, and he seems to have more public appearances," she said. "People think because he's not doing the program he ought to have more time to come and do this and do that, but I don't notice any difference, I must say."

Mister Rogers retired? Not even close.

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