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TV Critic David Bianculli

TV critic David Bianculli reflects on the career of the late Fred Rogers.



Related Topic

Other segments from the episode on February 28, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 28, 2003: Commentary on Fred Rogers; Obituary for Fred Rogers; Review of the film "All the real girls."


DATE February 28, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
 TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
 PROGRAM Fresh Air

Commentary: Remembering Fred Rogers

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, sitting in for Terry Gross.

On today's show, we'll remember Fred Rogers, and listen back to two of his
interviews with us, recorded nearly 20 years apart. Anyone who saw Fred
Rogers on "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" when they were young--and that's just
about everybody--knows a lot about the man who died yesterday at age 74. They
know he was kind and loving and trustworthy and enthusiastic and honest and,
as a television star, unique. Off camera, based on the handful of times that
I saw him over the years, I can honestly say that he was exactly the same in
real life. He cared more about his responsibility as a TV personality and his
audience than any entertainer or educator I ever met.

By coincidence, Fred Rogers and I got involved in children's television at
about the same place and time. His career as a children's TV personality
began in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as the puppeteer, musician, producer and
co-creator of a local TV show called "Children's Corner." That show began in
Pittsburgh in 1954. I began in Pittsburgh a year earlier. I was born there.

So when Fred Rogers and his on-air partner, Josie Carey, started working
together, I was right there as one of their first and youngest viewers. This
was a year before the premieres of "Mickey Mouse Club" and "Captain Kangaroo,"
and from the very beginning, Rogers served up a gentle, unhurried, very
different, very soothing type of TV. He never stopped. He began his own
show, "Mister Rogers," for Canada's CBC in 1963. He returned to Pittsburgh
and launched "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" as a local show in 1966, and took
it national in 1968, where it's been on PBS with original shows or reruns ever

The more TV changed, the more Fred Rogers remained the same, and the more he
stood out, almost like a calm oasis in TV's vast wasteland. By the time he
stopped doing original shows three years ago, Rogers had amassed a huge and
invaluable library of special and regular shows, shows like this one, called
"What Do You Do With The Mad That You Feel?"

(Soundbite of "What Do You Do With The Mad That You Feel?")

Mr. FRED ROGERS: I remember when I was a boy, if I couldn't go something very
well and I'd get frustrated about it, I'd go to the piano and tell it with my
fingers on the piano keys. I'll just show you.

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. ROGERS: Are there things that make you angry? Do you have ways of
showing you're angry, ways that don't hurt you or anybody else?

(Singing) What do you do with the mad that you feel when you feel so mad you
could bite, when the whole wide world seems oh so wrong and nothing you do
seems very right? What do you do? Do you punch a bag? Do you pound some
clay or some dough? Do you round up friends for a game of tag, or see how
fast you go? It's great to be able to...

BIANCULLI: Some of the things I'll remember most vividly about Fred Rogers,
though, weren't on his shows. They were from my real-life encounters with
him. The first time I met him--and yes, he had that same molasses voice off
camera and was just as sweet and deliberate--was when he was visiting
Philadelphia to speak to a small kindergarten class. The evening before, when
I was with him, he was contacted by "Nightline" and invited to appear on that
night's show. Rogers politely but firmly declined, and when I asked him why,
he said he owed it to those kindergarten kids to be as fresh and good as he
could be.

Another time, when Rogers was accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award from the
Television Critics Association, he stood before the country's TV critics, a
tough room if ever there was one, and asked them to take a minute to think
about the parents, teachers and others friends and loved ones who had a major
influence in getting them to where they were that day. Then he looked at his
watch and told them, told us, that he'd let us know when the minute was up.
And then he stood there not saying another word for a full 60 seconds. Before
Rogers spoke again, you could hear the sound of silence, and some sobbing.

In that spirit, I'm going to do something similar when I get off the radio.
I'm going to take some more time to think about what Fred Rogers asked us to
think about that day. And though he would never have asked it himself, I'll
take a moment to think about Fred Rogers, too.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Fred Rogers talks about his life, his long-running
PBS show and his book "The Mister Rogers Parenting Book"

Fred Rogers first visited FRESH AIR and spoke with Terry Gross in 1984. We'll
hear that interview later on today's show. We'll begin with another Fred
Rogers interview, this one from just a few months ago. He spoke with Barbara
Bogaev after the publication of the "Mister Rogers Parenting Book." He joined
Barbara from his studio in Pittsburgh, where he was seated at his piano.


Fred Rogers, welcome to FRESH AIR. It's such a pleasure.

Mr. FRED ROGERS (Author, "The Mister Rogers Parenting Book"): Thank you,

BOGAEV: You write about a lot of everyday things. You also write about some
pretty profound issues in parenting, about children's fears. I'm remembering
a show you once did about how a child cannot go down the drain in the bathtub.
You had a whole show about that.

Mr. ROGERS: Oh, yes.

BOGAEV: It sounds funny, but you're really meeting kids on their own level.
That's a real fear. Did a child write to you, and is that where you got the
idea for that?

Mr. ROGERS: A child played that out in front of me one time, making a
character, trying to see if that character could go down a tube, you know,
just a plain, ordinary tube, and I found out that it had to do with the drain
in the bathtub. That child was petrified when his parent pulled the plug
while he was still in the tub, and so consequently, we wrote a song about
that, you know.

(Sings) `You can never go down, can never go down, can never go down the

And then it goes on, `You're much bigger than the water, much bigger than the
soap,' and its true, but children don't know that when they hear this loud
rush of the flush of water in the bathroom. They think they might be sucked
down the drain, and so just to talk about it, I mean, people were very
surprised that I would show a bathtub drain, as well as a toilet drain, and
just say, `You see? You could never go down such a small thing.' Well, there
were many children, I think, who breathed a sigh of relief, just to be able to
talk about it.

BOGAEV: Can we talk about discipline for a moment? You hear a lot that
parents aren't disciplining their children enough now, that they're not
setting limits and they're not being consistent about rules that they do have.
Is that your experience, looking back over your long work with kids? Are more
parents dropping the ball on disciplining their children?

Mr. ROGERS: You know, Barbara, discipline is a kind of love. If children
didn't have limits from those who cared about them, they would never feel that
they were loved. If a child ran out into the street, for instance, and nobody
screamed and says, `Come back!' or nobody ran after that child, that child
would think that nobody loved him. So healthy limits, which children
understand, are a marvelous way of saying `I care about you.'

I don't know about the numbers of people who give comfortable limits to their
children anymore. I know that my grandchildren receive them all the time, but
things that are clear--if children know why we're asking them to do things,
they often are very happy to do them, especially if they feel that it is
consistent with our family values. Children love to belong, and if they know
that this is the way our family does things, then they'll want to be part of

BOGAEV: I have to ask you about the sweaters, and I'm sure you were asked
about the sweaters that you wore on the show many, many times, but I
understand your mother knitted most of them, until her death.

Mr. ROGERS: She did. Mother was a great knitter. She would carry her
knitting bag wherever she went, and she made a sweater a month, and at
Christmastime she would give 12 sweaters to this sort of extended family of
ours, and invariably she would say, `OK, here's your sweater for Christmas,
and here's the pattern book. Tell me which one you want for next year. Of
course, I know the one Freddie wants. He wants the one with the zipper down
the front.' Well, I have all of those sweaters, and we used every one that she
ever made for me. But that's been kind of a trademark, hasn't it, the sweater
and the sneakers?

The sneakers came about because I had to run across the studio floor to get
from the puppet set to the organ when I was doing "The Children's Corner," and
so the sneakers just became--you know, I didn't want to make a lot of noise by
running in other shoes.

BIANCULLI: Fred Rogers speaking with Barbara Bogaev last November. We'll
continue in a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Barbara Bogaev's 2002 interview with Fred

BOGAEV: What were you like as a kid?

Mr. ROGERS: I was an only child for 11 years, Barbara, and I had to make up
a lot of my own fun.

BOGAEV: I think you were sickly often, right? You had a lot of childhood

Mr. ROGERS: I had every imaginable childhood disease, even scarlet fever, and
so whenever I was quarantined--and you know, they used to quarantine people
for chicken pox and all of those things--I would be in bed a lot, and I
certainly knew what it was like to use the counterpane as my neighborhood of
make believe, if you will. But I had puppets...

BOGAEV: You mean, the window? You would use--What?--finger puppets or shadow
puppets, or what?

Mr. ROGERS: And things on the bed. I would put up my knees and they would
be mountains, you know, covered with the sheet, and I'd have all these little
figures moving around, and I'd make them talk. And I can still see my room,
and I'm sure that was the beginning of a much later neighborhood of make
believe. But to...

BOGAEV: Was King Friday the XIII one of your childhood characters, or Lady
Aberlin or Lady Elaine?

Mr. ROGERS: The king probably had his genesis there, but it wasn't that
particular name because it was a child who helped us form that name, King
Friday the XIII. A child had been told that Friday the 13th was a very bad
day, and he was afraid of those Friday the 13ths, and so I just said one time,
`Why don't we have a character whose name is Friday the XIII, and he
celebrates his birthday every time a Friday lands on the 13th of the month.

BOGAEV: Oh, that's so unfair!

Mr. ROGERS: And so his birthday, King Friday's birthday, is always Friday the
13th. And I hear from people all over the world, you know, it's a joyous
occasion for us. It might be otherwise for those who haven't been enlightened
by the neighborhood, but...

(As King Friday) This is King Friday the XIII. I must explain a few things to
Miss Bebe(ph).'

Yes, you're certainly welcome, King Friday.

(As King Friday) Friday the 13th is a fine day, and may you not say otherwise.
Thank you.

(Soundbite of piano flourish)

BOGAEV: Oh, it's taking me back. Now a gal...

Mr. ROGERS: (As Lady Elaine) This is Lady Elaine, toots. You asked about me,
and I'm mighty glad you did. Have you ever been to my Museum-Go-Round? Well,
you'll find everything that you could ever want in any one of those rooms.

(As X the Owl) This is X the Owl. You seem to be speechless, Barbara.

BOGAEV: So true.

Mr. ROGERS: (As X the Owl) I'm just flying around here looking for you.


Mr. ROGERS: (As X the Owl) Now there's Daniel Tiger over there at his clock.
Did you want to say hello to him? I mean, he's awful shy.


Mr. ROGERS: (As Daniel Tiger) Well, I am shy, but I would like to say that
I'm glad you're having FRESH AIR.

BOGAEV: Oh, thank you for that. So is that how you spent the weeks when you
were in your bed as a kid, making up voices?

Mr. ROGERS: Yeah. Voices for puppets and all kinds of stories, and when I
was 11 years old, my sister came, and then I wasn't an only child anymore.

BOGAEV: Now I think I also read that you were overweight as a kid. Did kids
make fun of you? I mean, it sounds like you were probably shy because of

Mr. ROGERS: Oh, yeah. Oh, I think I'm still shy. I was concerned about
coming to talk with you today. I want things to be right. I want them to be
good. I worry if I make big mistakes, and that's quite a burden at times.
But of course, it can help when you're doing work that you feel is so

BOGAEV: When you were in college, you studied music composition, and you also
got a degree in child development and you became an ordained Presbyterian
minister, but after all those--trying out, I guess, all those avocations, you
went back to TV after that. Why didn't you pursue any of those other
interests--music or the ministry?

Mr. ROGERS: Well, I feel that it's all wrapped up in what we do with the
neighborhood and what we do with all of the things that we publish, that every
part of who you are comes out in whatever assignment you have. But when I was
ordained in the church, the ordination read like this: `You are to continue
your work for families and children through the mass media,' so what better
than to have these different identities and be able to wrap them all in the
service of children and their families? I think that that's when I really
knew who I was, when--you know, I loved drama and I loved music, and I loved
puppetry, and I liked television and I liked philosophy and religion. But the
moment I realized that all of those could be used in the service of children
and their families, that's when I knew who I was.

BOGAEV: Now did you have a model for your Mr. Rogers persona, the perfect
adult, someone you knew, maybe your father, or your grandfather?

Mr. ROGERS: Well, my Grandfather McFeely used to say things to me, the kinds
of things that I would say to the children on the air. We would visit him at
his farm. Every Sunday we'd go out there for dinner.

BOGAEV: McFeely as in Mr. McFeely on your show.

Mr. ROGERS: Exactly, yeah. And that's my middle name, and that was my
mother's maiden name. But we would go to his farm for dinner on Sunday, and
invariably, he's take us for a walk around the grounds and say things like,
`I'm so glad that you've come.' And when we'd leave, he would say, `You've
made this day a special day,' things like that, you know--`Just your being
yourself is what matters to me,' and he would take me fishing. And he was a
wonderful person.

BIANCULLI: Fred Rogers speaking with Barbara Bogaev last November. He died
yesterday at the age of 74.

We'll continue this interview, and hear a much earlier interview Terry did
with Fred Rogers in the second half of the show. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood")

Mr. ROGERS: (Singing) it's such a good feeling to know you're alive. It's
such a happy feeling, you're growing inside. And when you wake up ready to
say, `I think I'll make a snappy new day,' it's such a good feeling, a very
good feeling, the feeling you know you're alive. It's such a good feeling to
know you're in tune. It's such a happy feeling to find you're in bloom. And
when you wake up ready to say, `I think I'll make a snappy new day.' It's
such a good feeling, a very good feeling, the feeling you know that we're

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. ROGERS: (Singing) It's such a good feeling to know you're alive. It's
such a happy feeling you're growing inside. And when you wake up ready to
say, `I think I'll make a snappy new day,' it's such a good feeling, the
feeling you know that we're friends.


(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: That's Johnny Costa on piano. He was the pianist and musical
director for "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." Coming up, we'll hear more of
Barbara Bogaev's recent interview with the late Fred Rogers, as well as a
conversation with him Terry Gross recorded nearly 20 years ago. Also, a
review of the new independent film "All the Real Girls."

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, back with more of our
remembrance of Fred Rogers, the children's TV host who died yesterday at age
74. He spoke with Barbara Bogaev last November.

BOGAEV: You worked with the people on your show for decades. Many of them
stayed for decades, right? And I was thinking that when people work together
on a television show for so long, they often play some practical jokes on each
other on the air just to keep things interesting. What kinds of pranks
happened on the set of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood"? Did they ever, you
know, sprinkle itch powder in your sweater or anything?

Mr. ROGERS: No, but there were times when they put rolled-up newspaper in the
toes of my shoes, so that when I was singing the goodbye song, I would try to
get on my shoes and, of course, they were much too small for me to get into.
So the camera didn't show the shoes those days, and I was going out with my
heels over the backs.

And then one time there was this blown-up voluptuous lady made out of rubber,
a huge one, in my closet. When I opened it at the end of the program to put
my sweater back in the closet, here was this lady waiting for me.

BOGAEV: What did you do?

Mr. ROGERS: Well, we taped it over. But you couldn't do that in the days of
live television and, of course, that's the way we began.

BOGAEV: I have to get you to tell this story. I understand once the actor
Michael Keaton was on your show.

Mr. ROGERS: Oh, yes.

BOGAEV: You had many celebrities on the show, but he made a little bit more
mischief than most.

Mr. ROGERS: Michael worked with us on the studio crew before he ever went to
Hollywood, and he was in charge of the trolley, the movement of the trolley in
my room, and also Picture, Picture. And there's a little sliding door right
under Picture, Picture where I put in the tape, and so...

BOGAEV: This is the magic picture projector, right?

Mr. ROGERS: It is a projector, yeah.

BOGAEV: It has a slot.

Mr. ROGERS: Uh-huh. And one day I opened the slot to put the tape in, and I
heard this voice say, `I'm ready to hear your confession, son.' Well, that
was Michael. And those were the kinds of things that--well, he's just a
wonderful person.

BOGAEV: There have been many spoofs of "Mister Rogers," as I'm sure you know,
over the years. Eddie Murphy's on "Saturday Night Live" is perhaps the
best-known spoof. I remember National Lampoon also had a skit based on your
show. What did you think of those? How did you feel about the ribbing you
got over the years?

Mr. ROGERS: I think most of them were done with a great deal of affection. I
remember meeting Eddie Murphy for the first time over at the RCA building, and
he came out of his office, and I was walking down the hall, and he put his
arms around me and he said, `The real Mr. Rogers.' And Mr. Carson, when I was
with him one time, he said, `You know, Fred, we would never do these take-offs
about you if we didn't like you. We wouldn't care about making you famous.'
There have been some that have concerned me, though, Barbara, and one we
learned of--and this was on local television--somebody dressed up in a sweater
and sneakers and talked--they said, even more slowly than I talk--I did not
see this, but he pretended that he was I, and he said, `Now, boys and girls, I
want you to take your mother's hair spray and your daddy's cigarette lighter
and press the buttons together and you'll have a blow torch.'

Well, he was meaning to be funny, you know, but it was done in the afternoon,
so if any child, even one child, would have gotten the notion that that was
something that we had condoned and had tried such a thing, such a sexist thing
for one thing, that would have been disastrous. And so we were able to know
about that because a family that watched the "Neighborhood" wrote us and told
us about it. So we got it taken off the air.

BIANCULLI: Fred Rogers speaking with Barbara Bogaev last November, one month
before he was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

Coming up, a 1984 conversation between Fred Rogers and Terry Gross.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Fred Rogers discusses his early life and his career in
children's television

In 1984, Fred Rogers stopped by our neighborhood to visit with Terry Gross.
At that point, he'd already been working in children's television for 30


Was there somebody in your life who was the kind of figure for you like you've
become to so many children who would, you know, like, reassure you and, you
know, want to discuss things with you? Of course, you can't actually step out
of the TV and discuss it with all the kids, but you offer that to them. Was
there someone like that for you?

Mr. FRED ROGERS: I guess the closest person was my grandfather, Mr. McFeely,
and of course we've named the Speedy Delivery man for him. We called him Ding
Dong because he taught us that childhood rhyme, `Ding dong bell, pussy in the
well.' And everybody called him Ding Dong. He was the kind of person who
would really support your strivings for autonomy. And while my parents and my
grandmother were naturally very concerned about my health and hazards around,
he was the kind of person who when I would walk on one of his stone walls, for
instance, and they would say, `Better get down,' Ding Dong would say, `Oh, let
the kid walk on the wall. He's got to learn to do things for himself.'

GROSS: What were the things that really scared you when you were a child?

Mr. ROGERS: I think the most scary thing was being alone and thinking that
maybe nobody would come to get me. And I think that school, beginning school
was tough for me. That's probably why I've done so much work for children in
this area. I think also I was frightened of the doctor, and that's probably
why I've made all those videotapes about (technical difficulties) children
know about what hospitalization is like before they go; probably why I wrote
that song "I Like to Be Told," because I did, I liked to be told about things
before I had to go do them.

GROSS: Did you like scary movies and books?

Mr. ROGERS: I can't remember.

GROSS: Did you go to the movies a lot?

Mr. ROGERS: I would go to the movies. It's hard for me to remember. I
remember a couple movies that--I liked Shirley Temple and I liked those kinds
of stories that, you know, she would always come out OK at the end. And I met
Shirley Temple Black not too long ago, and I just sat beside her in awe, and I
said--it was interesting because the first thing I said to her was, `You were
one of my favorite people.' And she said, `Were?' That was the first thing
she said, and that really put me back. I expected her to say something about,
you know, `I'm really glad that I could have been part of your childhood,' but
all she said was, `Were? I was one of your favorite people?' Isn't that

GROSS: Yeah, it is. Did she diminish in your esteem after saying that?

Mr. ROGERS: A little bit, but I think that so many people you put on
pedestals when you see them from afar, and it's probably just not fair to
expect them to be as wonderful as you thought they would be when you met them.

GROSS: What about when you were a teen-ager? Was that an uncomfortable
experience or were you--did you feel like you fit in with everybody in high
school? Which is, I think, a pretty traumatic time for a lot of people when
they're growing up.

Mr. ROGERS: It sure is. I think the teen-age years are probably
uncomfortable for everybody. It's just that some seem to be able to carry it
off with more elan than others. But it was tough for me at the beginning, and
then I made a couple friends who found out that the core of me was OK, and one
of them was the president--or the head of the football team. He later became
my best friend in high school. But it was after the beginning of that
friendship that I was more accepted in school. Then I became the editor of
the yearbook and finally the president of the student council by the end of
high school. But I was a very shy person going into high school.

GROSS: What did you think you were going to be when you got out of school and
started a professional career?

Mr. ROGERS: I thought I was going to be a diplomat and was thinking about
going to a school for diplomacy, and then I changed my mind--and this was
during college--I wanted to be a minister, and was all set to go to seminary
after college. But I saw this thing called television and I saw people
throwing pies in each other's faces and all kinds of demeaning behavior, and I
thought, I would really like to try my hand at that and see what I could do.
And so instead of going to the seminary after graduation, I got a job at NBC
in New York and went there for two years before joining educational

GROSS: Well, you worked on the "Hit Parade" and "The Kate Smith Hour," I

Mr. ROGERS: Mm-hmm, "The Voice of Firestone" and all of those programs.

GROSS: It surprises me, I think, that you left for a fledgling station, a
brand-new station in educational television, which was also new. It sounds
like it was very risky to do that. Why did you make that switch?

Mr. ROGERS: I don't know. Pittsburgh was closer to where I grew up. Maybe I
wanted to--I had just gotten married in New York and maybe I had wanted to go
back. I'm not sure that's so. I think that it had to do with wanting to work
with children, because every day that I had off at NBC, I would go and visit a
day-care center or an orphanage or a hospital that cared for children, and I
cannot tell you why. I'm sure it had very deep roots.

But when I got to Pittsburgh--and there were only three or four of us working
at QED then. We weren't even on the air. This was in November of '53 and we
didn't go on the air until April of '54, 30 years ago. One of the secretaries
and I did a children's program together because nobody else wanted to do a
children's program, but we were doing all of these other things as well. Each
of us had a salary of $75 a week, and out of our own pockets, we bought all of
the props for the program and we called the program "The Children's Corner"
and it was on an hour every day. And I expected that I would play the organ
for the hostess to sing, she would introduce all of the films, which I, as the
producer, would get from all over the country. They had to be free, as we
didn't have any budget. Well, I didn't realize that but those films were very
brittle at times and, of course, everything was live and we'd be on the air
and here would be a film showing and it would break. We'd have to fill with

And so the night before we went on the air, Mrs. Dorothy Daniel, who was the
general manager of the station, gave me a little tiger puppet, so I called him
Daniel, for her. And when the first film broke, I just poked the puppet
through--and this was just a very fanciful set with drawings on it, and I just
poked him through and it happened to be a clock where I poked him through.
And he just said, `It's 5:02, and Columbus discovered America in 1492,' and
that was the first thing that I ever said through puppetry on the air.


Mr. ROGERS: But I just wanted you to know that necessity there was the mother
of that invention, because it hadn't been planned. And so much that is
spontaneous is what can be truly inspired. And I feel that all that I've done
that's been really helpful and good has been inspired.

GROSS: You went back to seminary after doing children's programming for a
while, right?

Mr. ROGERS: Well, I started with the station, and after we got that
children's program going, it got to be so busy for us that the secretary and I
both gave up all of our other duties to do "The Children's Corner." As it got
moving, the second year, I decided I would go to the seminary, so I went on my
lunch hour and took courses, just one at a time, never expecting that I would
graduate. Took me eight years and I finally graduated and was ordained a
minister in the Presbyterian Church.

GROSS: Obviously you're very religious, but I don't think you--it's not a
denominational program, and I'm sure that's intentional on your part.

Mr. ROGERS: It's far from denominational and far from overtly religious. The
last thing in the world that I would want to do would be something that's
exclusive. I would hate to think that a child would feel excluded from the
neighborhood by something that I said and did.

GROSS: Can I just ask you one more thing before we go? You know how a lot
of adults always say, `God, I wish I was a child again'? Do you ever wish you
were five or 10 or 12?

Mr. ROGERS: Yes, but I'd like to be that with what I know now, and I think
that I'd like that because there are a good many significant people in my life
that I have lost through death, and I'd like to be able to talk with them
again and tell them some things that I wasn't able to tell them then. In
fact, I'd like to be able to tell them, `You are special.'

BIANCULLI: Terry Gross speaking with Fred Rogers in 1984. He died yesterday
at age 74.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. ROGERS: (Singing) Did you ever fall and hurt your hand or knee? Did you
ever bite your tongue? Did you ever find the stinger of a bee stuck in your
thumb? I did, too. It seems the things that you do, I did, too, when I was
very new. I had lots of hurts and scares and worries when I was growing up,
like you. Did you ever trip and fall down on the stairs? Did you ever stub
your toe? Did you ever dream of great big grizzly bears who wouldn't go? I
did, too. It seems the things that you do, I did, too, when I was very new.
I had lots of hurts and scares and worries when I was growing up, when I was
growing up, when I was growing up, like you.

BIANCULLI: Coming up, John Powers reviews the new film "All the Real Girls."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New film "All the Real Girls"

"All the Real Girls" is a new romantic drama by the young filmmaker David
Gordon Green. His first film was "George Washington." "All the Real Girls"
was a big hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival, where it won a special
jury prize for emotional truth. Film critic John Powers has a review.

JOHN POWERS reporting:

For the last 25 years, American filmmakers have been chasing the ghost of the
1970s. That includes a terrific new generation, led by P.T. Anderson, Wes
Anderson and Spike Jonze, who are familiar with the freedoms enjoyed by the
so-called "Easy Riders and "Raging Bulls," yet have a sensibility shaped by an
era of diminished cinematic expectations. They make cult classics, not
big-budget hits, tell original stories rather than milk old genres, prefer
ensemble casts to lavish star vehicles, and they largely neglect broad social
concerns in favor of exploring the beleaguered modern self, a variety of the
higher navel-gazing, which may have reached its peak in the recent movie

You find nearly all of these qualities in David Gordon Green, the gifted North
Carolina-based filmmaker who, at age 27, seems poised to join their front
ranks. In fact, his new movie, "All the Real Girls," comes wrapped in the
familiar Sundance hype that threatens to make real-world audiences feel
oversold and underwhelmed. Set in a sleepy North Carolina mill town, "All the
Real Girls" is a love story of almost dreamy simplicity. Its hero, Paul,
played by Paul Schneider, is a 22-year-old idler who might have stepped out of
a Raymond Carver short story. Emotionally immature, he spends his life
hanging out with his buddies and cattishly bedding the local chicks. All that
changes when he meets Noel--that's Zooey Deschanel--a virginal young woman
just back from boarding school. The two fall for each other instantly,
achieving a tremulous honesty that delights and unsettles them both, yet in
ways they can't possibly understand, their lives are terribly out of sync.
While Paul seeks salvation in Noel's innocence--`She makes me decent,' he
says, and won't sleep with her--she wants to learn the songs of experience.

Here, Paul tries to tell her about his past.

(Soundbite of "All the Real Girls")

Mr. PAUL SCHNEIDER: I made some ugly mistakes.

Ms. ZOOEY DESCHANEL: With girls?

Mr. SCHNEIDER: The most really ugly, and anything that would make you feel
more comfortable for you to know, I want to tell you that stuff, because I
care about you, oh, a lot. And when--you know, when people from before come
up, you know, I want you to understand what they hate when they see me.

POWERS: As he showed in his $50,000 debut, "George Washington," David Gordon
Green is attuned to the poetry of ordinary life, with its slow patches and
sudden bursts of deep emotion. He knows the thrill of confessing your most
painful secret or how a silly dance at a bowling alley can be the most magical
thing on Earth. This isn't the glib, saccharine teen love story you normally
see in the movies. Green understand how profoundly romantic betrayal can
shake up the young. Paul faces the shattering discovery that his beloved is
capable of going to bed with someone else, while Noel has the epiphany that
she can love Paul, sleep with another guy and, in that very moment, realize
how much she loves Paul.

Of the two, Noel is by far the more compelling creation. She's played with
enormous honesty by Deschanel, whose wide-open face has the emotional
transparency you found in Gwyneth Paltrow before she got so grand. Gazing out
from her intent raccoon eyes, Deschanel makes us feel the vibrancy of a young
woman who's discovering her own capacity for startling herself. By
comparison, the inarticulate Paul is so emotionally arrested that I kept
wondering why all the local women should be so interested in him.

Green is essentially a poet of moods rather than a teller of tales, and he
adorns this movie with studied stylistic touches, influenced by '70s wonder
boy Terrence Malick, who made "Badlands" and "Days of Heaven." The movie has
dialogue that veers toward the literary, juxtaposes nature against man-made
violence and has a burnished visual style that seeks to elevate commonplace
reality through sheer beauty. And the film is beautiful. Shot in exquisite
wide screen by Tim Orr, it gives us a world bathed in golden light. It's also
bathed, I have to tell you, in a wash of artistic self-importance. Like many
young directors, Green is a bit self-serious, especially in his attempt to
make this two-person romance become some sort of commentary on small-town life
in general. That's frankly more significance than this small, delicate love
story can really support.

Still, you have to be pretty harsh to dwell on the whiff of pretension of an
ambitious young filmmaker with as much natural talent as Green. That's the
sort of thing that time will burn away. Anyway, as Noel tells Paul near the
end of the movie, `Nobody ever said we had to be perfect.'

BIANCULLI: John Powers is film critic and media columnist for LA Weekly.

(Soundbite of music)


BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

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