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TV Host Fred Rogers

His popular show, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, was the longest-running program on public television. It ran 33 years and ended its run in 2001. Rogers was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor the nation can bestow, in 2001. Rogers died in February of this year at the age of 74. Barbara Bogaev conducted this interview.

17:06

Other segments from the episode on December 30, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 30, 2003: Interview with Jeff Moss; Interview with Bob Dorough; Interview with Fred Rogers.

Transcript

DATE December 30, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Interview: Bob Dorough, jazz musician, discusses his work as
musical director of the program "School House Rock"
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We're continuing our holiday series Songs from Hollywood and Broadway by
taking some liberties and hearing from composers of songs for kids TV.
"Schoolhouse Rock" was a series of educational animated videos with clever
songs designed to teach kids about grammar, math and history. It was
broadcast Saturday mornings on ABC from 1973 to '85. The songs stuck in the
minds of some popular rock musicians who grew up watching the series. They
pay tribute with new versions of the songs on the 1997 CD "Schoolhouse Rocks."

What many of the people who grew up with "Schoolhouse Rock" don't realize is
that the music director of the series was the jazz composer, pianist and
singer Bob Dorough. He wrote and sang many of the "Schoolhouse Rock" songs.
In 1996, he told me how he got involved with "Schoolhouse Rock."

Mr. BOB DOROUGH (Music Director, "Schoolhouse Rock"): Well, let's see. I
had met the advertising people who concocted the idea. And my partner, Ben
Tucker, in fact, wanted us to write a little advertising music. He's a bass
player, Ben Tucker.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DOROUGH: So, one day, this gentleman from McCaffrey & McCall ad agency
said, `We're looking for a guy to put the multiplication tables to music.' And
Ben Tucker said, `My partner Bob Dorough can do anything. He can put music to
anything.' `Well, let's have him up.' So I went up to meet the president of
the agency, and it was his idea. And his name was David B. McCall of
McCaffrey & McCall. He said, `My little boy can, you know, sing along with
Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, but he can't memorize his multiplication
tables. So I had the idea, why not put the multiplication tables to rock
music and call it multiplication rock? What do you think?' And I said, `Well,
yeah. That's pretty interesting.' And he said, `Well, but don't write down to
the kids.' Well, I learned later that he had invited other Broadway
songwriters to do this task, and they came up with a more simple doggerel type
of songwriting--writing down, as it were, to children.

GROSS: So, when he said, `So, what do you think,' what did you really think?

Mr. DOROUGH: I thought, well, yeah, this could be, you know, a limited idea.

GROSS: (Laughing)

Mr. DOROUGH: But when he added, `Don't write down to children'...

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. DOROUGH: ...the hackles on my neck arose and I got quite intrigued. And
so I agreed to tackle it. And I spent about three weeks before I would let
myself write the first song. I thought first, looked in math books. And
since I picked my first title--it was called "Three is a Magic Number"--I even
looked in magic and occult books for the reasons that three might be a magic
number.

GROSS: Did you get anything from those books...

Mr. DOROUGH: I did indeed.

GROSS: ...that you used in the song?

Mr. DOROUGH: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What'd you get?

Mr. DOROUGH: Well, that it was one of the magic numbers, and that it was,
you know, embodied in certain things like the Trinity, the old sayings, the
heart and the brain and the body, faith, hope and charity--trinities of sorts.
So I got mainly that, trinities. And, of course, I also was an admirer of
Buckminster Fuller, so I was thinking of his triangle concept that makes
construction so strong.

GROSS: Well, why don't we pause here and listen to your version, the original
version, of "Three is a Magic Number." Now did you sing on this one?

Mr. DOROUGH: Yes.

GROSS: OK. Why don't we hear it?

(Soundbite of "Three is a Magic Number")

Mr. DOROUGH: (Singing) Three is a magic number. Yes, it is. It's a magic
number. Somewhere in the ancient mystic trinity, you get three as a magic
number. The past and the present and the future, faith and hope and charity,
the heart and the brain and the body give you three as a magic number. It
takes three legs to make a tripod or to make a table stand. It takes three
wheels to make a vehicle called a tricycle. Every triangle has three corners,
every triangle has three sides--no more, no less. You don't have to guess.
When it's three, you can see it's a magic number.

Background Singers and Mr. DOROUGH: (Singing) A man and a woman had a little
baby. Yes, they did. They had three in the family as a magic number.

Mr. DOROUGH: (Singing) Three, six, nine, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30.

Background Singers and Mr. DOROUGH: (Singing) Three, six, nine, 12, 15, 18...

GROSS: Now when the advertising executives asked you to set the
multiplication tables to music, did they already have--had they already known
they could broadcast it on ABC TV?

Mr. DOROUGH: No, they were thinking of a phonograph recording and a book.
The idea of television wasn't remotely in their heads.

GROSS: So how did it get on TV?

Mr. DOROUGH: Well, after some time of testing the songs and having the
product, called "Multiplication Rock," they didn't seem to be getting anywhere
in the book publishing world. So one of the executives up at McCaffrey &
McCall said, `You know, one of our clients is ABC Television. I mean, we do
their advertising. Why don't we present it to them?' And so Mr. Tom Yohe
animated it. They did it at their own expense. It's very expensive to
animate a three-minute song. And they presented it as an animation film to
ABC, at which point suddenly we were in that business instead of the book
business.

GROSS: Now what I'd like to do is play one of my favorites and it's "My Hero,
Zero."

(Soundbite of "My Hero, Zero")

Mr. DOROUGH: Did you ever stop to think about zero? Zero is fantastic. Why,
without the concept of zero, we'd never be able to multiply, divide, add,
subtract or even to count very high.

(Singing) My hero, zero, such a funny little hero, but till you came along, we
counted on our fingers and toes. Now you're here to stay. And nobody really
knows how wonderful you are. Why, we could never reach a star without you,
zero, my hero, how wonderful you are.

Unidentified Child: What's so wonderful about a zero? It's nothing, isn't
it?

Mr. DOROUGH: Sure, it represents nothing alone.

(Singing) But place a zero after one and you've got yourself a 10. See how
important that is? When you run out of digits, you can start all over again.
See how convenient that is? That's why with only 10 digits, including zero,
you can count as high as you could ever go forever towards infinity. No one
ever gets there, but you could try. With 10 billion zeros...

GROSS: Now do you think most of the people who grew up listening to your
songs, do you think that they have any idea that these weren't written and
performed by people in advertising agencies or theme houses; that they were
written by you, an interesting and eccentric jazz performer, and that some of
the other songs on here are sung by interesting and eccentric jazz performers?

Mr. DOROUGH: Yes, well, I'm sure they didn't even think about such things.
They grew up and they learned and they watched. They were a captive audience,
one of my partners pointed out, George Newall, because, you know, they were
watching Saturday morning cartoons and suddenly there would be this little
three-minute film. And they got hooked on them, and it actually did them some
good. And as we went on in our productions, I kept bringing in some of my
buddies from the jazz world. So it was kind of a little bit of an underground
movement there.

GROSS: Bob Dorough recorded in 1996. His latest CDs are "Too Much Coffee"
and "Who's On First?" a live recording which also features Dave Frishberg.

Coming up, music by Mr. Rogers.

This is FRESH AIR.

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Interview: Fred Rogers talks about his long-running PBS show
TERRY GROSS, host:

Today we're featuring composers who wrote great songs for kids' TV. Writing
music isn't what Fred Rogers is most famous for, but his songs and his singing
were an important and delightful part of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." Last
February, Fred Rogers died of stomach cancer at the age of 74. In 2001, after
33 years of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," he recorded his last program. But
the program lives on in reruns on public television.

Last year, FRESH AIR guest host Barbara Bogaev spoke to Fred Rogers, who was
seated at the piano at his studio in Pittsburgh.

BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

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. FRED ROGERS ("Mister Rogers' Neighborhood"): 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
drain.'

And then it goes on, `You're much bigger than the water, much bigger than the
soap.' And it's 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, `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: 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.

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
diseases?

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 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 XIII. A child had been told that Friday 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 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 every
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 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.

BOGAEV: Oh...

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

BOGAEV: So...

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 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.

GROSS: We're listening back to Barbara Bogaev's 2002 interview with the late
Fred Rogers. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We're featuring interviews with the composers of great songs for kids'
TV. Let's get back to the interview FRESH AIR guest host Barbara Bogaev
recorded last year with Fred Rogers, who died earlier this year. When they
spoke, Rogers was seated at the piano in his Pittsburgh studio.

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'd 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. We began a daily
program an hour a day live, and we did that for eight years, and that was
called "The Children's Corner" with Josie Carey. And I did the puppets and
the music for that program, and it was all ad-lib and live and a most
wonderful way of learning how to talk when the red light went on.

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.'

BOGAEV: It's been wonderful to have you at the piano while we've been
talking. Perhaps you could sing something for us or play something for us.
Maybe not necessarily a children's song, but something you play for your
enjoyment, to take us out.

(Soundbite of piano music)

Mr. ROGERS: (Singing) It's such a good feeling, a very good feeling, the
feeling you know that we're friends.

BOGAEV: Oh, Mr. Rogers, thank you so much for talking today on FRESH AIR.

Mr. ROGERS: Thank you, Barbara. Wish you well.

GROSS: Fred Rogers spoke with FRESH AIR guest host Barbara Bogaev last year.
He died earlier this year at the age of 74.

Tomorrow, we continue our series Songs from Hollywood and Broadway.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

We'll close with Barbara Cook singing "Baby Mine," a song from the animated
Disney film "Dumbo."

(Soundbite of "Baby Mine")

Ms. BARBARA COOK: (Singing) Baby mine, don't you cry. Baby mine, dry your
eye. Rest your head close to my heart, never to part. Baby, of mine. Little
one, when you play, don't you mind what they say. Let your eyes sparkle and
shine, never a tear. Baby, of mine. If they knew sweet little you, they'd
end up loving you, too...
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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