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Mr. Rogers Gave Audiences the Middle Finger and Smiled About It

Remember when Paul Reuben, AKA Pee Wee Herman, was arrested for engaging in some not-so-family-friendly activity at an adult theater in 1991? And did you know that David Joyner, the actor who spent more than a decade portraying the lovable purple T-Rex Barney on PBS’ Barney and Friends is now a tantric sex therapist?

We like to think that children’s show’s hosts are these wholesome, pillars of virtue who never end up in comprising or controversial situations. But let us not forget that they’re human just like us and don’t always present themselves in the straight-laced, toned-down ways that many would like them to. In the case of Pee Wee Herman, he ended up spending some time in jail for his alarming behavior, while Barney’s David Joyner simply embraced his sexuality despite once being a children’s show icon that we could never imagine in a sexual light

While he never found himself engulfed in controversy surrounding his sexuality, the children’s show host we’ll be discussing in this facts-packed video apparently did something decades ago that to this day is still being looked back on with eyebrows raised by many of his fans. Many of you probably grew up learning moral lessons from this star, but you might be a bit surprised by what we’re about to discuss.

For years, screen grabs of Mr. Rogers posing with either one or two middle fingers extended have circulated online featuring captions that indicate that the famed children’s show host was caught giving the bird disdainfully during the filming of the final episode of his award-winning show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Keep watching to learn the true story behind these seemingly shocking images! FYI not everything you see on the internet is quite as it seems. Hopefully, by now this is something that most people already know, but for those that still believe everything they read or see online, this should come as a sobering reminder to always consider the context of things whenever they are presented as being sensational.

In addition to analyzing these viral screenshots from Mr. Roger’s neighborhood and providing you with the backstory behind them, we’ll also be taking some time to reflect on Fred Roger’s remarkable life story and inspiring rise to fame.

So, if you’re like us and grew up with Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood constantly playing on the family television while you experienced some of life’s biggest milestones, this is one Facts Verse video you won’t want to miss.

Flipping The Bird?

Although the pictures of Mr. Rogers seemingly giving the audience a rather obscene hand gesture at first glace seem rather alarming, within context, they merely capture an innocuous moment from a 1967 episode of the long-running kid’s program.

In the episode in question, Rogers led some youngin’s through a familiar children’s song called ‘Where is Thumbkin?’.The song is traditionally accompanied by all those who are participating holding up the corresponding digits that are named in the tune.

The resulting clip has become notorious online due to the portion of the song in which Roger’s gives a shout out to the “Tall Man”. As the name implies “Tall Man” is the lighthearted nickname for the middle finger. When Rogers got to this part of the song, not only did he extend both of his middle fingers towards the camera and audience, but he can also clearly be seen cracking a big jovial smile while doing so – seemingly oblivious to the off-color meaning of the hand gesture.

So, while the resulting screen-grabs inevitably turned into internet meme gold, it’s unlikely that Rogers intentionally was trying to be edgy by flipping the world the bird. Sure, he probably was aware that the hand gesture held a rather lurid meaning, but within the context of the song, it appears that Rogers was just trying to teach youngsters about their anatomy.

A Lonely Childhood

Fred McFeely Rogers was Born on the 20th of March, 1928. on 705 Masin Street in a town called Latrobe, Pennsylvania. His dad, James Hillis Rogers, was a successful businessman and president of the McFeely Brick Company – one of Latrobe’s most prominent businesses.

Fred’s mother, Nancy, enjoyed knitting sweaters for soldiers from Western PA who fought in Europe. In addition to her charitable craftwork, Nancy also routinely volunteered at Latrobe Hospital.

Fred grew up in a three-story brick house with his sister Elaine whom his family adopted when he was 11. During his childhood, Rogers spent the majority of his time in solitude. He loved playing with puppets and was quite partial to the company of his grandfather.

Fred always had a deep love for music and he began learning how to play the piano at the age of five. Throughout his life and career, his musical aptitude would become a major recurring theme.

Although musically gifted and blessed with a vibrant imagination, Rogers had a challenging childhood. He was a timid and introverted boy who was also quite overweight. He also was frequently homebound due to his struggles with asthma.

At school, Fred was bullied because of his weight. His classmates gave him the demeaning nickname ‘Fat Freddy’ and his self-esteem naturally took a hit because of this. Rogers found himself quite lonely as a child and had very few friends. His best friend ultimately was himself, as instead of socializing with other children his age, he turned to his ventriloquist dummy and stuffed animals for support. Within that context, Rogers created these elaborate imaginary worlds within his childhood bedroom.

One might look at Fred’s imaginary friends in a somewhat negative light, but when you zoom out and consider how he was later able to turn his fictional creations into the iconic world that we all know and love, it becomes clear that what was once a point of struggle and hardship with young Rogers evolved into one of his biggest strengths.

Fred Rogers, among many things, taught us that it was okay to let your mind take you to far-off fantastic worlds where anything was possible and love and friendship was the key to having a meaningful life. This theme of turning adversity into strength would be one that Roger’s life story would frequently pivot back to.

While Roger’s would ultimately do great things with the difficult hand that he was dealt, in his younger years, his loneliness and constant bullying would leave him feeling traumatized. During the speech he delivered at his graduation from Saint Vincent College, he was quoted as saying that as a child, he often cried to himself whenever he was alone.

Loneliness plagued young Rogers. And as many of us who have experience loneliness before know, it can be one of the most challenging feelings to contend with during one’s formative years. But instead of letting it turn his heart cold and bitter, Fred’s loneliness led him to develop deep empathy for others. At that graduation speech we just mentioned, Rogers further said that the negative experiences from his childhood made him seek out the stories of others who were poor and spirit.

“I felt for them” Roger’s reflected. And throughout his life, he would continue to feel deep love and sympathy for all those dealing with troubling situations and maladies.

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Breaking Out Of His Shell

While Fred Roger’s schoolmates were often cruel, he always had people in his life that refused to see him as a lost cause. One such person, as we already briefly touched on, was his grandfather. One particularly shaping instance when his granddad served as his advocate occurred at his family’s farm.

Fred wanted to climb a stone wall, but his mother and grandmother wouldn’t let him do so, fearing that he might injure himself.

Seeing the value of him learning to do things for himself, Fred’s grandfather stepped in and encouraged him to climb the wall anyway. Fred then climbed that wall like it was nobody’s business and no doubt gained a great deal of confidence in the process.

Another individual that helped Fred immensely in the confidence department was his high-school buddy Jim Stumbaugh. Jim was a very popular student while Fred as we already know was not. But after Rogers came to Stumbaugh’s side in the hospital after sustaining an injury during a football game, Jim took Fred under his wing and helped him to have a much better high school experience.

Just as Stumbaugh and his grandfather looked out for him, Fred spent the remainder of his life seeking opportunities to advocate for others. Everything that he did was coupled with intention. Kindness became a way of life for him. When people spoke, Fred listened. When they expressed themselves – revealing their inner struggles and challenges, he made it his goal to build them up by sharing his own experiences.

His own battles became a tuning fork of sorts that offered him insights into what others were experiencing. He wasn’t merely a nice guy who helped out whenever it was needed. He was a true authority figure who used his experiences as a kind of superpower to do good.

Without ‘Fat Freddy’ There’d Be No Fred Rogers

After college, Fred wanted to immediately enter seminary, but he chose to go into television instead after his parents got a TV at their home in 1951. At first, Fred was actually quite opposed to television. He once told CNN that he wanted to go into television because he hated it. He hoped, however, that he could find a way of using it as an instrument to nurture those who would watch it.

And that’s exactly what he did. His first TV gig was working at NBC as a floor director for several of the network’s shows, including Your Hit Parade and Gabby Hayes’s children’s program. In 1953, he helped develop the WQED public access children’s show The Children’s Corner.

It was with that show that he began to tap into his childhood love for puppetry to develop whimsical characters that could teach young viewers invaluable life lessons. Given the freedom to explore the subject material that he wanted to, Rogers used the characters he commanded to deliver affirming and virtuous messages that were meant to lift the viewer up and prove to themselves that they had value and merit.

Critics and audiences alike were sold on Roger’s soul-nourishing message. After attending Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and being ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1963, Fred was approached by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to develop and hot a 15-minute children’s program called Misterogers.

It was the first time that Rogers appeared on camera. The show aired from 1963 to 1967. During this time, Rogers continued to tap into his personal childhood experiences coupled with his religious philosophy to hone his screen presence. In the process, Rogers became an iconic television personality in Canada while also creating a long-running children’s show called Mr. Dressup.

Rogers experiences with the CBC helped him shape and develop the concept that would eventually become Mister Rogers Neighborhood which premiered on PBS in 1968. That series, which is unarguably his greatest work, ran for 895 episodes before ending in 2001.

Two years after the final episode of Mister Rogers Neighborhood aired, Fred Rogers died of stomach cancer on February 27, 2003.

Fred’s death was tragic, but it’s undeniable that he touched countless lives throughout his life and professional career. While he was a man of faith who was deeply committed to his belief in God, Fred had a way of reaching across the aisle and delivering a universal message of love, friendship, and goodness that transcended all ideological barriers. He never came across as preachy, nor did it seem like he had any sort of underlying agenda other than to build people up and teach us all the value of being a ‘good neighbor’.

Constantly throughout his time on this planet, Rogers drew upon his own struggles to help instill within others a feeling of worth and goodness. It really makes you wonder if there would have been a Mister Rogers if there weren’t those insensitive kids on the playground calling him ‘Fat Freddy’.

What do you think? Did Fred Rogers have a significant impact on your life as a child? And do you think he would have been the powerful figure that he was if he hadn’t experienced such a lonely, challenging childhood? Let us know in the comments.

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