Saturday, December 10, 2016

puppets from mr rogers

the teacher asked, where does the sun go atnight? a little boy next to her says, my daddy said the earth spins on its axis, and whenits day here, its night somewhere else, the suns shining here. and the teachers thinking,oh, hes really got it. and next to him is a little girl who says, i think at night ã–the sun breaks up into stars, and it lights up the sky in stars. and then in the morning,they all come back together again and make the sun. and the little boy says, now, thatmakes more sense. [chuckle] children know what they see, and no one understoodthis better than fred rogers. hedda sharapan started her career working as an assistantdirector for mr. rogers neighborhood. at the time of our conversation in the summer of2013, she was the director of early childhood

initiatives at the fred rogers company, continuingto carry out his legacy. hedda sharapan, next, on long story short. long story short with leslie wilcox is hawaiisfirst weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition. aloha mai kakou. im leslie wilcox. if yougrew up during the 1960s, 70s, 80s, or 90s, chances are good that mr. rogers neighborhoodwas part of your childhood. its a beautiful day in this neighborhood,a beautiful day for a neighbor. would you be mine? would you be mine? hedda sharapans childhood and upbringing sether on the path that led her to meet mr. rogers.

i grew up in, actually, a european familyin a small town right outside of pittsburgh, pennsylvania. and it was my grandparents fromeurope, and my parents who were raised in europe, and my sister and i, and we sort offelt like we were almost really in a european household ourselves. your grandfather was a holocaust survivor? my parents got married in 1936 and came toamerica, leaving behind my fathers father. he was a widower at the time, and he said,you go set your new life there, im okay here. when the second world war broke out, my fatherenlisted in the army and he was an officer. at the end of the war, he started lookingfor family, friends who had survived. and

a reporter came to their base in france andsaid, there are survivors from dachau, i think some of them are from your town. and whenthey went into dachau, he found his own father. and the story was that my grandfather said,we knew that you would find us. and what was his condition? well, he was down to about ninety pounds,but he had survived. he was a hard worker, and i understand the phrase was, arbeit machfrei, work makes you free. and he was a hard worker. and he lived with us until he wasabout ninety. are you saying that he did hard work, andthe germans didnt ã– yeah, they liked that. [chuckle] they lefthim alone because he was a good worker.

what was he like to live with in his laterlife? he was loving, but he was also stoic. theresa holiday of yom kippur, which is a very sacred day, and its a long day in the grandfather used to stand the whole day. i mean, i know myself how relieving it waswhen you could sit. but i grew up in that kind of a household of honoring the elders,respecting. how do you think thats affected you? it made me feel that i had a heritage thati had to carry on of being someone who was a hard worker [chuckle], and who honored thepast and honored ã– the elders, maybe more than anything. and also, i think it also saidto me, you never know what can happen in life,

so be an appreciator. so, youre in this family with immigrants,and what did you decide you wanted to be in america? i played a lot as a child. i made up storiesand i loved reading. [chuckle] i lied about my age when i was twelve, because i was sodesperate to work in the library. i loved books. i still do. and i worked all the waythrough high school. i also took a lot of theater classes. i loved performing, but isort of left that life behind when i went to college. i was gonna be a doctor, and istarted in biology. and it didnt feel right. the labs were so tedious. i said, this isnot for me. so, i switched to english. and

that was too abstract. i was like goldilocksand the three bears. this is too this, this is too that. and then, i found psychology,and that was just right. after earning her degree in psychology in1965, hedda sharapan decided to go to graduate school. in the meantime, she applied for jobs.thats when she met fred rogers. truly on a lark, i came to our public station,wqed, and i said, maybe i could do something for children on television? the man who interviewedme there said, im sorry, there arent any jobs here now. now, this was before mr. rogersneighborhood; this was 1965. okay. and he said, if youre really interested inchildrens television, why dont you see if

you can get some advice from fred, i knew his name because i watched the program that he made from 1954 to 62. andhe was behind the scenes; he was the co-producer, he was doing the music and the puppets. butpeople knew his name. so, i thought, well, lets see what he has to say. and he was kindenough to meet with me, and here was his advice; that i should think about a masters degree. in? child development. what he was saying to meis, the important thing is not so much what can we give children, what can we do for them.the question is, what are they bringing to us? who are they? whats important to them?what re they thinking about? what are they

afraid of? what makes them upset? what dothey think is funny? to go on the recommendation of one guyã³ yeah. was there something about him? well, i was leaning towards child developmentin graduate school, and it just kind of made sense. and i guess i figured from loving theprogram that he had made, something about living a meaningful life, finding good stuffin life, you know, maybe thats why public television meant something to me. hedda sharapan started her graduate degreein child development, and the following year,

fred rogers got funding for mr. rogers neighborhood.he remembered hedda sharapan, and asked her to help with his new show. fred wrote all the scripts, all nine hundred.he wrote all the music, the melodies and the lyrics. he did almost all the puppets, thevoices and the manipulation. he was the creator, he was the host. i was in grad school in thedaytime, learning this complex child development theory. and then, id come sit in the controlroom at night. i was the assstant director. there was no pay, and there was no staff.this was just, you know, could we make this thing happen. it was black and white was in october of 66. and i would sit there in the control room and watch fred live outall this complex theory about ritual, transition.

complex theory, but it was the simplest ofshows. yes. [chuckle] well, but when you understandwhat ritual means, that you start with the same thing and you end with the same thingso that you have a way of children getting ready for your hello, and ready for your goodbye.when you understand what transitions mean, what it means. i help you know whats comingnext. and as we do that, we blend where weve been and whats next. and when you know thatchildren have trouble with reality versus fantasy, you have two different sections,and you say, now were going to pretend in the neighborhood of make believe. and it setsit apart for children. and you come back, and he says, what do you think might happentomorrow? and what would you pretend about?

and you were doing it all for love. yeah; right. well, after a couple of months,they found some pay. [chuckle] and then, i was assistant director two years, and thenassistant producer two years. and then, when my first child was born in 1970, i said tofred, i know what i can do from home. how about if i help with the fan mail? becausefred answered every letter in a really personal, meaningful kind of way. there was uh, a secondgrade boy who said, dear mr. rogers, my best friend is having a 99.9 percent chance ofmoving, and i feel so broken and so upset, and i know you could help me. [chuckle] andwhat fred would say is, i know you only from what you wrote, and the most meaningful kindof help comes from someone who can get to

know us in a real and ongoing kind of way.and there are people like that in every community, and i trust you can find somebody. this isnot easy. oh, thats real. i mean, thats who fred was. and he knew what the real world was all wasnt all positive wonder. you know, he heard about, you know, difficult family situations. right; right. how did he respond to those? well, i mean, im even thinking of september11th, the anniversary, or persian gulf war.

pbs asked fred to do psas for the persiangulf war. and his most famous quote that people have actually been using, even with the bostonmarathon tragedy is, he said that when he would see difficult things in the news, tragicthings, his mother would say to him, look for the helpers. you will always find peoplewho are helping. which is another way of saying, think of thepositive side of this. right. there are many more helpers in thisworld. yeah. i mean, look what he created, something called a neighborhood, that senseof neighborhood, we need each other. and fred used to say, its not a sign of weakness toask for help, theres real strength in that. we need to know that other people care, andjust to listen, to listen to our story.

fred rogers background and training were notin television or acting. yet, his interest in wanting to help children led him to a careerin television. he studied music composition in college. andthen, he was originally going into the ministry. right. but instead, he wentã³ as a presbyterian minister. i think he wasordained. yes; yes. but at that point, he was just thinkingof going into the ministry. and he watched some childrens television, commercial televisionin 1950, and he said, this stuff is pies in faces, its nonsense, children deserve, he went to nbc and he worked as the floor

manager for the kate smith hour, for the musicprograms at nbc. and one of the people that he worked with as the floor manager was gabbyhayes, who did a tv cowboy kind of thing, introducing cowboy films. and fred loved totell the story that one day, he said, mr. hayes, what do you think about when you lookout there and you know there are millions of children who are watching? and gabby hayessaid, freddy, ya just think of one little buckaroo out there. [chuckle] fred alwaystalked about, this is not mass medium. this is really personal communication. i think not everyone can turn mass mediuminto a personal conversation. and somehow, he resonated, didnt he? what do think it was?

well, i think its a few things. first of all,he learned about television and he understood what it could do and what it couldnt do. so, thats a craft. thats part. secondly, while he was workingon this childrens program, he went to the seminary and he got the masters in divinity,and then was ordained with the special ordination of serving through television. but one ofhis professors said, if its children you want to devote your life work to, then insteadof writing your paper on an adult for the case study, i would like you to write it ona child. but, in order to do that, you need to go to the university of pittsburgh andtheir child development graduate school and

learn more about children. he didnt just readthe material for classes. he sat down on the floor with the children. he knew what it waslike to really talk with a child. and thats why his communicationã³the word people oftensay is, it was so authentic, it was so honest. because he learned about how you listen tochildren so that you understand who they are, so that you can communicate with them. you have two daughters. uh-huh. did you use the fred rogers strength of charactertraining on them? well, they essentially did grow up in neighborhood. you cant help it. i mean,

i drank this, you know philosophy. kool-aid. i took it in, and it was part of my childdevelopment background too, of how you approach things with children and talk about them.although, i do remember once, i was traveling at a conference and staying with a family,and around the dinner table they asked each one, what was the best thing that happenedto you today? and then theyd go around again and say, what was the worst thing? and i rememberbringing it home to my kids, and they said, oh, god, moms been to a workshop. [chuckle] one comment ive heard people make is, youknow, he seems too good to be true. was he?

id say he was. he really was? i will tell you, thats who he was. he was not one of those guys whos a greatpersona on camera, and thenã³ no. in fact, when you went into his officeto haveã³i mean, we were only twelve, fourteen at the most, just a small bunch of supportpeople for him. when you went to talk to him about something, you could just feel yourself,your respiration and your blood pressure lowering and lowering, because he spoke like that. fred rogers; he talked about ritual. his showalso didnt change over the years in terms

of its format and its message. m-hm. i mean, there was a wide-ranging message involvingchildhood development, but there were no new skills added on, or no references to technology,and yet he was on television for more than thirty years. whats that all about? well, fred used to say that even though theoutsides of childrens lives have changed, their insides havent changed. we all needto know people care about us because of who we are. and all these tools of learningã³therewas a reporter who once said to him, why dont you do more with abcs and one-two-three? andi remember [chuckle] fred said ã– id rather

give children the tools for learning, becauseif you give them the tools, they will want to learn the facts, theyll be motivated tolearn the facts. tools like curiosity, persistence, sense of humor, industriousness, hard work,being able to get along with others; you know, you give them those tools, theyll want tolearn the facts, and more importantlyã³and this was really important to fredã³more importantly,they will use the facts to build and not to destroy. we sometimes forget and get enamoredand seduced by all these things around us, the fancy gadgets and whatever. and its thereal stuff that matters, its the people-to-people. you know, and thats part of what were sayingis, we have to keep this face-to-face this way, not just facebook and not just face time.we need the nuances.

weve changed our definition of friend overthe years. thats right. somebody can be a friend whos never met you think if mr. rogers were still hereã³and he passed away, i believe, in 2003. do youthink hed still be taking off his shoes and singing, and speaking slowly, and giving transitionallessons? well, there are two ways to think about is that ã– fred said, if we were starting out todayã³now, he said this even in the mid-90s.if we were starting out today, there probably would not be a place for us on television. because it wouldnt be fast-paced enough, withbells and whistles.

right. this is not new, you know. [chuckle]in fact, some people said that he even took television back fifty years. [chuckle] so,thats one thought, is that he recognized that his pace was slower, and that what he wastalking about was different than what was going on in the the genre. now, was that because he was kind of a folksy,slower speaking guy, or because he thought children needed a little slower pace, morecalm? he felt children needed that, and it fit thats hard to split those two apart. gotcha. but now, heres the other thing. after freddied, you know, we continued the legacy, pbs

kept the program on the air, and we startedto think as a company, where are we, where are we going. and the board of directors said,you know, you can either be an archive, a history place, or you could consider anotherprogram. and everyone must have said, replace fredrogers? and we all realized you couldnt replace, to create a new program, that wasnt who we were. so, fortunately, we hired an incrediblecoo whose name is kevin morrison to lead us through this. kevin had had experience withanimation, he had been in childrens television in many different capacities. were you looking for somebody who knew animation?

i dont know. [chuckle] i dont really was just someone who could move us into the future. but obviously, animation was theway pbs even was going. so, kevin said, lets talk to some creative people, put out theword that we will go to pbs. we wanted to stay with pbs. that was always important tofred; he felt pbs represented a gift to people. ill sort of tell you; the reason he left innbc in 1953, he told me once that he saw that commercial television was going towards greedand away from gift, and he wanted to be part of gift of television. and public televisionwas so important to him. and we wanted to stay in this neighborhood [chuckle], so tospeak. so, we brought three ideas to pbs, and the one that resonated with them was theone that we developed in conjunction with

angela santomero. angelas company is calledout of the blue, theyre in new york. and together, the idea grew of, why dont we take the neighborhoodof make believe part, animate that, but we dont have the voices that fred gave thesepuppets ã– why dont we do the next generation down. so, daniel tiger of daniel tigers neighborhoodis daniels son. the old daniel [chuckle] is now grown up, and hes a father. so, you canhave the pieces of the legacy and bits of it, and the songs, and changing the sweater,sneaker, and the characters, the king and the queen, and lady elaine, and you can havethe characters, but in a different scenario, a scenario that would work with todays children.and what i love hearing from adults saying they like the bits of mr. rogers neighborhood,that theyre hearing in it and feeling in it.

its a beautiful day in the neighborhood, abeautiful day for a neighbor. would you be mine? could you be mine? wont you be my neighbor? its a very different program than mr. rogersneighborhood was, but what were hearing about how children are using it ã– fred used tosay that television is the only appliance thats best used when its off. [chuckle] meaning,when its off and you use it, you take something from it and use it. for example? for example; i did a workshop here on oahuand i showed a short clip of daniel. hes making a card for his dad because he sees how happyhis father is when he gets mail from his own

father. so, he makes a card. and the songis, [sings] making something is one way to say i love you. so, there are these jingleswithin the animated story. and one of the participants in the workshop said that herdaughter, four years old, when the program was over, that episode was over, she said,im going to make a card for daddy. i think thats beautiful. and also an example in-house, and i wish icould remember the words. but theres one daniel tigers neighborhood episode about controllingyour anger. yes. [chuckle] you know, frustration as a kid. and so, theresa song. do you remember how the songã³

[sings] when you feel so mad that you wantto roar, take a deep breath and count to four. is that the one? yes. and that is what i heard two membersof our advancement department saying one day. oh! [chuckle] and it worked. thats beautiful. yeah; thats beautiful. you know, it is true that you remember thingsbetter when theyre in song. m-hm; m-hm. and that obviously, thats accepted and knowninformation. thats what he was doing from

the very beginning. he was getting kids to remember key messages. yeah; yeah. but freds music was was harder to sing, it was much more sophisticated in a different way. these are jingles, andthey are so sticky. [chuckle] and thats what we hope, is that were giving life lessons. thats a big change between ã– right. and we are script consultants, so thatwe try to help make sure that theres fred thoughtfulness in the scripts. so, you try for short in terms of jingles.hes singing songs, or doing jingles.

i guess. i mean, that was the plan, to givechildren life lessons that they would use. the life lessons may have been for the children,but mr. rogers wanted the family involved as well. he originally named his company familycommunications, incorporated because he wanted to foster healthy communication in families. what was most important to him was that parentswere watching mr. rogers neighborhood with their children. i hear that over, and over,that parents now are saying, i remember with my daughter, we would sit there, that wasthat beautiful half-hour. and parents today, whether theyre sitting there with their childrenor in the other room, theyre aware of whats going on. or they say, where did you learnthat? oh, from daniel. so, theres something

really important about that assume that children know youre coming back at the end of the day, but to know thatits helpful to a child to hear you say that, to put it in words. because he knew what kids fears are. yeah; yeah. fred rogers brought his own finely tuned sensitivitiesand awareness to his shows. fred was an appreciator. we had yo yo ma ina program, and after fred had sat with himã³he was on a couple of times. this first time,his music was so magnificent. fred came back from the music shop having heard him, andhe said, sometimes when youve heard something

so wonderful, you just want to sit and thinkabout it for a while. lets just think about it. and he left silence. thats unusual on television. and we watched him think and remember. without effects; no visual effects, right? he was the real deal. yeah; yeah. he was. what you saw was whatyou got. what has been a treasure for me and a real privilege is that working with himso closely not only helped me professionally, but its helped me grow personally.

the gifts that fred rogers passed on to heddasharapan probably influenced her two daughters, as well. its wonderful knowing that your children wantto make this world a better place, and thats where they directed their lives. i am justso proud of my daughters, of who they are and how they are living their lives in waysthat are really, you know, a gift to others, helping others, doing better things for thisworld. like their mom. [chuckle] you hope so. and so, fred rogers lives on through danieltiger, jr. and the wonderful staffers whove

chosen to carry on his legacy. mahalo to heddasharapan for sharing her lifes work and the story of this icon of childrens television,the late fred rogers. and mahalo to you for joining us. for pbs hawaii, and long storyshort, im leslie wilcox. a hui hou. for audio and written transcripts of all episodesof long story short with leslie wilcox, visit to download free podcasts oflong story short with leslie wilcox, go to the apple itunes store or visit when i was about eleven years old, i had myown television show. you did? it was called the happy hedda show. [chuckle]but it was only in the mirror. [chuckle] i

was fascinated by television. we didnt gettelevision in our home til 1954, and i was ten years old. and i was enchanted by thepeople on television. and i guess i wanted to be the sidekick to these different characters.

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