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Inside the Unlikely Friendship That Inspired A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

CEO Tinh Phung
The incredible movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, is structured like an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Tom Hanks embodies the gentle nature of Fred Rogers, effortlessly wearing his red cardigan. The film begins...

The incredible movie, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, is structured like an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Tom Hanks embodies the gentle nature of Fred Rogers, effortlessly wearing his red cardigan. The film begins with Fred introducing us to his friend, Lloyd Vogel, a journalist played by Matthew Rhys from The Americans. While the story takes place in Manhattan instead of Pittsburgh, the transition scenes feature toy cities reminiscent of the iconic children's show.

The movie draws inspiration from a 1998 Esquire cover story titled "Can You Say... Hero?" In this article, journalist Tom Junod, who becomes the basis for the fictionalized character Lloyd, portrays the astonishing goodness of Fred Rogers through a series of heartwarming anecdotes. From praying for people by name to connecting with a young fan with cerebral palsy and even a gorilla named Koko, Rogers' kindness knew no bounds. He even helped a blind child struggling to pray and captured moments with everyone he met to share with his wife, Joanne.

Similar to the movie, Junod developed a close friendship with Rogers after the TV host recognized something special in him. While the circumstances depicted on screen are fictionalized, the portrayal of their friendship remains true to reality. Junod reflects on his experience watching the film, noting that he recognized himself in the character portrayed by Matthew Rhys. The authenticity of the friendship between Fred and Lloyd is a testament to the impact Rogers had on Junod's life.

Before the interview that would change his life, Junod had faced some controversy as a journalist. In an earlier article, he outed Kevin Spacey without a compelling reason, causing a significant backlash. However, an editor at Esquire saw an opportunity for redemption and assigned Junod to interview Fred Rogers. Both Junod and Rogers were hesitant at first. Bill Isler, who managed Rogers' production company, doubted Junod's suitability for the interview, but Rogers insisted on working with him. The reasons behind Rogers' decision remain mysterious, but it is clear that he saw something in Junod that led to their profound connection.

Working with Mister Rogers proved to be a challenge for Junod. The roles of interviewer and interviewee often blurred, as Rogers showed genuine interest in learning about Junod's life. Junod admits that understanding how Rogers could maintain his goodness and authenticity was a complete mystery to him. This mysterious aspect eventually became the essence of Junod's captivating story. He realized that exploring the question of how Mister Rogers could be so good was just as intriguing as investigating the darker aspects of other subjects. It became a valuable lesson that shaped Junod's career as a journalist.

During their research for the script, screenwriters Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue discovered a collection of files that Fred Rogers maintained, containing information about everything and everyone he loved. Junod discovered that he had his own file, which included a list of four pillars of journalism that Rogers hoped Junod would follow. These pillars emphasized the importance of journalists being human, pointing out injustice, celebrating beauty , and appreciating the wonders of creation. While Junod is uncertain whether these were pieces of advice or lessons, he believes that Rogers was genuinely interested in the process of journalism.

Junod wasn't surprised to learn that Rogers had kept meticulous notes on their friendship. Rogers was known for his disciplined routine, including daily prayer, reading, swimming, and even maintaining a consistent weight of 143 pounds. Junod believes that Rogers used such discipline as a tool to be a good friend and partner, enabling him to embody goodness throughout his life. While Rogers may not have possessed superhuman abilities like Superman, Junod compares him to Batman, as Rogers transformed himself into a symbol of kindness through practice and discipline.

Reflecting on the movie, Junod believes that Mister Rogers would have enjoyed A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. He appreciates how Tom Hanks portrays Fred as a person to be reckoned with, rather than simply imitating him. Junod, now a senior writer at ESPN, continues to embody the lessons he learned from Rogers. He is currently working on a lengthy story with a challenging topic, finding solace in the resolution he has crafted. When he first watched the movie, he wondered what Mister Rogers would think of his work. Realizing that Fred's ideas about journalism were not in vain, Junod felt an overwhelming sense of pride.

The unlikely friendship between Tom Junod and Fred Rogers serves as a powerful reminder of the impact one person can have on another's life. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood beautifully portrays their connection, showcasing the goodness that Fred Rogers embodied. Through their friendship, Junod was able to learn valuable lessons about kindness, authenticity, and the power of human connection.