At the time of this writing, George H.W. Bush, the forty-first president of the United States, has just been laid to rest. News coverage of his passing began, fittingly, with tributes, interviews, and video and audio clips that shed a positive light on his career and presidency. As the days of mourning passed, even before Mr. Bush’s remains were brought to his final resting place, news outlets began to air stories and commentary that shed light on some of the more questionable aspects of his career, especially his presidency. Being close to finishing The Good Neighbor, Maxwell King’s biography of Fred Rogers, I found myself comparing Mr. King’s treatment of his subject and the news coverage of George H.W. Bush’s memorial events.
Fred Rogers is a national hero. A third generation of American children now has access to his original programs and to new programs based on the characters he created. My children watched “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” in the 1980s; I watched it with them more than a few times. The older child married a distant relative of Fred Rogers, so two of my grandchildren are also distant relatives. One of the few television programs my four-year-old granddaughter watches is “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.”
Maxwell King’s biography, The Good Neighbor, does justice to the person, personality, and legacy of Fred Rogers. It borders on hagiography, but does not cross the frontier. As Fred Rogers himself would acknowledge, he was a complex, imperfect individual. Like George H.W. Bush, Fred Rogers has his detractors, and The Good Neighbor discusses some of the features of Fred Rogers’s work that his detractors find troubling. It doesn’t minimize or gloss over those features, but it doesn’t dwell on them.
The Good Neighbor is rich with stories that explore the private life of Fred Rogers, beginning with his childhood in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. The amount of detail in those stories is substantial but not overwhelming. Some of those details are surprising, but I will leave it to readers to discover those surprises for themselves. Maxwell King describes Fred Rogers’s family, friends, and associates, and his relationships with them, with candor, grace, and generosity.
Given the time of year in which I am writing this, The Good Neighbor would be a good gift for anyone who enjoys biographies and who grew up in the second half of the twentieth century. It is an enjoyable read and well worth the time invested in that effort.
Thanks as always for stopping by!