2006 Fred Rogers Award Recipient
October 20, 2006
Thank you Pat [Harrison] and Joanne [Rogers] for your kind words and for this beautiful award. I’d also like to thank Peggy O'Brien and her terrific staff for making this entire experience so memorable. And lest I forget one more intolerable time, I thank my family, especially my long-suffering and endlessly supportive wife, Carol, for keeping me such good company on the road that has led here.
Some of you may remember that several decades ago Jules Feiffer wrote a story about a small boy named Munro who was by mistake drafted into the Army, equipped with a uniform that trailed on the floor, a helmet that sat on his shoulders and a rifle bigger then he was, trained in the military arts and shipped off to the war front. At each stage of his misadventure, confronted by a succession of inflexible representatives of the bureaucracy, he repeated in vain the perplexed lament, "I'm only four!" The story was animated by Gene Deitch and the resulting film won an Academy Award.
It was funny and touching, a clever indictment of official rigidity, and also an insightful image of how all of us feel from time to time when we are plunged into a strange environment we feel inadequate to deal with. (Much the way I feel at this moment.) I strongly suspect that the reason Munro's dilemma was presented so empathically by those talented artists is that even in their successful maturity, at heart they themselves were really only four.
As were, despite their grown-up appearance, all of the mentors and guides who helped me stumble my way through a career in children's television. A disconcerting number of them are now dead: Bob Keeshan, Lumpy Brannum, Peter Birch, Dave Connell, John Stone, Jeff Moss, Joe Raposo, Jim Henson, Shep White, Clark Gesner, Ed Palmer, Andrew Ferguson, Dick Ruopp, Jan Hawkins; and I'm convinced that all of these, my teachers and friends, died at the inner age of four.
So did Fred Rogers. Like all the others, Fred carried on a successful masquerade as a grown-up; but he was almost unique in the degree to which his four-year-old soul and his adult avatar were companionably integrated. I didn't know Fred well in person, only through his show. I'm embarrassed to admit it, particularly under the present circumstances, but when I was even more callow and thoughtless than I am today I and others at CTW, intent as we were on being hip and fast and funny, used to make a little fun of Fed's gentle style. How ignorant we were, and how wise he was. We were inner adolescents then; we had not yet grown up to be four-year-olds like him.
So it is with great gratitude and a measure of sheepish humility that I accept this wonderful award. It is an honor to have my name and Fred's connected by the crystal trolley.