A self-described “bad-boy journalist,” Junod was uncomfortable tackling such a goody-goody

From The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, a book by Maxwell King, published by Abrams Press:

In his office at Esquire magazine in Manhattan, Tom Junod was working on a profile of Fred Rogers for a special 1998 issue on “new American heroes.” A self-described “bad-boy journalist” who had cultivated a reputation for controversy, Junod was uncomfortable about tackling such a goody-goody, and wasn’t sure how to approach the article.

“When I called, I heard that unmistakable voice. What was amazing about Fred was that he was the exact same person he was on TV. There was no show, no act—that was him.” Junod was discovering the same thing everyone did: Fred Rogers was Mr. Rogers—the identical, authentic person in every setting. And he treated everyone the same, from the president of PBS to the doorman at his apartment building in New York to the little girl who stopped him on the street to get his autograph. All were met with kindness, hospitality, and respect. . . .

When Junod called, Rogers pointed out that he was not in Pittsburgh but in his Manhattan apartment near the Esquire offices; why didn’t Tom just come on over? . . .Years later Junod recalled that when he got to the building where Fred Rogers lived when he was in the city, “Fred was waiting at the door. . .in his bathrobe. . .with his white skinny legs and his socks pulled up, with this big smile on his face.”

After this disarming introduction,  Junod unexpectedly found himself at the other end of the interviewing process. Successful journalists try to get people to reflect on themselves, but Fred Rogers had other ideas. “Fred was incredibly artful at deflecting questions. . . .He always threw it back to you.”

Soon Tom Junod was telling Fred Rogers about “Old Rabbit,” his “special friend” when he was a kid. . . .At the end of their time together, Junod concluded in a later interview,”People, I think, spoke of Fred as a childlike person. I don’t think so. I think that Fred was very, very grown up in that he protected the childlike aspect of him.”. . .

Fred Rogers, Tom Junod concludes, “was about grace. Fred was about bringing grace to people’s lives, everybody that he met. And more amazingly. . .through the medium of television, a graceless medium if there ever was one.”

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