'Mr. Speedy Delivery' talks about his neighborhood
He has been a fixture on television sets since 1967. Clad in a cardigan, a perpetual smile on his face, Mr. Rogers has invited untold numbers of children (and their parents) into his neighborhood.
The last new episode of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" aired on Friday, August 31, bringing to an end a string of more than 900 shows.
Fred Rogers truly had an interesting neighborhood, too. He hosted musicians and actors, regulars and guests. One of his standby characters was "Mr. McFeely" -- in real life, David Newell, the fellow who became known as "the speedy delivery man."
"Mr. Speedy Delivery" paused to take a few moments Friday to talk to CNN's Carol Lin about "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and its timeless appeal.
CAROL LIN: It's hard to believe but Fred Rogers is leaving the neighborhood. Actually, "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" is not going off the air. Today marks the last new episode of the popular children's programming that has been around for 30 some odd years.
Joining us from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the show was taped, is David Newell, the actor who plays Mr. McFeely. Good morning!
DAVID NEWELL, "MR. MCFEELY": Good morning and speedy delivery!
LIN: Well, speedy delivery to you, too. You know, this is a complete conflict of interest for me to do this interview because you guys were my babysitters when I was growing up.
NEWELL: I'm glad to hear that. And we'll be around, though, for years to come, so don't worry.
LIN: Exactly. We're going to be talking a little bit about that. But I want to take you back in time -- back to 1967, when the show first started.
LIN: And you are one of the originals. And not only were you to be one of the stars, but you were the prop guy, too?
NEWELL: I was the prop guy, too. I started in 1967 to do props, help Fred (Rogers) behind the set and he said, "I want you to play the character of Mr. McFeely, the speedy delivery man." So I wore several hats and still do on the program.
LIN: And you wrote a lot of your own lines and you even came up with the name?
NEWELL: Yes. Well, yes and no. Fred's middle name is Fred McFeely Rogers, and right before we started to tape, somebody decided they should change the name, for whatever reason, and Fred felt, "Well, OK, let's use the name McFeely," because that's his middle name. And so together we compromised and I'm Mr. McFeely. But it's in honor of Fred's grandfather.
LIN: You guys were really flying by the seat of your pants then and you didn't even think the show was going to last?
NEWELL: No, I thought I had a job for one year. We did 130 programs in '67-'68 and I thought, "Well, I'll move back to L.A.," where I was living, and here I am 33 years later, still delivering in Mr. Rogers' neighborhood.
LIN: What is your favorite memory?
NEWELL: Oh, boy, it's hard. But, you know, my favorite comes right out right at this moment: It's Margaret Hamilton.
LIN: The Wicked Witch?
NEWELL: The Wicked Witch from the West, remember, in "The Wizard of Oz"?
LIN: Yes. Who could forget?
NEWELL: People were telling us how much it scared them as kids and even as adults. So we wrote a letter to her and asked her to be on the program to interpret what she does as a living. She's an actress. And she came on with a facsimile of the costume she used in the movie, and explained that she's not mean and she doesn't mean to scare kids and, "Here's my costume. It's like Halloween."
And it was wonderful and she was a wonderful woman. And she became a friend and every Sunday night for many years she would call us ... and would check in and was a friend of the family.
LIN: That's a great example of how you taught simple lessons in simple ways.
LIN: But over the years, your subject matter became a lot more complicated and you guys started taking on some pretty complex issues -- like divorce.
NEWELL: Yes. You know, ... 25 years ago Fred Rogers ... wouldn't know how to do that subject. But just recently -- well, "recently" would be within the last eight years, I guess -- we did a whole week on divorce, just so young children could understand it. It was the most-requested subject we've ever had. People would write and say, "Could you help our family and our children understand what's going on in our extended family?"
So we were glad we took that on. But, you know, not everything is heavy like that. Fred has written about 13 operas over the years, musical stories. ... We don't forget the fun. We do the fun and we do the serious, we do a potpourri of what children may expect as they're growing up.
LIN: We still have more episodes to come. I know you've got 900-some episodes.
NEWELL: That's right.
LIN: You've got to give us the dirt. Mr. Rogers: Is there anything wrong with this guy? Does he swear? Does he drink? Does he do anything?
NEWELL: No. Well, you know, but when he's mad, he'll go over to the piano. He's a musician. You can tell Fred is mad when he goes over to the piano and start banging on the piano. His angry feelings come out through his fingers, and that's a positive way to do it.
LIN: David Newell, you're just too good to be true. Thank you so much for all the years of memories.
NEWELL: Thank you.
LIN: And we'll look forward to the episodes we haven't seen, David Newell.
NEWELL: On PBS.
LIN: Absolutely. We sure know that.
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