Once upon a time, an iconic children’s show star told a cynical magazine writer, “You are my friend,” and it became the inspiration for some movie magic. Starring Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood tells the story of the unlikely friendship that developed between Esquire journalist Tom Junod and host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred Rogers. Though assigned to write just a few hundred words on the beloved TV star in 1998 for a special issue on American heroes, Junod ended up writing an 8,000-word cover story entitled, “Can You Say . . . Hero?” that was way more than just a fluff piece.
Junod reveals little about himself in the November 1998 piece. In the forthcoming movie, he isn’t even referred to by name — instead, Rhys plays a character inspired by Junod named Lloyd Vogel. However, in a recent article for The Atlantic, entitled “What Would Mister Rogers Do?”, the 61-year-old journalist (who is now a senior writer at ESPN) opens up a bit more about his own life outside of his relationship with Rogers. Junod reveals that his relationship with his father, whom he refers to as a “boozy philanderer,” was, in fact, complicated, as the movie suggests. But when Junod first saw Rhys play him during an early screening of the film, Junod couldn’t help but feel that the story told in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood wasn’t quite true to his own story.
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