But did thatÂ really happen?
Director Marielle Heller (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) started with a friendly face, convincingÂ Tom Hanks to bring Fred Rogers’ red cardigan-clad persona to life in the new film (in theaters Friday), which was shot in the TV star’s hometown of Pittsburgh (and even re-createsÂ the original show’s miniature neighborhoods as a way to pivot between scenes).
“A Beautiful Day” shakes up what could be a treacly story about an American icon by focusing on the culture clash that arose whenÂ Rogers met a writer (played by Matthew Rhys) hunting for an edge for his magazineÂ assignment.
That encounter really happened in 1998,Â but the film relies onÂ a large doseÂ of Hollywood panache. Here’s what’s real â€“ and what’s been embellished â€“ in “A Beautiful Day.”
Mister Rogers’ oddÂ friendship with a reporterÂ is real
Acclaimed journalist Tom Junod did meet Mister Rogers for an Esquire profile at a time when Junod had something to prove â€“ only in real life, it was right after his profile of Kevin Spacey blew up in his face.Â Titled “Kevin Spacey Has a Secret,” the Esquire story earned Junod national ire for attempting to out the actor. (â€œI always thought of myself as a good guy, even though my stories were really dark. But the Kevin Spacey story was not properly motivated,â€ he says now.)
And like the fictional Lloyd Vogel (Junod requested the character’s name change), he chafed at beingÂ saddled with what he considered a soft assignment profiling Rogers.
Then 40, â€œI had sort of come out of nowhere to be successful as a journalist. … I was happy about that, but that question when you have success â€“ ‘What should I doÂ and how do I keep this going?’ â€“ was potent to me,â€ Junod says.
Still, many life events were condensed in the film. Unlike Lloyd, Junod did not have a newborn when he met Rogers. In fact, “my wife and I were trying to have a baby and couldnâ€™t …Â I was mad at the universe,â€ he says. (Junod and his wife later adopted daughter Nia, spurred by Rogers’ “unshakable optimism.”)
He alsoÂ never got into a fistfight with his dad at a family wedding, nor did hisÂ father abandon theÂ family.
But the core of his surprising friendshipÂ with RogersÂ is depicted accurately, says the writer, who traded phone callsÂ and 70 emails with Rogers beforeÂ the star died of stomach cancer in 2003.Â Junod was brought to tears by “A Beautiful Day”: â€œFrom the moment Tom begins talking to you in the audience, I just bought in,” he says.
Consider childhood ruined:Mr. Rogers gets sexy in booty shorts with Halloween costume
The subway singing scene really happened
Audience members may find one scene, in which a subway car of strangers sing â€œWonâ€™t You Be My Neighbor?â€ to Rogers, too saccharine to believe. But that really happened, as chronicled in Junodâ€™s 1998 profile:Â
It was late in the day, and the train was crowded with children who were going home from school. Though of all races, the schoolchildren were mostly black and Latino, and they didn’t even approach Mister Rogers and ask him for his autograph. They just sang. They sang, all at once, all together, the song he sings at the start of his program, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and turned the clattering train into a single soft, runaway choir.
â€œItâ€™s one of those moments where if you wrote it into a script, it would be too cheesy to keep in, but it was real,â€ Heller says.
Mister Rogers revealed:Â Â 5 things we learned from the documentary ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’
No, Mister Rogers was not a saintÂ
In the film, Lloyd is searching for something, anything to unveil about Rogers’ true character (the closest he gets is a discussion about his relationship with his children).Â
“A Beautiful Day” strove to present the daily work that Rogers’ wife, Joanne, has said her husband put in to conduct himself in the manner he preached.Â
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