It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, y'all, because everyone's favorite cardigan-wearing neighbor, Mister Rogers, is coming to the big screen. Starring Tom Hanks as the iconic children's show star, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood tells the story of the unlikely friendship that developed between a cynical magazine writer and a beloved TV star. Before the movie hits theaters on Nov. 22, you'll want to read the article upon which the story is based, written by the jaded Esquire journalist himself, Tom Junod. Junod may have only been assigned to write a few hundred words about Fred Rogers in 1998, but what results instead was a cover story that changed both of their lives.
Lucky for you, the story, entitled "Can You Say . . . Hero?" (which originally appeared in the November 1998 issue) is available to read in its entirety on the Esquire website. The article opens with an anecdote about a beloved stuffed rabbit named Old Rabbit that Junod once owned and lost. The first time he met Rogers, the TV host asked Junod if he'd had "special friends" growing up. "Maybe a puppet, or a special toy, or maybe just a stuffed animal you loved very much," Rogers clarified. Junod found himself telling the relative stranger about Old Rabbit, though it had been years since he'd thought about his stuffed companion.
Eventually, the article takes an unexpectedly dark turn. Junod continues on to talk about a young man who, in December 1997, brought a gun to school in West Paducah, KY, and shot eight of his classmates, who had been meeting for a prayer group. The day before, the teen told his friends that he wanted to do something "really big." Mister Rogers' response to the tragedy: "Oh, wouldn't the world be a different place if he had said, 'I'm going to do something really little tomorrow.'"
From that point, Rogers started discussing the importance of unapologetically devoting yourself to little dreams, the strength of little prayers, and the power of little acts of kindness. Though born blind to color (which Junod doesn't reveal into halfway through his piece), Rogers saw this as little more than a small inconvenience, as he could imagine the blue of the walls that decorated Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Junod's story works to show how Rogers's little dream became a phenomenon, and how something as simple as a 30-minute visit to one's childhood, 10 seconds of silence, a little imagination, and the words, "Thank you, God," can bring comfort, even to those in mourning or in pain.
Though Mister Rogers passed away in February 2003, a little over four years after Junod published his story, the journalist mentioned that Rogers was never afraid to die. He delighted in visiting his family in the graveyard, and he even told Junod that he'd like to live in heaven, not just go to heaven. "The connections we make in the course of a life — maybe that's what heaven is, Tom," he said. "We make so many connections here on earth. Look at us — I've just met you, but I'm investing in who you are and who you will be, and I can't help it." Junod's piece will make you more excited than ever to see Hanks bring Rogers back to life on the big screen.