22 March 2009

Interview: Betty Aberlin

Unfortunately, my camera broke shortly before Betty and I met,
so there are no new pictures to post here.

In trying to explain to friends who didn’t grow up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood just what it means to get to know Betty Aberlin, leading lady of the show’s ensemble players, the best I can manage is this: it’s like meeting Kanga, from the Winnie-the-Pooh books. That will give you some sense of the significance.

Now let your imagination leap forward, and conjure a Kanga who in addition to her well-known nurturing qualities demonstrates fierce intelligence, sly humor, and a passionate interest in politics and art. That’s Betty Aberlin — the real one, not the Make-Believe one.

During my most recent trip to New York, Betty agreed to meet with me to talk about Madeline Kahn, whose biography I’m preparing. The two young actresses worked together in 1965, in a revue at Upstairs at the Downstairs, a Manhattan nightclub. Though their careers took them in different directions (several, actually), they remained friends for the rest of Madeline’s too-short life.

After that conversation, Betty Aberlin consented to be interviewed about Mister Rogers, for the purposes of this blog. As you’ll see from the transcript that follows, that subject led us to many other topics: gender, race, philosophy, and contemporary politics. What you won’t see from the transcript is that we parted ways with a gesture that is less typical of two arty, left-wing New Yorkers: as she said goodbye, Lady Aberlin said, “Ugga-mugga,” and rubbed her nose against mine, just as she used to do with Daniel Striped Tiger in the Land of Make-Believe.

WVM: From what you’ve been telling me today, [Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood] sounds like a terrific environment for you. Certainly you could go there feeling that you were doing something important. I thought you were. It’s sort of removed from the competitiveness of New York. Possibly even sheltered.

BKA: It just felt totally like serendipity. I didn’t begin to know, again, the implications of it. I just knew that the work was really worthy, and that as a musician, as a lyricist, as a child-development-audience-focused, kindly, secretly ministerial, not-so macho guy, [Fred Rogers] was modeling the possibility of kindliness.

[At first,] I thought that was just complete poppycock — “Come on, what is this ‘Neighborhood’? Say hello to the postman, and ‘Hi, Mr. So-and-So, how are you doing?’” I just thought, “Right. That’s a Good Housekeeping kind of thing, come on.” Because I came from New York, where if somebody says, “How are you doing,” you think, “What do they mean by that?” And then years later, I realized I was the one with the skewed reality. That I had been inculcated with a sense of mistrust and danger, because that’s what the city was, when I navigated it all by myself.

You had to keep your eyes open. I remember waiting for my sister at the Donnell Library, across from the Museum of Modern Art, because her class wasn’t over yet. I was in some section of the library, and a man cornered me in the stacks and started to feel me up. My response to danger was to start talking in a very friendly way, and I kind of backed my way out with a book in my hand and went to the librarian as calmly as I could, asked to take it out, at which time she explained that it was a reference book and I had to go back and put it where it was. So I calmly walked back to where the man was, and put the book away, and talking in a nice way, got to the door and ran like hell, picked up my sister.

So what I’m saying is, [my experience had been more] like “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood,” with the ghetto background and Eddie Murphy. I didn’t know what is this guy [Rogers] talking about? The two-parent family, and everything. So that was a productive freedom over the years.

Again, I had never met anybody who came from enormous wealth. Fred’s mother had stock in, I think, NBC, and that’s probably how he got the job as a floor manager for Amahl and the Night Visitors and Kate Smith. The first person that he worked with, Josie Carey, on the program, Children’s Corner, that was the prelude to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood where he was only behind the scenes, doing the puppets and playing the piano — which is why he wore sneakers, because he had to silently run behind the sets. That’s how the sneakers came about. To quickly put his hand in Daniel Tiger. That’s how the sneakers came to be iconic....they delineated the putting aside of the world shoes for the visit sneakers.

Rogers with Daniel Striped Tiger

That show was quite improvisational, and Josie was just brilliant. Then he went to Canada, and decided to come out in front of the camera, and Josie got dropped. The people that she had introduced him to — Don Brockett, Johnny Costa, Joe Negri — were retained. And off she went. I, not knowing any of this history, inherited the “Lady” character, and Fred began to write everything and did not welcome the very kind of improvisational work that they had done. Certain puppets were retained, and then we began to do the operas, which considering that I starred in all of them, I liked the very best. And also because they were whimsical, they were not straitjacketed by child-development concerns.

WVM: Growing up in Houston, I don’t know how we managed this, but we got about a year’s worth of Mister Rogers before you started, is my recollection. Because I had begun watching it, it was black-and-white. […] It was still “Misterrogers,” one word.

BKA: That would be early on.

WVM: And you were not on it then. It was a big deal, when you came on. All of us talked about it at lunchtime.

BKA: Uh-huh. The people that — David Newell, who plays Mr. McFeeley, and I, and one of his secretaries, Elaine Lynch, who [has just retired from] Family Communications — were the first regulars, I guess.

WVM: Did you enjoy the work? You talk about it as being somewhat constrained.

BKA: Sesame Street began to adopt the quick cuts of the ad biz, the premise being that — and their focus audience was older, ours was two- to four-year-old children, theirs was older — they had way more money and many more writers. The idea being, “A child has no ability to sustain ideas. They’re going to be distracted very easily. So [on Sesame Street] we’re going to keep cutting, keeping it interesting, and keeping their parents interested.” I maintain that if Sesame Street had had to pay for the free advertising they put out on public television, for all the puppets, all their toys, they would owe the American people quite a hefty sum.

As Sesame began to depend on snappy stuff that was entertaining, we by contrast, as if to emphasize the focus of our work, having more to do with self-acceptance, neighborliness — Sesame was “one-two-three,” and we were “You don’t have to know everything when you go to school.” [Mister Rogers] began to have a more and more compensatory focus on child development and values. The shows began to have themes. The operas were Fred at his whimsical best. The operas still focused on the beautiful themes that were pertinent to children, but Fred was allowed to be more expressive. For some reason or another, he said that PBS was not so fond of them, but I thought they were it. I loved them.

WVM: Just as a learning tool, to take children step-by-step.

BKA: And to bring them into the world of higher music. And to put together all over the week. You know, [baritone John] Reardon arrives on Monday, the King commissions an opera, people say, “I want to do this, I want to do this,” and then it all comes together. But the music is gorgeous in it. We did 13 of them, and they became more and more complex, musically and spiritually.

Below, clips from Pineapples and Tomatoes, one of the earlier and more whimsical operatic efforts.

Betty talked about the creative stimulus that Fred Rogers found from working with people from backgrounds different from his own.

BKA: And then you had Johnny Costa [the show’s music director and off-camera jazz pianist and arranger], who was the opposite. He was like pepper and Fred was salt. You know, Johnny Costa from this ethnic, fabulous Italian, and Fred from this extremely protected, WASP, upright [background]. [There was] productive friction — whether it be me saying, “Why don’t we do a program about death?” “No, no.” But eventually that came to be. Because children do, whether it’s a goldfish (which is what he finally did) or divorce, [have to cope with serious real-life issues]. So I think that in some ways, because of the difference in our backgrounds, I was bringing [perspectives that come from growing up in] the broken home. I don’t mean, “I-I-I,” I just mean that that was a part of the productive friction.

I wasn’t doing the show to advance my career, because it only occurred to me later that I was going to be typecast and I would be stuck with Lady Aberlin, in a way, and it might be hard to get out of that. I was caught up in the — well, I guess you’d say in the mission. And because I wasn’t just an actor, I also contributed a number of ideas.

WVM: It is a very personal statement, as a show. So it’s interesting to hear how Rogers would to some extent make that a collaboration. Obviously, he couldn’t do it all by himself.

BKA: Well, I think he would have if he could have. But he couldn’t, so he had to use us. I mean, I was his feminine side. The puppets represented different stages in child development, Daniel being the youngest. I forget all what they were. “The cobbler’s children go barefoot,” and because my mother had studied child development, I didn’t want anything to do with it. I wanted to remain a child. I did not want to analyze. A lot of the people who joined him, he suggested that they get whatever, a Ph.D. in Education, but it was the last thing that I wanted to do. I did not want to be completely absorbed into this world, and I had never been that kind of a helpmate to anyone. So things basically changed from being extremely collaborative to being more and more doctrinaire, more and more theme-oriented, and ultimately for me, less and less fun, while still being worthy in all kinds of ways. Everything from the marvelous visits to the factories and the celebrities.

Again, my sort of brainwashing meant that what I was against would have given anybody a clue to what I really wanted and was unaware of myself. I didn’t think it was a good idea to have celebrities on, the way Sesame Street did. I wanted to have ordinary people lauded for their lives. I thought that what we were modeling was not a celebrity culture, but the opposite.

WVM: Even John Reardon was not all that famous in opera. I still find people who haven’t heard of him. A great artist, but not well-known.

BKA: Yeah. And also, then, Van Cliburn and Fred went to school together, so did Tony Perkins and Fred. The whole time with Fred — I mean, Fred had to represent what [he was]. He was always saying [in public] that we [the Neighbors] were actors, which was difficult for us, because our own names were attached to the very characters we were trying to make real, as though we were lying in our representations, as though acting is falsehood beside truth itself, instead of being revelatory of truth itself. But he would go on to say that he himself was not acting, that what you see is what you get. Well, if you consider that the phrase “What you see is what you get” was spoken by Flip Wilson in drag as Geraldine, you have an idea of what Fred was up against in his presentation as the opposite of macho. Replete with some sort of Internet scam, in which something went round saying that he was really a Navy SEAL. No, he wasn’t a Navy SEAL. Whereas Johnny Costa, our pianist, did serve in the military — that was part of their phenomenal interplay. I mean, if you want the official version of the show, you really need to talk to David Newell.

WVM: I should actually some day. Obviously it has been a huge influence on me, and it’s a subject that interests me. You were saying that [Rogers] could be very funny, and that —

BKA: He had a wonderful sense of humor.

WVM: Can you think of examples of that?

BKA: Oh, gee, I wish I could. I’m sure other people could tell you chapter and verse. In some of the earlier operas, there were some wicked puns, that later on, the icon would not have engaged in. I’m trying to think of them. There was the pineapple can opera.

WVM: Which you sent me the link to.

BKA: I think I commented on it in the link, too. There was some kind of lyric that was pretty double-entendre.

WVM: That clip reminded me of an aspect of the personality of X the Owl that I had forgotten, which is he is a Benjamin Franklin fanatic.

BKA: Oh, yes!

WVM: Which is hilarious. But also — we know people who [are fanatics]. I don’t dress up like Beverly Sills, but I love Beverly Sills.

BKA: Oh, yeah. And his whole Owl Correspondence School, the idea of continuing education.

Betty talked a bit about some of the more serious aspects of the characters in the Land of Make-Believe.

BKA: Henrietta Pussycat was originally a black pussycat. The puppet was black. I sang a song called, “You are pretty,/ You are black,/ You are beautifully dressed,/ Finely curled,/ Perfectly you are pretty,/ Elegant, you are black.”* She was always meant to be — as Mayor Maggie, Princess Zelda, Ella Jenkins — Mabel Mercer was on and sang two beautiful songs — was the gorgeous elegance of the black race, or what have you. Although Chuck and Maggie, who were each other’s own — not only in Pittsburgh of that time, and maybe for their own reasons never actually married, but on the show they were an unstated couple. At a time when — think about the Sixties — a show that was being beamed into the South was not going to stand that. Maggie, very early on as Mayor Maggie, with Chuck as her Associate Mayor, rather than the other way around: [they] were modeling the reality that has finally come to be real. And Obama, he does not look Jim Brown, or O.J. Simpson. He is not a guy so manly that white American men are threatened. He is so much more like Fred Rogers, that his extremely powerful wife has to focus on being the mom and the cookies and the style. And sure, America based on Hillary Clinton’s previous example — [approves] that [Michelle Obama] is not going to return to work, she’s a mom.

In that way, too, Fred was a genius. There is a braid of music, theology and child development. And he had that workaholism of the “To whom much is given, much will be required.” As a child, he had been overweight, so he kept his weight at all times at 143, which stood for “I Love You,” the number of letters in each word. You would see him at lunch with his one little yogurt. So the rigidity and discipline of that kind of imposition upon himself, and swimming so many laps a day, and praying so many hours a morning: an incredible discipline. And again, continually modeling that from Saint-Exupéry, “That which is essential is invisible to the eyes.”

WVM: “We see only with the heart.”

BKA: So for Fred to dare to go in front of the cameras, to be answering — or those of us who worked for him answering all through the years — that question. To have the wife, the children and the grandchildren continually in the forefront. Fred was an anomaly on television. And whether he could have done anything, or would have been suited to do anything else, he would have been relegated just because of his kind of androgyny. Instead, he’s going swimming with a young man in a pool — he’s continually being himself, himself, himself, as it is, and saying, “There’s more to all of us than meets the eye. There’s more to you than your infirmity.”

WVM: You find in that nobility. You come on the show, and you’re not just Betty, you’re Lady Aberlin. There’s this recognition of nobility in everyone.

BKA: I know, and I’m the last person in the world! I mean, I don’t even understand — I don’t know what a duchess is. In fact, I think he recognized my working class very much, because in several operas, you’d just see me in uniform. I’m the park ranger, or I’m the trolley conductor. So that was very strange, being the Lady and being deferential to a king. Hello! That went against my [background of resistance to male authority]. I was made into a feminist by the absent father, and all that. That was Amish plus — not a very realistic entrance into the world. I was afraid, in feminist years, that I was representing a too-deferential model of womanhood — you know, it was always, “Correct as usual, King Friday.” I didn’t know exactly what I was participating in. You know, was he a Mason?

WVM: Well, but some of the other [characters] were saying, “Correct as always,” and you would say, “Correct as usual.”

BKA: “Correct as usual.” I didn’t notice that. But just that Obama — there’s like way more to him than meets the eye. He also is the broken-home child.

WVM: Yeah! Interesting.

BKA: I think I identified with him on that basis from the giddy-up. So I thought, “There’s another one. Always seeking to reconcile opposing factions.”

After a brief sidetrack to discuss President Obama’s age, I asked whether Fred Rogers was easy to work with.

BKA: He was a stickler. […] X once gave me a compliment, and as Betty, I kind of went, “Aw shucks.” It was “Stop tape!” “Why?” “Because if a child gives you a compliment, you receive the compliment.” So the thing was annotated to a fare-thee-well. Things happened left to right on the screen, because a child learns to read with his eyes being trained left to right. There were a thousand things.

WVM: The Trolley goes left to right! Good grief, I hadn’t even thought about that.

BKA: It’s very hard actually to memorize what we call Freddish — you know, English, Spanish, Freddish. They’re simple, declarative sentences. There’s no connective tissue, and you’re dealing with a puppet for whom you have to imagine a reaction. It’s not a puppet like the Sesame Street puppets, where the eyes roll and the mouths flap, or anything like this.

Furthermore, it was so low-budget, in a way, it was as close to live TV as you’ve got. There was no rehearsal time, so you basically learned your lines and then sometimes you had to do something tricky with a puppet or a prop. At which time you got the prop and puppet, and the lines went out of your head. Or you got the lines and you covered a puppet. I mean, we did our own hair, our own makeup, we miked ourselves, we dressed in a toilet — a very nice toilet, but still, the toilet.

WVM: Wow! I thought it was at least a studio.

BKA: There was a studio, yeah. But it was not luxe. And so it was the additional pressure of just getting your hair and makeup camera-worthy, while making sure that your mike was off in the bathroom. You know, there was a very homemade quality about it, and sometimes if you fluffed a line, and the puppet did well, they’d pick the take with the puppet. That’s the case.

WVM: The puppet had connections, it must be said!

BKA: Oh, yes!

WVM: There’s a kind of emotional transparency that you had to summon up in every line, and from my limited experience in acting, I know that can’t have been easy every day.

BKA: I must say, I loved all of the puppets. Daniel was my surrogate child, certainly. I was permitted — you know, Fred was not in any way touchy-feely. I think he did not like it. In the early days, I felt way more freedom to touch the puppets. Even to say, “Ugga-mugga, Daniel Tiger,” was at first an idea that was rejected. I’m not sure why. Maybe too frivolous, I don’t know. But there was real love there.

WVM: I think for us who grew up watching you, we feel relationships with the puppets. We feel about them as if they were people, characters. We respond to them as that. Did you find that as an actor? You’re telling me yes, I think.

BKA: Oh, sure!

WVM: Were there times you just wanted to strangle King Friday?

BKA: Well, I think you can see that in my face, half the time! You know, if I didn’t roll my eyes — he was such a delightful character, wielding his power. You know, one of the things we asked Fred for, too, or I did, was, “Don’t you ever get angry, Fred? Human beings get angry, children get angry, parents get angry. Can we — are you going to lose control sometime?” And there was a segment toward the end, in which I’m showing the King something, and he throws it to the ground and breaks it. I think that was the first time the King ever apologized to Lady Aberlin. There was just fabulous —

WVM: Wow! So much of the show is about anger management, so that sort of makes one wonder —

BKA: I don’t know that it’s so much of the show, but it’s certainly modeling the gentlest, kindest ways to interact.

WVM: I’ve been talking about him as a kind of masculine role model. He sort of prepared the ground in many ways for the character that Alan Alda wound up playing on M*A*S*H, and everybody said, “Oh, this is the generation of the Alan Alda male.” I grew up with this, I had to be the Alan Alda guy when I went into the world. But Alan Alda on M*A*S*H, you saw him kiss a girl. So there was no question asked about what he was.

BKA: He’s a straight guy. He was a gentle, straight guy.

WVM: Right. And that was okay, and people didn’t make fun of him the way they did of Fred Rogers, but what was he going to do? I don’t know, it’s strange. But since Alan Alda, we haven’t really had that kind of low-key, gentle male figure — until Obama.

Sensitive Guy, Also Great with Kids

BKA: Well, this is a whole ‘nother series. I mean, not counting the black exploitation films, if you look overall at the black actors who are permitted to make it on camera, the comedians — Richard Pryor, Chris Rock — that’s like — it’s probably a chicken or the egg question. Do you become a genius at comedy because you don’t look like a football player? Or is white America so terrified of male beauty or sexual prowess that it prefers to have the — I mean, Bill Cosby was certainly a handsome guy. He was nobody’s sidekick in — what was that show?

WVM: I Spy, with Robert Culp.

BKA: Right. But there are a lot of shows in which the white guy’s quote “masculinity” is enhanced by the somewhat nerdy affect [of a black sidekick]. I wish that we could flip the switch now. I once had an idea for a film in which all the children being wheeled in perambulators would be being wheeled by perfectly groomed white nannies, and the whole world would be in the complete reverse. You know, I wish that Obama’s ascendancy would be marked by an immediate — have you ever heard of the Hundredth Monkey Idea?

The Hundredth Monkey Idea was used by those who were against nuclear war. The argument is that a certain species of monkey grows up on a Japanese island, and all of them eat yams, and they eat them sandy. By accident a teenage monkey drops his yam in the river, and it gets washed. He discovers that it tastes better washed, so he teaches his whole generation to wash their yams. And they teach their parents to wash their yams. There’s one holdout, an old monkey or something. And when that one holdout, the hundredth monkey, washes his yam, spontaneously all over the world, that particular species of monkey begins to wash yams before eating. It’s like an evolutionary kick-up. So I’d like to think that, in the way that races relate to each other, because of this incredible day in history and so forth, that the whole power structure would be turned inside-out, and that a kind of innate deference would occur, not just as reparations.

I knew as a child that blacks were the chosen people. I knew it. I had frizzy hair and I was teased, and above all else, I was teased that not only my father was absent but he was black. And so I developed this tremendous kinship. I had to learn that, no, I’m not black. I can’t just join because they’re “it.” Chosen to bear the burden of racism.

WVM: I went through the same thing with being Jewish, actually. People didn’t tell me I looked Jewish, but —

BKA: You were like an honorary —

WVM: Very much honorary.

BKA: I think probably the way things go, you become what you admire a little bit. Whether they invite you in or not, you can’t help but turn toward the light, whatever in the other culture is missing from the one in which you are born, you go to it, like phototropism or something.

WVM: You’re doing art and poetry these days, you act in Kevin Smith movies: what else should we know about what you do these days?

BKA: “We” should know whether there’s any point in spending the money for my next headshots, whether I’ll ever work again. Do put in a good word with Mel [Brooks].

WVM: Honestly, if I were a producer, you would work constantly. I have a really hard time thinking of things that I can’t imagine your doing. Especially now that I know you’re not a high-school girl in Pittsburgh.

BKA: That is probably my dilemma, as the tightrope between the Renaissance and dilettante, that I always feel that I am not able to focus on one thing. And of course at sixtysomething, the known actresses who have been on a powerful career arc in their lives are going to get even the small parts that are available. That’s just the reality. I started to say that when I came up, theater was it, and movies were [grimaces]. There was a — stupid, possibly — but there was a real prejudice against movies, which I wholeheartedly adopted. I couldn’t understand why Meryl Streep was going into the movies. You know, when she could be — and then later I sort of understood. “Oh, I see, you do it once, it’s over. You don’t have to do it every night, and you’re there for posterity.”

Yet what strikes me is that Betty Aberlin is there for posterity. Though Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is no longer as widely distributed, and though not every aspect of Fred Rogers’ approach chimed with Betty’s philosophy, her work continues to reach television audiences. More importantly, the work she did decades ago took root in the hearts of the children who watched her then, who are grownups now. Even a distant memory of Lady Aberlin’s patience and concern may echo now, not in applause but in a kind word to a neighbor — or a stranger. That legacy belongs not only to Fred Rogers, but also to Betty Aberlin. Always.

*Betty points out that, at the time, Americans were shifting away from use of the word “Negro” in favor of “black,” a term soon to be displaced by “African-American.” The Neighborhood embraced a number of other African-Americans, including François Clemmons, Keith Davis, Vic Miles and Lynn Swann.


Eric Scales said...

Betty's presence on the show was extremely significant. I hope she realizes that to many children she was as much an icon as Fred and each of his puppet characters. It's great to hear her thoughts on the show and I wish that she and the other cast had been included in the documentary that PBS did about Mr. Rogers.

Regarding her comments about having celebrities on the show, I would say that the famous folk that Mr. Rogers had on his show were on because of their extreme talent in their particular field, never because any parents watching with their kids would get a kick out of seeing someone from Prime Time on the show, as I think was the main motivation on Sesame Street.

William V. Madison said...

Thanks for writing! I agree in large measure with your observation about celebrity appearances in the Neighborhood: usually it's not hard to detect a higher purpose to the guest's participation. Margaret Hamilton's visit was designed to help children understand their fascination with and fear of witches. It's a pretty astonishing moment when Hamilton, a kindly grandmother, puts on her Wicked Witch of the West costume: not so scary, after all, because it's only make-believe. And it didn't hurt that Hamilton was a former kindergarten teacher, well-versed in the developmental issues that Fred Rogers liked to explore.

Not having seen every episode (especially from the later seasons), I can't say whether every celebrity-guest appearance was quite so successful. But yes, Fred Roger's approach in this, as in so many other areas, is a long way from Sesame Street.

Eric Scales said...

Yes most of the guests were classically trained musicians, or artists. Even Margaret Hamilton and Lou Ferigno were the only two actors I can think of, though I could be wrong. I would love to see that Margaret Hamilton episode but sadly haven't seen it pop up on youtube yet. It's one I remember very strongly, probably because I wore out a beta "taped from TV" version of Wizard of Oz when i was younger.

Braling II said...

It was whilst watching Mister Rogers that I first heard Eric Kloss, a wonderful alto saxophonist.
I wonder whatever happened to him?

I had a pretty serious crush on Lady Aberlin, as I'm sure many of us did.

Unknown said...

Great interview!
I am 60 years old and still have a crush on Lady Aberlin.
During my four years at Pgh Theological Seminary, I sat in class with Fred Rogers twice. He would drop by his school that he graduated from, every once in awhile. He is the same in real life as we see on TV that is for shure. One interesting thing I found out, was that he could not take written exams, and they all had to be oral.
I learned love, patience, and gentleness from Fred.
Charles Gilbert Wright

Barbara said...

This is great! I just happened to be watching an old Mr. Rogers on TV this morning. It brought back all my warm memories of watching with my kids when they were pre-schoolers (they're in college and law school now.)

Lady Aberlin was always my favorite, so I Googled to see what she might be doing now, and voila! this recent and thoughtful interview. What a cool person! And somehow you could see that in her Lady A character.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Interesting article--I was just shocked that she said the h-word. Kinda depressing that she would talk that way.

William V. Madison said...

Dear Anonymous: Which "h-word" was that? "Here"? Honestly, what warms my heart is that Betty Aberlin manages to carry the Neighborhood virtues out of Make-Believe and into the real world. Consider her attempts to understand and to explain her pre-Rogers existence in Rogers terms. That's incredible, and an indication of the merit of the Rogers philosophy.

The real Betty is more complex than the TV character -- and yet, that's a significant part of who she really is. Which means that you and I can be "Neighbors," too.

And we ought to be.

Eric Scales said...

I scoured the interview for Betty's use of the "H word" and the only time she says it is when she "ran like hell" after nearly being molested in a library. I'd say under the circumstances, she's entitled to use a bit of language. This ain't no kids show after all.

backcheck said...

To me, Fred Rogers was and always will be the closest thing to a saint. The man and his cause/mission/ministry altered the course of educational television for children. The show was pure genius and took into account not only early child educational/didactic development but behavioral development as well. With regard to Betty Aberlin and her part in the show, she was amazing. I would watch the show as much for Mr. Rogers as I did for the entire supporting cast/stars including Ms. Aberlin. In fact, her delicate and tender side was what I gravitated to probably the most. She truly made the show special not just to me but I'm sure to untold other "kids" who are now grown-ups. God bless you, Ms. Aberlin and may God always bless the legacy of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Excellent interview.
Beautiful woman.
She'll always be there.

I wish I could have that ugga mugga you got.

Suldog said...

I am a huge Fred Rogers fan, and I also love Betty Aberlin's work on those shows. Thank you very much for this. Most insightful and interesting.

Sydney said...

Now that I'm an adult watching all the old neighborhood episodes with my 18 month old (who won't watch anything else and requests "rogers" every morning), I remember that warm, safe feeling of childhood. It's so special to experience mister Rogers neighborhood again with my child. Lady Aberlin is such a huge part of that show. You can get all the episodes on Amazon, so my son and I have watched lady Aberlin grow up before our eyes. She's beautiful inside and out. It's disappointing to know that it was upsetting for her and other cast mates when Fred said they were actors but he was himself. I always wondered how true to themselves those characters were. I loved that the interview brings up her attitude towards king Friday. Because I have noticed her "correct as usual..." exasperated tone often and it always makes me smile. It's a tiny way for girls to see her feminism/protest in the neighborhood. This interview was a fascinating read. It's so interesting to hear her perspective from working on the show with Fred.... Her comment about fried being against touching is one of the things I always found reassuring about him. But in one of the 1988 episodes he gets "handsy" (for mister Rogers standards) with the Russian kids tv visitor. It made me laugh bc I thought "boy he's really excited that she came all the way over from Russia!" Anyway, Great interview. I'd love to read more from other neighborhood cast members.