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Is ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ Based on a True Story?

November 21, 2019
6 min read

Marielle Heller’s 2019 movie, ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’, has been co-written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster. Since it recounts the life of Mister Rogers, or Fred Rogers, the famous television personality who reached out to kids, fans must be wondering if the recent movie is based on a true story.

Well, in short, ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ has been described by some sources a biographical movie, though the director has not attached any such tag to the project. We have Tom Hanks stepping into the role of Mister Rogers, and Matthew Rhys playing Lloyd Vogel, the journalist who interviews him for a profile piece.

The plot of the film focuses on the friendship between the two men, which only proves how saintly Fred Rogers was, and how the man walked the talk. That being said, it might interest you to know that the movie’s premise is actually based on a profile piece on Rogers that came out in Esquire and was written by Tom Junod. It is titled “Can You Say…Hero?“. Therefore, to directly answer your question, ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ is based on a true story.

However, in true Hollywood style, liberties have been taken in the movie, as far as characters and instances are concerned. Confused as to what is fact, and what is fiction? We have you covered. Read on to know about the true story of ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’, as well as the parts that were altered.

The True Story Behind ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’, Explained:

The core of the movie is the friendship that Mister Rogers develops with the reporter. This is absolutely true since Rogers became friends with Tom Junod, who was sent by Esquire to do a story on him. At the request of Junod, his name has been changed to Lloyd Vogel in the movie, since quite a lot of liberties are taken with his personal life and problems. However, we will get to that later.

At the time Junod was sent to interview Rogers, he had earned a reputation as a journalist who was known for saying the unsayable. His cynicism and skepticism in the industry were well known, and his pieces were known to be dark. Professionally, he was at a lower point in his career, because he had just written a profile on Kevin Spacey, titled ‘Kevin Spacey Has a Secret‘. He tried to out the actor in the article, drawing national ire. Junod has later gone on to state that it was not properly motivated.

When Junod was asked to profile Rogers, he felt chafed because he thought he had been given a softer assignment as a result of his recent fiasco. However, Junod has also mentioned that one of the editors at Esquire felt it would be rather amusing to have someone like Junod, with the reputation of saying unsayable things, interviewing one of the nicest men in the world. Moreover, when Junod was actually given the assignment, his wife expressed fear that the reporter would ruin her childhood with the piece he would do on Rogers. This fear is mirrored in Vogel’s wife in the movie.

Speaking of Vogel’s wife, this brings us to the personal life of Junod, which was condensed and altered in the movie. Firstly, Vogel’s wife’s name is Andrea, and she is somewhat modeled after Junod’s wife, Janet. The movie shows that Lloyd and Andrea have a newborn when the reporter goes to meet Mister Rogers. This is not true, though it was Fred Rogers’ optimism and unshakeable encouragement that led to Junod and Janet adopting their daughter later on in life.

Vogel’s relationship with his father is also rather different from the one Junod had with his real-life dad. Though his father was an alcoholic philanderer, Junod idolized the man. Moreover, the reporter has stated that he never got into a fistfight with his father at his sister’s wedding, which is what the movie shows. In fact, Junod’s sister never got married.

Despite all the differences in Junod’s personal life, the friendship between Vogel (based on Junod) and Rogers is accurately depicted. The reporter states that he was taken in by what the movie showed, and the two had traded phone calls and over 70 emails before Rogers died of stomach cancer in 2003.

In fact, Rogers kept in touch with Junod long after the profile piece was written, and his mails showed how religious Rogers was, keeping Junod and his family in his prayers all the time. That being said, there are some discrepancies in the way the movie has portrayed the conversations. Firstly, a lot of the conversations did not happen face to face as the movie depicted, rather taking place over mails and phone calls. However, to evoke drama, it can be understood why the conversations needed to be staged in person. Moreover, a part in the movie shows Vogel referring to himself as ‘broken’ in front of Mister Rogers. Junod has come out saying that although Rogers did help him heal his broken self, he never referred to himself as broken in front of the man.

While the relationship is more or less accurately portrayed, the movie has based one scene on absolute reality, that you might be hard-pressed to believe. The movie shows a scene in a subway car with strangers singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” to Mister Rogers. Although incredulous, Junod’s profile proves it really did happen, transforming the moving carriage to a soft, runaway choir.

In conclusion, ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ is a nearly accurate look at the relationship between Mister Rogers and a cynical journalist, using this opportunity to bring forth the personality traits of Rogers and why he was so likable. However, the film passes up on the opportunity to show anything new, like Rogers’ childhood or his deep faith in God which inspired his goodness. These would have given us more insight into the true story of the man, but for now, we can leave you with one more tidbit of information provided by Mister Rogers’ wife that he was a fan of Tom Hanks, and loved ‘Forrest Gump‘ and ‘BIG’. Since he was all about his message reaching an audience, he is likely to have loved this movie, for doing the work for him, according to Junod.

Read More: Who is Lloyd Vogel in Real Life?

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