'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood': What Fred Rogers Really Thought of Eddie Murphy's 'SNL' Imitations of Him
If imitation is truly the greatest form of flattery, the late Fred Rogers, host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, must have been perpetually pleased.
Rogers was frequently parodied and took it all in good stride, for the most part.
He opened up at one time about Saturday Night Live cast member Eddie Murphy’s imitation of him in his “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood” parody of the long-running PBS children’s program.
‘Mister Rogers’ was on the air for 31 years
The beloved children’s program began in the summer of 1968 and incredibly remained relevant enough to last 31 years until 2001.
In a 2019 interview with Little Village, his biographer, Maxwell King, who wrote 2018’s The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, described Rogers’ appeal not only to children, but to a wider part of the culture.
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“I would say that the quality that affects people emotionally is his authenticity,” King said, “how very genuine and comfortable he is in talking to people and sharing his own thoughts and experiences…”
“It’s a genuine quality for Fred that engages people, takes them out of themselves and gets them into a different realm, the realm of a relationship with another person. For people who knew Fred well, that was true.”
Eddie Murphy’s ‘Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood’ on ‘Saturday Night Live’
In addition to his sketches of “Gumby” and Buckwheat from The Little Rascals, one of Eddie Murphy’s most popular performances is his imitation of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Murphy’s rendition of the kids’ program was a decidedly different take on the kindly PBS show.
Starting with his play on the show’s well-known opening melody, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, Murphy sang in his parody, ‘I always wanted to live in a house like yours, my friend / Maybe when no one’s home, I’ll break in!’
Definitely not as kind or sweet as the original, Mister Robinson continued: “So come out with some folks and a smoke / You bring the stash, ’cause Robinson’s broke.”
What Fred Rogers thought of Eddie Murphy’s and others’ imitations
In a 1999 interview with the Archive of American Television, Fred Rogers opened up about the various parodies and imitations of him and his show, including Eddie Murphy’s. He shared honestly about being flattered by some and outraged by others.
“I remember going up to be on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson and he said to me, ‘You know, Fred, we wouldn’t do these parodies if we didn’t like you.’”
Rogers fondly recalled meeting Eddie Murphy, although the television host did not (or perhaps would not) offer an opinion on Murphy’s twist on his kids’ show.
“Most of the [parodies] were done with very good, gentle humor, you know? Eddie Murphy did that “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood” and I remember meeting him. And he just threw his arms around me the first time he saw me and he said, ‘It’s the real Mister Rogers!’”
The television personality, who died in 2003 of stomach cancer, then discussed those moments when an imitation of him was not well received.
“Now there have been times that I haven’t been very pleased about a certain kind of parody…This was on a local station somewhere. Evidently, this man, on an afternoon program, wore a sweater and sneakers, came on the air and talked even more slowly than I do. He said, ‘Now, children, take your mother’s hairspray and your daddy’s cigarette lighter and press the buttons and you’ll have a blow torch.’ Now, he thought that was funny, of course. We put a stop to that.”
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