Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: The 10 Best Celebrity Sightings

Elisa Lichtenbaum | May 25, 2018

Mr. McFeely and Mr. Rogers. MISTER ROGERS: IT’S YOU I LIKE is a celebrity-filled, hour-long special.

The pioneering children’s series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood premiered nationally 50 years ago, and the lessons he imparted have made it a beautiful day in the neighborhood ever since. To celebrate this milestone, we’re airing a special encore of Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like (Thursday, May 31 at 9 p.m.). The star-studded special is hosted by actor Michael Keaton, who in the 1970s, worked as a stagehand and made appearances on the series. Fred Rogers invited celebrities on his show to help teach children concepts, from the complexity of emotions, to music and rhythm and the workings of science.

The 10 Best Celebrity Appearances in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood had a long run on public television: from 1968 to 2001. Of the many celebrity sightings in its episodes, here are the ones we liked the best.

1. Margaret Hamilton

She taunted Dorothy – and her little dog too! – as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, but Margaret Hamilton melted our hearts with her appearance on Mister Rogers Neighborhood in 1975. She told Mister Rogers what makes the Wicked Witch tick — she’s not a meanie, she’s just frustrated! – and assured us that playing the Wicked Witch is only make-believe, like dressing up for Halloween. She donned her witch costume to illustrate the point, with Mister Rogers on zipper duty.

“This is a real zipper back here, just like the zipper on my sweaters,” he explained with his trademark calm. When Hamilton spoke in her Wicked Witch voice, Rogers imitated her iconic cackle. “It would be fun to talk like that,” he said with a smile.

2. Tony Bennett

In 1975, crooner extraordinaire Tony Bennett visited Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to perform on the show and create some art projects. He stopped by Lady Elaine’s M-G-R (Museum-Go-Round) TV Studio in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, drawing a charming portait of Her Ladyship and serenading her with a jazzy rendition of “It’s You I Like.” Fly us to the moon! (Fun fact about Lady Elaine: she was voiced by Fred Rogers and named after his adopted sister.) Watch the scene.

3. Koko the Gorilla

Koko the gorilla and Dr. Penny Patterson in the NATURE documentary A Conversation with Koko.

Koko the gorilla and Dr. Penny Patterson in the NATURE documentary A Conversation with Koko.

When Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood superfan Koko the Gorilla (the subject of the 1999 Nature film A Conversation With Koko) met her favorite TV star in 1998, it was all hugs and happiness. She immediately hugged Mister Rogers when he walked into her room, and helped him remove his cardigan and shoes. She fished a Daniel Tiger toy out of his tote bag, played his harmonica, and taught him how to say “I love you” in sign language. She didn’t get an autograph from her PBS BFF, but they did pose for a selfie – taken by Koko herself.

4. Yo-Yo Ma

Fred Rogers, Nicholas Ma and Yo-Yo Ma.

Fred Rogers, Nicholas Ma and Yo-Yo Ma.

Mister Rogers visited cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his young son Nicholas in a 1990 episode exploring Fathers and Music. They enjoyed a round of “Guess the Sound” as Ma played animal and siren sounds on the cello. After Nicholas demonstrated his impressive piano skills, the trio team up for a performance “The Skaters Waltz” on piano and cello.

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5. Julia Child

Legendary chef Julia Child added some spice to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with her effusive personality in a mouthwatering 1974 episode. At Brockett’s Bakery, she whipped up some Spaghetti Marco Polo. Then, she and Mister Rogers enjoyed the delectable dish using chopsticks. Learn more about Julia Child in the American Masters film Julia! America’s Favorite Chef and with these Fun Facts.

6. Big Bird

Actor and puppeteer Caroll Spinney has played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street since 1969

Actor and puppeteer Caroll Spinney has played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street since 1969. He appears on MISTER ROGERS: IT’S YOU I LIKE, a celebrity-filled special marking the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Sesame Street's Big Bird with Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

Big Bird with Fred Rogers.

Sesame Street’s Big Bird ruffled some feathers when he visited the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to enter an art contest in 1981. He was on an episode teaching children about jealousy and competition. Lady Elaine felt threatened because she wanted to win the contest, and Henrietta Pussycat was extra catty, jealous of Big Bird’s friendship with her best friend, X the Owl. But we don’t mind the drama. Big Bird and Mister Rogers together in one glorious episode? We’re in PBS Nerd heaven!

Caroll Spinney, who has played Big Bird on Sesame Street since 1969, shares his favorite Mister Rogers memories in Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like.

7. Rita Moreno

She’s the “Hey you, guys!” gal in The Electric Company, a to-die-for Anita in the film version of West Side Story, and the very first performer to win an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, and a Grammy. Rita Moreno’s appearance on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is yet another reason to love this entertainment icon. She stopped by the Neighborhood in 1975 with her late husband Leonard Gordon and daughter Fernanda for a discussion of work and family. Highlights included Moreno singing “It’s You I Like” and Gordon, a cardiologist, taking Mister Rogers’ blood pressure.

8. Bill Nye

See the latest from Bill Nye in POV: Bill Nye: Science Guy.

Bill Nye the Science Guy added a dash of scientific fun to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in 1997. The popular PBS personality taught Mister Rogers how to blow up a balloon using a bottle, vinegar, and baking soda. (The vinegar and baking soda created a bubbly foam that caused the balloon to inflate. Trippy!) Learn more about Bill Nye in the POV film Bill Nye Science Guy.

9. Tommy Tune

Tony Award-winning director, choreographer, and entertainer Tommy Tune, known as “Broadway’s tallest tapper,” enchanted the denizens of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in two 1988 episodes about kindness. He played Sir Thomas T. Tune, “the most highly regarded expert in international lofty generosity,” who surprised everyone in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe with his kindness and height. (The famously tall Texan is 6’ 6”). The charismatic Sir Thomas was especially popular with the Neighborhood school kids, who used rhythm instruments to play “Everybody’s Fancy,” a song penned by Fred Rogers, for him. Fancy that! Here are the lyrics.

10. Wynton Marsalis

Mister Rogers visited jazz trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis in a tuneful 1986 episode. At Negri’s Music Shop, Marsalis talked about his musical upbringing and the importance of practice. Then it’s showtime as Marsalis (trumpet), Joe Negri (guitar), Johnny Costa (the show’s Music Director), Bob Rawsthorne, and Carl McVicker perform a jazzy version of “It’s You I Like.” Today Wynton Marsalis is artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Wynton Marsalis from Wynton Marsalis on Vimeo.