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
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
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.
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
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
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.