Saturday, September 30, 2023

Mister Rogers' Mausoleum

Fred McFeely Rogers was born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, on March 20, 1928.  He was the son of James Hillis Rogers, a prominent local businessman, who served as President of the McFeely Brick Company.  His mother, Nancy, worked as a volunteer in the local hospital. 

As a child, Fred was shy, introverted and overweight, dubiously earning the nickname "Fat Freddy."  It was during these years that he turned to music and puppetry, two outlets that would later play an important role in his career.

In 1963, he graduated from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary with a bachelor's degree in Divinity.  He went on to become a Presbyterian minister while earning his graduate degree in Child Development at the University of Pittsburgh.  He then moved to Canada, where he created a new television series for children called Misterogers.  After five years in the Great White North, he returned to Pittsburgh and adapted his show for American audiences, renaming it Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

The series ran for 33 years, producing 895 episodes.  It was critically acclaimed for focusing on topical children's issues, including sibling rivalry, divorce, and even death.  A trained musician, Rogers wrote and performed many of the songs used throughout the show.  He retired from the series in 2001, making one final appearance following the attacks of September 11th.  With his trademark charm, he reassured both children and adults that life would go on.

In 2002, Rogers was diagnosed with stomach cancer.  He had surgery in early 2003, but his health was in rapid decline.  He ultimately passed on February 27th at the age of 74.

Rogers was laid to rest at Latrobe's Unity Cemetery in his family mausoleum.

Rest in peace, neighbor.

  • According to his widow, Mister Rogers' final words, spoken on his deathbed, were "am I a sheep?"  This is a reference to the Last Judgement in the Bible, when the good sheep are separated from the bad goats.  And now you know.

  • Not surprisingly, Rogers authored a number of children's books, which are available from Amazon.

  • During World War 2, Nancy Rogers knitted sweaters for American soldiers heading off to Europe.  Years later, she would continue this tradition for her son, hand knitting the Cardigan sweaters that he wore on the show.

  • Rogers is often credited with saving the VCR.  In 1984, he testified before the U.S. Supreme Court (!) in its landmark Betamax Case.  It was brought about by Universal Studios and the Walt Disney Company, who sued Sony over its Betamax technology, claiming they would lose millions of dollars from the distribution of home-recorded tapes.  Rogers testified that this new technology was beneficial to his audience, stating in part "I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important."

  • That same year, Burger King created an advertising campaign featuring a Rogers lookalike named "Mister Rodney."  After seeing the ad on television, Rogers told the fast food franchise that they were confusing the children, and he asked them to pull the commercial.  The company readily complied, stating "Mister Rogers is the one guy you don't want to mess with."  Fortunately for us however, the commercial is available on YouTube.

  • In 2002, Rogers was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a Rose Garden ceremony hosted by George W. Bush.

  • The sets from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood are now on display at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Andy Warhol


"I would rather watch somebody buy their underwear than read a book they wrote."

Andy Warhol was born Andrew Warhola, Jr. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on August 6, 1928. Art inspired him from an early age, and he began his career as a commercial illustrator.

By the 1950s, he began receiving recognition for his unique style, and he ultimately opened his own studio, The Factory, in New York City.  It would soon become a gathering place for everyone from Hollywood elite to New York's homeless people.

In the 1960s, Warhol branched out into music, serving as manager and producer of The Velvet Underground, an experimental rock band.  He also founded Interview magazine, which is still in publication today. 

In early 1987, Warhol underwent gall bladder surgery at New York Hospital. His recovery was sufficient enough that he was discharged and sent home, where after a few days, he developed a sudden post-operative irregular heartbeat.  He died in his sleep on February 22nd.  He was 58 years old.

Warhol's brothers brought him home to Pittsburgh, where he was laid to rest at St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery.  Visitors are encouraged to write Andy a note.

Rest in peace.


  • For more than twenty years, Warhol dictated his daily diaries to author Pat Hackett, who released an edited compilation of these writings in 2014.  You can pick up a copy of The Andy Warhol Diaries from Amazon.

  • In June 1968, radical feminist writer Valerie Solanas attempted to assassinate Warhol at his studio.  Although he survived the shooting, he'd suffer health repercussions the rest of his life, which ultimately contributed to his untimely passing.  Solanas was later diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and sentenced to a whopping three years in prison.

  • Warhol's family believed his death was preventable and they subsequently sued the hospital for inadequate care.  The case was quickly settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.  Thirty years after his passing, a new investigation confirmed the family's suspicions, citing his family history, his previous injuries and his medical condition prior to surgery as being factors that should have delayed the operation.

  • Today, Pittsburgh is home to The Andy Warhol Museum.  Check it out!

  • Warhol was no stranger to Hollywood, appearing both in front of and behind the camera.  This blogger fondly remembers Warhol's 1985 Love Boat episode.

  • In 2002, Warhol was featured on a commemorative U.S. postage stamp.  Ironically, he did not design it himself.

  • Warhol is often credited with coining the term "15 minutes of fame."

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Miss Jane Hathaway


Nancy Jane Kulp was born in in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on August 28, 1921.  She was the only child of a traveling salesman and a schoolteacher who lived in nearby Mifflintown.  In the early 1930s, the family relocated to Miami, Florida.

After high school, Kulp went to the Florida State College for Women, where she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism.  She then enrolled in the University of Miami, where she would ultimately receive a master's degree in English and French.  Before graduation however, she enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve, rising to the rank of Lieutenant, Junior Grade.  Following the end of World War 2, she was honorably discharged and returned to civilian life.   

In 1951, Kulp moved to Hollywood and took a job in the Publicity Department at MGM Studios.  She caught the eye of a talent scout however, who convinced her to become an actress.  She made her feature film debut that year in Director George Cukor's film The Model and the Marriage Broker. Other roles would quickly follow, including Shane (1953) and A Star is Born (1954).

In 1955, Kulp jumped to television, where she joined the cast of The Bob Cummings Show.  Other series would follow, including memorable guest appearances on Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, and My Three Sons.  Then in 1962, she was cast in the role for which she most famously remembered, Miss Jane Hathway on The Beverly Hillbillies.  Go ahead.  Play the theme song.  She received an Emmy Award for the role and continued with the series until its cancellation in 1971. 

When the series ended, Kulp continued acting in Hollywood, making appearances on such series as Sanford and Son, The Love Boat, and later, Quantum Leap.  

An avid smoker, Kulp was diagnosed with cancer in 1990.  She began chemotherapy, but by 1991, the cancer had spread, and it ultimately took her life on February 3rd.  She was 69 years old.

Kulp was laid to rest in her family plot at Westminster Presbyterian Cemetery in Mifflintown, just outside Harrisburg.  Her headstone notes the role for which she was most famous for, that of Miss Jane Hathaway.  It also pays tribute to her military service.

Rest in peace.

  • In 1984, Kulp decided to run for the U.S. House of Representatives in her home state of Pennsylvania.  She received the Democratic nomination and would soon face Republican Bud Shuster in the general election.  Having long differed with Kulp's politics, former co-star Buddy Ebsen offered to record a campaign ad for Shuster, who ultimately won the seat.  After her defeat, Kulp would later say of Ebsen "he's not the kindly old Jed Clampett that you saw on the's none of his business and he should have stayed out of it."

  • After her run for Congress, Kulp became an artist-in-residence at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.  She later became an acting instructor.

  • Trivia: Who was the very first guest on The Arsenio Hall Show?  Answer: Nancy Kulp.

  • Two years before her passing, Kulp publicly declared that she was in fact, a lesbian.