'Moth Radio Hour' Delivers Wonderful 'Mister Rogers' Stories

Jan 27, 2017

He dressed "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" puppets. He delivered an armadillo and all kinds of things to Fred Rogers on the PBS show. And he accompanied the iconic children's TV star to meet David Letterman and to "Saturday Night Live."

David Newell – the show's public relations director who played Mr. McFeely on the show – tells great stories about his 50-year association with the "Neighborhood" on "The Moth Radio Hour" 8 p.m. Sunday on 91.7 WVXU-FM.

He was hired in 1967 as a production assistant to "find props, check the costumes and dress the puppets." He also did cameos as the delivery man, announcing his arrival by saying "Speedy Delivery, Mr. Rogers!"

"That became my catch phrase," says Newell in a segment recorded in Pittsburgh, his hometown, where the Fred Rogers Company is headquartered.

When Rogers had a break in his schedule before taping David Letterman's old NBC "Late Night" show in the early 1980s, one of Letterman's people suggested that Rogers go upstairs to Studio 8H and see "SNL" cast member Eddie Murphy, who parodied the PBS children's show as "Mister Robinson's Neighborhood."

"He was truly surprised. And then gave Fred a big hug and said, "This is the real Mr. Robinson!" Newell says.

Newell's story comes 20 minutes into the one-hour show. It's great to hear Newell talk about Fred Rogers. They are two of my favorite people from covering TV. I met them both several times, and spent a memorable two days with them in their Pittsburgh TV studio 20 years ago with photographer Michael E. Keating. (Rogers died in 2003 at age 74.)

Here's a fun fact: How did Mr. McFeely get his name? Why was a character named "McFeely" on a children's TV show? Because McFeely was Roger's middle name, and his mother's maiden name.

"Mr. Rogers, Bellevue, Super Markets and Coney Island" will be available at The Moth Radio Hour website on Tuesday, Jan. 31.