How Mr Rogers Gave Night Of The Living Dead Director George Romero His Start

It's hard to imagine "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," the late Fred Rogers' warm hug of a TV show, having anything in common with the 1968 horror film "Night of the Living Dead," but there is a connection. Directing short segments for Rogers' program seems like a long way away from making zombie movies, but it's the precise career trajectory that "Night of the Living Dead" director George A. Romero followed.

According to Mental Floss, Romero's first paid job in film or television came courtesy of none other than Mr. Fred Rogers, and working on the show allowed Romero, who was just out of college at the time, a chance to hone his filmmaking abilities. Some of the shorts to Romero's credit included ​​"How Lightbulbs Are Made" and "Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy," the latter of which he joked was the scariest thing he ever shot. "I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I've ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared s***less while I was trying to pull it off," Romero said.

Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood was a childhood staple for many

According to Fred Rogers Productions, Fred Rogers devoted his life to understanding childhood development and connecting with children. He went so far as to regularly meet with Margaret McFarland, a well-respected child psychologist whom he regarded as a mentor, and the two would discuss the newest developments in child psychology. Rogers would in turn take what he learned and weave it into his scripts for his television show "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood."

Rogers' show was produced at WQED Studios in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Rogers wore a lot of hats during the production process and served as the show's creator, host, head writer, lead musical composer, chief puppeteer, and also provided the voices of several puppets. Essentially, he was a children's television auteur. According to the show's official website, Rogers hosted nearly 900 episodes of "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" and was also a staunch advocate of the importance of public broadcasting, going so far as to testify before the U.S. Senate in 1969 (posted on YouTube).

"This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique ... I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health," he said.

George A. Romero joins the show right out of college

George A. Romero was born in the Bronx in 1940 but moved to Western Pennsylvania to attend Pittsburgh's Carnegie-Mellon University (via George A. Romero Foundation). His first job post-graduation was delivering newsreels to local stations like KDKA — the world's first news station, according to a piece Romero wrote in 2004 on the website Diamond Dread — but he wasn't paid for it, though he did note that he "was sometimes given lunch money." Romero's second job out of college was working for Fred Rogers, and even better, he was paid for it. His job involved working on a segment of the show called "Picture, Picture."

"Occasionally, after Fred had hung up his sweater and fed the fish, he would ask his trolley to bring a new episode of 'Picture, Picture.' A screen would open, the studio camera would push in, and a short film would be blue-screened," Romero explained. He estimated that he shot around a dozen or so of these segments and referred to them as "my first really big production."

Romero releases Night of the Living Dead

Of course, Romero didn't earn his nickname "The Zombie King" from his work on "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," he got it from his iconic 1968 film "Night of the Living Dead." The film, which was produced on a shoestring budget and used unknown talent, went on to become a cult classic that many consider a defining moment in the history of horror filmmaking (via George A. Romero Foundation). However, Romero lost out on millions thanks to an error on the part of the film's distributor who neglected to put a copyright notice in theatrical prints which left the film in the public domain, per Screen Rant.

While it doesn't sound like "Night of the Living Dead" would be Fred Rogers' cup of tea, Romero invited his old boss to his horror film. "He came and loved it. He was always a huge supporter over the years," Romero said, according to Mental Floss. Romero had wanted to cast one of Rogers' cast members — actress Betty Aberlin — for a part in his film, but Rogers wouldn't permit it. Still, Romero had nothing but kind things to say about Fred Rogers. "He was a beautiful guy. He was the sweetest man I ever knew. What you see is what you get. That was Fred. He was dedicated to educating kids and telling them 'There's nothing wrong with you. I like you just the way you are,'" Romero said.