Written by Holden Slattery
During the filming of a public service announcement at a Baltimore children’s museum, one of the actors stops the scene after reading his line on the teleprompter: Children are the most important things in our lives. Wait a minute, he thinks. Something isn’t right. Children are not things. He asks the film crew to change the line: “Put ‘Children are the most important people in our lives,’” says the actor. The script is corrected.
That actor is Pitt alumnus David Newell ★ (CGS ’73). For nearly 40 years, he has played the character of the chipper postal worker Mr. McFeely on the classic children’s television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The show’s creator, Fred Rogers, died in 2003. Ever since, Newell has helped to keep the “Neighborhood” together by continuing to teach Mister Rogers’ lessons. “Words meant a lot to Fred,” he says. “And he would spend a lot of time analyzing how a certain word could mean something, or not, to a child.” Today, Newell still appears as Mr. McFeely at children’s events and is the public relations director for Family Communications, which owns the rights to the show.
One of the people on hand during the Baltimore filming was Paul Germain, a producer and director. But he wasn’t part of the crew. He was filming Newell for a documentary about the Pitt graduate’s life in and out of the Mr. McFeely costume. Released this year, the documentary is titled Speedy Delivery in honor of Mr. McFeely’s favorite phrase.
As the documentary shows, Newell’s mission is always the same: Show children that they’re special, important people.