It was truly a beautiful day in the neighborhood for Clarion native Margy Whitmer with the nationwide movie premiere this weekend of “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” starring Tom Hanks.
Whitmer served as producer of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood while it was in production, and producer of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, an animated show based on the characters from the neighborhood.
Margy had a cameo as a customer in a restaurant in the movie, as well as being listed in the credits. Actor Carmen Cusack played the role of Margy in the movie.
“Tom Hanks portrays Mr. Rogers in the movie, a timely story of kindness transferring over cynicism, based on the true story of a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers and journalist Tom Junod,” according to the official synopsis. “After a jaded magazine writer is assigned a profile of Fred Rogers, he overcomes his skepticism, learning about kindness, love, and forgiveness from America’s most beloved neighbor.”
“The way I connected with Fred Rogers successfully was the fact that we both grew up in small towns,” said Whitmer in a 2015 talk at the Clarion Free Library. “He grew up in Latrobe. and I grew up in Clarion. and we had that real sense of an involved community. We knew all of our neighbors, and we took care of each other, and that’s where I think the whole idea of Mister Rogers neighborhood grew.”
“It’s just that idea of forming relationships. I’m still good friends with a couple of people from Clarion that I grew up a long time ago. My friends from Pittsburgh are always amazed that I still have friends from high school. I say, ‘Yeah, don’t you?’”
Whitmer worked for seven years in television production at WQED-TV for many local and national programs.
The road to working with Fred Rogers took a few turns, but when she had the opportunity to join the company, she jumped at the chance.
“I was working at WQED, and I had done some freelance work for the company that was located right down the hall in the WQED building,” said Whitmer. “The program first started which was in 1968, and I spent some time with him in the mid-70s, and he was just becoming a household name; he had only been on national air for about five years and kind of took a long time to become famous.”
“I remember thinking, ‘Boy, if I ever got the opportunity to work with him…’ I was doing some freelance work with them when I had some time off. About a year later, a friend of mine who had been working with the company called and said they were going to be doing some other projects in the company and asked me if I would like to come and help and be an associate producer. It didn’t even take me thirty seconds to say ‘yes.’”
The decision to move to Mister Rogers was not without some concerns on her part because she had a full-time job with WQED, and the initial spot with the Neighborhood was freelance. In the end, she realized this was what she wanted to do.
How did the movie do at the box office last weekend? Moneywise it was third, projecting a $13.5 million open and its reception was strong, including a 96 percent Rotten Tomatoes score and an “A” from CinemaScore audience polls.
Number 1 was the juggernaut “Frozen II,” but it wasn’t able to take any of the warmth away from Mister Rogers Neighborhood.