In 1954, before Mister Rogers brought his Neighborhood to national television, he was a part of a local show in Pittsburgh called The Children’s Corner. A woman named Josie Carey was the host, and Rogers performed and voiced the puppets, most (if not all) of which carried on to his later show. This Saturday, February 27th, is the 7th anniversary of Rogers’ passing, so this seems like an excellent time to remember some of his early work.
The album starts with what I assume was the show’s theme song “It’s Morning,” sung by Carey. You’ll note that it’s the same tune as Rogers’ closing theme “Tomorrow,” but it does seem odd hearing it with different words and a different singer!
Carey thinks 17 ½ nice thoughts, which brings her to the Children’s Corner. Here she visits with Daniel Striped Tiger. Daniel receives a phone call from King Friday XIII to come to the palace right away. They know it must be important because they didn’t even have to make an appointment. As they enter the King’s throne room, he sings “I’m Busy Being Busy.”
King Friday is the king of Calendar Land, you see, and the catastrophe is that Tomorrow has turned up missing and, as the King says, “Today can’t possibly be Today again Tomorrow. He’s used up all his material.” He appoints Josie and Daniel as royal detectives to solve the mystery. The problem is that they’re not supposed to tell anybody what they’re investigating, which does complicate things a bit.
Daniel goes to talk to Grandpere, a French tiger, while Josie visits with X the Owl. X says he knows all about days. (“Friday, Saturday and Sunday are the Weekend, and Monday and Tuesday are the Strong End.”) He says he learned this in O.C.S. (Owl Correspondence School) where he met a colleague he calls a “Fine Feathered Friend.”
X then calls in Henrietta Pussycat (his “right wing neighbor”), who sings a song about calling Mister Rogers on the telephone. Well, she meows it mostly, but you get the idea.
X then proclaims that he has written a poem for them to hear called “Y,” and recites it for them, letting them know that the first word in the poem is “the” and the last word is “name.” That way you know when he’s finished.
X enjoys Josie’s company so much, he sings a song to her called “You’re Special.” I really like this one because it’s like a Mister Rogers version of the Cole Porter hit “You’re the Top.”
Josie asks X if anybody lives on the other side of him as his left wing neighbor. X tells her that that’s the trolley barn, but that Lady Elaine Fairchilde lives there. Josie finds the eccentric Lady Elaine hanging by her feet. Lady Elaine asks Josie if she’s interested in taking her bridesmaid classes or buying any beauty products. She then proceeds to sing her own version of the previous song called “I’m Special.” Unfortunately, Lady Elaine sings as good as she looks (and, in case you forgot, she looks like this)!
Josie lets slip that she’s looking for Tomorrow, and Lady Elaine confesses that she had Tomorrow locked up in her office because she had too much to do Today! Josie and Daniel return Tomorrow back to King Friday, and Josie ends the record with the song “Tomorrow,” the song Mister Rogers would later end his show with.
I know I’ve got plenty of songs here, but as a King Friday fan, I had to include a song from this album as well. It’s his version of “Three Blind Mice,” or as he calls it, “Three Rodents with Defective Eyesight.”
Not only is it a treat to hear Fred Rogers voicing these wonderful characters that many of us grew up with, but it’s fun to hear these songs performed with full orchestration, as opposed to the more acoustic piano versions he used on his own show. If you’d like to hear this entire album, you can find it here.