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THE NEIGHBORHOOD ARCHIVE - All Things Mister Rogers

A Conversation with David M. Smith

One of my favorite parts of the Neighborhood Archive is when I'm able to connect with former cast and crew members from the Neighborhood. Through a completely random chain of events, I recently learned that the Neighborhood's former Assistant Art Director, David M. Smith, was a friend of a friend of my in-laws. Sealing the deal on this small-world connection, I found that he lives less than fifteen minutes from where I live!

Needless to say, I made contact with David and was recently welcomed into his home for a conversation about his days on the Neighborhood. As if that was not enough, imagine my surprise when he sent me home with a collection of approximately 100 photographs and 35mm slides in addition to some of his original artwork used as props over four decades ago. Although a few of the photographs were eventually used for promotional purposes, a good majority were beind-the-scenes snapshots likely not seen in decades.

It is my great pleasure to be able to share all of this with you here!


Let's start with the artwork/props...

In Episode 1369 (1974), leading up to the All in the Laundry opera, X the Owl prints some pretend money to be used in the performance. When King Friday XIII catches a glimpse of the money, he demands that his image be added to the bills -- the one quadrillion dollar bills, to be exact.

Those familiar with Mr. Allmine may recall that he hailed from the Land of Allmine. This map of several regions of Make-Believe makes note of Mr. Allmine's homeland.

In the 1975 opera, The Key to Otherland (Episode 1425), Lloyd (Mr. Allmine) is taken away by a witch (Lady Elaine Fairchilde) to her taffy factory.

David shared an early sketch of the taffy factory drawn on thin onion skin paper -- clearly not intended to be stored away from forty years!

Another storyline involves Master Teacher Scanlon (played by Tim Scanlon) as an instructor from the Owl Correspondence School sent to fine tune X the Owl's printing skills. Teacher Scanlon receives his orders from the OCS...

...and X receives a certificate of completion at the end of the course.

Both documents are still intact.

The certificate is endorsed by David Smith and two others...but he wasn't sure who they were. Possibly made up names, he suggested. Frenelda Zittweiller? Royal Bocker?

In Episode 1216 (1972), a magician named Mr. Appel is scheduled to perform at the castle and Lady Aberlin does her best to advertise for his performance including the use of signage throughout Make-Believe.

Several of the other props that David shared were booklets or pamphlets designed to specifically towards whatever topic Mister Rogers might have been discussing. For example, if he was discussing clocks, he might display a pamphlet about clocks.

If he was talking about tents, he may have had a book about tents -- handmade in wonderfully creative detail.

Curiously, yet not surprisingly, the text inside these "publications" consided of Latin filler.

Lastly, although technically not a prop, is a piece that is certainly the most intriguing of all.

As David recalls, this series of sketches was attached to the inside of Corney's factory as a potential expansion to the structure. Obviously, this expansion never became a reality.


So what kinds of things did I learn from David about the Neighborhood that I didn't already know?

Plenty.

  • David played the part of The All-American All-Star One Man Band -- the musical sidekick of The Flying Zookeeni Brothers Daredevil Circus. Until now, this performance role was one of two in the Zookeeni's "guerilla circus" I had yet to identify.
  • I had always assumed that the Zookeeni's were a one-and-done performance on the set of the Neighborhood. Little did I know that they performed throughout Pittsburgh -- sometimes invited and sometimes not. More on this in Episode 29 of the Neighborhood Archive Podcast (details below).
  • While Purple Panda was not specifically his idea, the idea of a panda character originated with David Smith. In a brainstorming meeting, David suggested that he had a toy panda when he was a child. This drew interest from Fred Rogers and ultimately led to the creation of the Purple Panda character.
  • David designed and built the Potato-Washer-Dryer-Sorter-Dumper found at Someplace Else. He was also responsible for making the Harriett Elizabeth Cow puppet.
  • The Neighborhood of Make-Believe models are a fan favorite. Those familiar with these models from Mister Rogers' kitchen are aware that they were originally made by Bob Trow. Once, after a tour group came through the Neighborhood set, the model Trolley turned up missing. David was responsible for making a new one to replace the one that was stolen.

Some of these topics and more were covered in a recorded interview I did with David for Episode 29 of the Neighborhood Archive Podcast. You can listen in using the link below or by visiting the Podcast page of this site.


But what about the photos, right?

Among everything else, David gave me a collection of roughly one hundred 35mm slides (along with a small handful of 8x10 prints). Holding them up to a window, I could clearly see that many of these were behind-the-scenes shots that I had never come across in almost ten years of studying every minute detail associated with Mister Rogers' Neighborhood that I could get my hands on. There was no doubt that I was going to waste no time getting these tiny images into a digital format.

So here you have it. The photos are scanned. The slides are convereted. Enjoy..


Of course, I want to offer a huge thanks to Mr. David Smith. Your kindness and generosity are so greatly appreciated. I cannot put into words how fascinating the materials and information you provided will be to Neighborhood Archive readers around the world! On behalf of everyone reading, we offer you our thanks!

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Corner image by Spencer Fruhling. Used with permission.
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