I’m proud that all my books and subsequent talks are all about spreading happiness and understanding. My aim is to uplift the downtrodden.
So why is it one of the things I’m sure my audience always remembers most is something most distressful?
I guess it’s because no one wants to believe that Arnold Palmer and Fred Rogers never got along.
Two of the warmest, most gracious and historically kind men didn’t like the thought of being in the same room together. Heck, it seems they didn’t like having to share Latrobe.
How do I know?
The realization came to me incrementally.
The first hint — and it was a blunt one — came in June 2004. I was in Palmer’s office days after George W. Bush had awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor the U.S. can bestow.
I congratulated him and said, “How about Latrobe winning two Presidential Medals of Freedom in the last two years!”
I’d startled him. “Who won before I did?” he asked.
“Why, Fred Rogers won in 2002,” I said.
“He did? …
I thought his instinctual reaction was hilarious. After all, here was a renown competitor so sensitive to coming in 2nd he begrudged a hometown classmate for beating him to a rare honor. And not only was the winner worthy, he was beloved around the world for many of the same reasons as Palmer.
And his reaction stuck with me. Could I have misread the situation?
I’d every once in a while try to sleuth some answers.
Try this: Google “Arnold Palmer” and “Fred Rogers.” There is not one single picture of the pair together.
Big deal, you say?
They were one year apart in school; Fred is 13 months senior to Palmer and graduated in ’46, Palmer in ’47.
Within 10 years of graduation both had achieved notoriety and were well on their way to enduring international fame.
What does a small town do with a pair like that? It puts them in the Fourth of July parades. It features them at ribbon cuttings. It puts them mugging for the camera on the front page of the local paper.
Not one picture.
There are more pictures of Palmer and me.
Well, they were busy men, some will say. There’d have been scheduling conflicts.
There may well have been.
But three decades' worth?
“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood" ran from 1968 through 2001. The years coincide with the years Palmer was one of the most popular men on the planet. He’d already won armloads of international championships, presidents and royals alike sought his company and his warmth was considered so genuine, many of Americas most reputable brands showered him with cash just to have his name associated with their products.
But he was never once on a show that had “neighbor” in the title and starred a man who was an actual small town neighbor. They could have talked about old teachers, school dances, old flames, etc. They could have talked about the golf lessons Fred took from Arnie's old man, the local pro.
Instead of Palmer, featured guests included ballerinas, cops, cobblers, steel workers, nurses, athletes — friends from all walks of life.
He even had a talking gorilla named Koko on in ’98.
I envision a production meeting where they’re discussing potential guests and someone says, “Well, we’re down to two. We could ask Arnold Palmer or we could ask Koko, the Talking Gorilla.”
I see Fred leaning back in his chair and saying, “Well, let’s ask the gorilla. If he says no, then let’s ask Palmer.”
Over 31 years and 912 episodes, there was not even a mention of Arnold Palmer.
Fascinating. I’ll leave it up to the speculators to divine who’s to blame for the apparent life-long rift between two of the most famously gracious men ever to walk the planet.
I think it’s upsetting because we’re left to conclude, gee, if Arnold Palmer and Fred Rogers can’t overcome their petty differences, what chance do the rest of us have?
It seems we’re fated to endure lives of squabble and bitterness.
It is inescapable.
(All Chris's books can be bought through www.ChrisRodell.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; 724 961-2558)