Jeff Erlanger

A visit with Jeff Erlanger (1981)

When Fred Rogers wrote a script that included an electric wheelchair, he had Jeff in mind. His producer and director tried to convince him that instead of bringing in Jeff’s family all the way from Madison, Wisconsin, they would be able to find someone locally. But Fred Rogers insisted, “I want Jeff.”

They had first met when Jeff was five. Jeff’s parents, knowing he was about to have especially difficult spinal surgery, wanted to fulfill his wish to meet his longtime “television friend” Mister Rogers. When Fred was travelling to nearby Milwaukee, they had a chance to meet. There must have been something about Jeff that resonated with Fred Rogers that day – and he was right.


Jeff was an extraordinary boy with profound disabilities. He was charming and delightful, open and honest. Mister Rogers didn’t dismiss Jeff’s disability or the difficult times “when you do feel sad.” He wanted to give Jeff a chance to talk about it and share those honest feelings with others.

10 minutes

When Jeff was asked how long it took to tape the ten-minute segment in the studio, he cheerfully answered, “Ten minutes!” That’s what makes this moment on television even more remarkable. It was unscripted and unrehearsed. Jeff was just told they’d talk about why he needs a wheelchair and maybe they’d sing a song.  The result was an exquisitely human “visit” capped off by Jeff joining in to sing “It’s You I Like.” As Fred Rogers himself would say, naming this visit with Jeff Erlanger as his most memorable moment, “so authentic, just a conversation between two people who care about each other.”

Later on

Jeff and Fred Rogers at the Television Academy Hall of Fame, 1999

Almost twenty years later, when Fred Rogers was inducted into the TV Hall of Fame of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, who was brought in to introduce him to the audience?  None other than Jeff Erlanger. Fred was so delightfully surprised that he leaped up on stage.