Public Health Professor Reveals Role as Prince Tuesday on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood at Retirement

For the many years Fred Michael worked at UNCW, he was known as an adjunct professor of the School of Health and Applied Human Sciences and program associate for the Center for Healthy Communities; however, on the day of his retirement, after years of serving as a public health educator, Michael revealed his hidden legacy.

Graduating with an undergraduate degree in theatre from West Virginia University in 1976, Michael began his theater career performing marionette puppet shows with Theater West Virginia. In 1977, Michael moved to Pittsburgh, where he started performing his marionette shows at the Carnegie Museum as a member of the Lovelace Marionette Theater. There, a friend introduced Michael to someone who would bring his voice and puppeteering into the homes of millions families across the United States.

Michael met Fred Rogers, the creator of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, in 1980. At that time, Rogers was seeking a voice to play the character Prince Tuesday on the puppet segment of the show in the Neighborhood of Make Believe. Rogers voiced all of the puppets in the Neighborhood of Make Believe but wanted a younger sounding voice for the then five-year-old Prince Tuesday. Michael auditioned and started working for WQED Studios as Prince Tuesday’s original voice.

“I was always very excited to be there,” said Michael. “There were a lot of people that I had seen since I was a kid working on that show.”

For the next few years, Michael worked on set, operating the shows many puppets on the segment. Although he only voiced Prince Tuesday, Michael would often be responsible for controlling the movements of the other puppets on the show.

“Everything was built above us,” said Michael, describing the set. “You see, we’re underneath and the cameras are all high and we’re moving our arms around… He was always concerned about his armpit being in my face.”

As the two worked together, Michael and Rogers developed a friendship through their mutual interest in children’s entertainment. Mr. Rogers Neighborhood strove to teach children self-esteem, curiosity and how to overcome life’s challenges. As a marionette performer and puppeteer, Michael enjoyed communicating life lessons through storytelling. Working on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and performing in theater, Michael was inspired to use the communication skills he had developed as a performer in the public health field.

After graduating with a Master’s in Health Education from West Virginia University, Michael worked for the Drug and Alcohol Counsel, using the communication skills he learned from puppeteering and theater to educate the public about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. He later moved back to North Carolina, where he got a job at the health department and later worked as an adjunct professor at the CHHS School of Health and Applied Human Services and a program associate for the Center for Healthy Communities.

After many years of serving as a public health educator, Michael retired in June 2017.