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Point Park University's Student-Run Newspaper

Point Park Globe

Point Park University's Student-Run Newspaper

Point Park Globe

Actor David Newell, aka Mr. McFeely, continues to spread Mister Rogers’ message

Photo by Caleb McCartney
David Newell, aka Mr. McFeely, poses with a cookie with his character on it in the Center for Media Innovation, where he held a meet and greet with students last Monday, Oct. 9.

It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood when David Newell, best known for his role as the speedy delivery mailman Mr. McFeely on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, made a visit to campus. 

Last Monday, Newell, now 84, had a meet and greet with students in the Center for Media Innovation (CMI) and even signed headshots while discussing his career.

Newell is from the suburb of O’Hara Township, where he still resides with his wife Nan. A lifelong yinzer, he attended the University of Pittsburgh and began his acting career through the Pittsburgh Playhouse, where he met Fred Rogers.

Hired as a public relations director, Newell also took on several hats at Fred Rogers Productions. He was a production assistant, which included managing costumes and props before taking on the role of Mr. McFeely in 1967.

“Fred just approached me one day that he had this idea for a mailman and that he wanted me to play it,” Newell said. “I was so honored… McFeely was also Fred’s middle name which came from his mother’s maiden name. It was so special.”

Getting into character was not that difficult for Newell, but he did have to learn how to ride a bike for the role, as that was Mr. McFeely’s mode of transportation for delivery.

“Growing up, I lived on a very steep hill, so we never rode bikes,” Newell said. “I had to practice laps around the studio, but thankfully I never really had to ride a long distance… I never really rode a bike outside of Mr. McFeely.”

Newell said that it was hard to juggle all his roles when he had a filming day as Mr. McFeely, but the set environment was always lively.

“It was truly a magical place,” Newell said. “Being able to make a show that could address hard topics for children was unique, and I always loved being on set no matter what we were talking about.”

During and after the show, Newell and other members of the company would visit other public television studios throughout the country. He even visited a studio in Guam, which he notes as one of his favorite visits.

“It was incredible, seeing our little show all around the country and in a place like Guam,” Newell said. “The kids were all so wonderful and showed how much of an impact we had… public television is so important. It might look very different today, but it’s still so important.”

A documentary made by a Carnegie Mellon University student was released in 2008 called “Speedy Delivery,” which centered around Newell’s life and friendship with Rogers, who he remained close with until his death in 2003.

Memorabilia from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood can be viewed at the Heinz History Center, including Mr. McFeely’s bike. An animated version of Mr. McFeely is a recurring character on the new PBS series Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, which focuses on one of the recurring characters in the land of Makebelieve, Daniel Tiger. Canadian actor Derek McGrath performs the voice.

As for Newell, he plans to continue his visits throughout the greater Pittsburgh area, spreading Roger’s message of kindness. He also hopes to write a children’s book soon.

“I think lots would enjoy it, not just kids,” Newell said. “The Neighborhood is for all, and I’m proud to be a part of its legacy.”

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