Mister Rogers’ Henrietta Pussycat comes out of ‘retirement’ in Las Vegas to help skewer Romney

Puppet master: Todd VonBastiians with his stable of Mister Rogers characters.
Jennifer Maupin

After years playing an angst-ridden tree house resident in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Henrietta Pussycat largely disappeared from public life, settling in Las Vegas with fellow Neighborhood of Make-Believe cast members Grandpere and Mr. and Mrs. Platypus. But when the staff of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon was planning a spoof titled “Mister Romney’s Neighborhood,” Todd VonBastiaans got the call, and Pussycat (or “Hen” as she’s known to friends) headed for New York.

Pussycat was the only original cast member in the comic parody that took jabs at Romney’s wealth, his views toward PBS, his taxes and government-funded union workers. And “Romney” outed Hen, saying, “Kids, don’t be alarmed. This puppet feline isn’t real.” But with great aplomb, she delivered the line, “Meow, meow, meow, hello Mr. Romney, meow,” before “Romney” turned the tree to show the union-working puppeteer.

VonBastiaans, a prominent figure in the arts community, art collector and 2012 Man of the Year for the Center, says he bought Pussycat and the other Mister Rogers puppets at auction about seven years ago after the TV station that owned them went bankrupt. He keeps them in a glass case where he can see them every day. The puppets are just a small part of his prop and artifact collection, which also includes Al Capone’s mirror ball.

As far as seeing Pussycat back in her Mister Rogers’ role, VonBastiaans says, “I love the values Mister Rogers presented. He was progressive. No bullying. Be an individual.”

Does Pussycat have any particular political affiliations or viewpoints? “Well, she’s not human, so, no.”

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