The Mr. Rogers wannabe is now a man without a benefit gala. Or is he?

Michael Kinsell, the local teen who touted himself as the successor to the beloved children’s TV star Fred Rogers, told the press yesterday that he had cancelled a much-ballyhooed fundraiser scheduled for this weekend.

But the plot has thickened. Last night, Kinsell informed a reporter that Sunday’s event at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, is “still on.”

As the public-broadcasting trade journal Current reports in an update published today, the 18-year-old’s declaration came “at the end of a day in which Kinsell’s attorney said he never worked with him, his publicist quit, and the California attorney general’s office said Kinsell’s nonprofit, supposed organizer of the gala, is not recognized by the state.”

Kinsell promoted the weekend fundraiser as a star-studded tribute to the late Fred Rogers, host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and a newspaper article said PBS would air his television show as a “follow-up” program. He apparently appeared on at least one local TV news show to promote the event.

But PBS and Rogers’ production company have denied any connection to Kinsell, and PBS filed a complaint with the state.

In messages sent late yesterday to reporters, Kinsell said the event is history.

“At this point I’m finished with this whole thing. Do not be inclined to contact me ever again,” he told Current. The North County Times got a similar message, although it appears to have been a bit more polite: “I’m sure it’s all over. I’m so sorry for any trouble.”

But he later told a Current reporter that “the event is still on.”

Kinsell had suggested that a variety of celebrities would be in attendance at the Escondido event, scheduled for Sunday. Mallory Lewis, daughter of the late children’s TV star Shari Lewis (of “Lamb Chop” fame), had planned to attend, the North County Times reported:

Lewis said she had made arrangements to spend the weekend in the area, planned to take her son out of school and was looking forward to being introduced by Maria Shriver, the wife of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. She even wrote some special material to zing at the governor and the stars Kinsell had said would be in attendance.

“I thought how cool would this be and I would get a chance to meet Bette Midler,” Lewis said. “But then I remembered she’s performing in Vegas and I looked at her schedule and sure enough, she has a performance there that night.”

The governor declined to attend the event when he received an invitation, and Maria Shriver also had no plans to attend, the governor’s spokesman said Wednesday.

The only good coming out of the episode for her, Lewis said, is that she bought a new purse for the event and will keep it.

The North County Times reported that even the show’s ticket prices were undergoing revision Wednesday:

Tickets had been on sale for prices ranging from $75 to $300. On Wednesday, Kinsell set a flat ticket price of $100 per ticket and a fee of $150 for what he said would pay for the show and a dinner with unnamed celebrities.


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