Paul Simon Talks About Who’s “Mrs. Robison”
via The Dick Cavett Show / Youtube
Songs about extramarital affairs had long been present in the music industry. For Simon and Garfunkel, “Mrs. Robinson” was what brought them to the game of making songs about this hushed activity.
It was included in Bookends, the duo’s fourth studio album, which was released in 1968. But, its presence on the soundtrack for the hugely successful 1967 picture The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman, is what really made it a smash, more so than its musicality or the hands that wrote it. The pair accepted director Mike Nichols’s personal request to compose original music for the film. Nichols was more concerned with having Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s folk harmonies in the picture than he was with having songs that directly linked to the plot.
“Paul had been working on what is now ‘Mrs. Robinson,’ but there was no name in it and we’d just fill in with any three-syllable name,” Art Garfunkel explained in the book Paul Simon: A Life. “And because of the character in the picture, we just began using the name ‘Mrs. Robinson’ to fit […] and one day we were sitting around with Mike talking about ideas for another song. And I said, ‘What about Mrs. Robinson.’ Mike shot to his feet. ‘You have a song called ‘Mrs. Robinson’ and you haven’t even shown it to me?’ So we explained the working title and sang it for him. And then Mike froze it for the picture as ‘Mrs. Robinson.’”
This story illustrates an important point: Simon wasn’t thinking the song was about the mother who sleeps with Dustin Hoffman’s character. Mrs. Roosevelt, presumably based on Eleanor Roosevelt, was the main character instead. Nichols insisted on changing the name of the previous first lady to “Mrs. Robinson,” even though she was a good fit for Simon’s lyrics on the differences between older and younger generations.