Simon & Garfunkel's 'Mrs. Robinson:' Where Did You Go, Eleanor Roosevelt?

By | March 20, 2018

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Anne Bancroft and the woman she replaced (in song), Eleanor Roosevelt. Sources: MGM, Getty

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Mrs. Robinson" is almost inseparable from the 1967 film The Graduate, in which it appears. Mrs. Robinson is one of the main characters in the movie; played by Anne Bancroft, she seduces the young protagonist Ben (Dustin Hoffman) and sets in motion a plot that deals with the forces of love and lust amid the generation gap of the '60s. 

“Mrs. Robinson,” was originally titled, “Mrs. Roosevelt.” The song and had absolutely nothing to do with the plot of The Graduate. When director Mike Nichols said he needed another song for his movie, Paul Simon told him that they were too busy touring and that he only had “a song about times past, about Mrs. Roosevelt and Joe DiMaggio and stuff,” but it wasn’t finished yet. It was originally a tribute to Eleanor Roosevelt and the passing of an era; a more innocent era to be exact.

When Nichols realized "Mrs. Roosevelt" had the same number of syllables as “Mrs. Robinson”, he asked Simon to change the title and the song “Mrs. Robinson” was born.

Joe DiMaggio Wasn't Wild About His Inclusion In The Lyrics

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Photo of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio from the cover of the January 1954 issue of Now magazine. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The song asks "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?" then immediately answers itself "Joltin' Joe has left and gone away." The former New York Yankee and three-time MVP was puzzled by the lines, and he told Simon just that when they happened to meet. Paul Simon wrote of the encounter and conversation in a New York Times article marking DiMaggio's passing in 1999:

"What I don't understand," [DiMaggio] said, "is why you ask where I've gone. I just did a Mr. Coffee commercial, I'm a spokesman for the Bowery Savings Bank and I haven't gone anywhere."

I said that I didn't mean the lines literally, that I thought of him as an American hero and that genuine heroes were in short supply. He accepted the explanation and thanked me. We shook hands and said good night.

Simon admitted in the editorial that he didn't quite nail the explanation to DiMaggio, and went on at more length: 

In the 50's and 60's, it was fashionable to refer to baseball as a metaphor for America, and DiMaggio represented the values of that America: excellence and fulfillment of duty (he often played in pain), combined with a grace that implied a purity of spirit, an off-the-field dignity and a jealously guarded private life. ... He was the antithesis of the iconoclastic, mind-expanding, authority-defying 60's, which is why I think he suspected a hidden meaning in my lyrics. The fact that the lines were sincere and that they've been embraced over the years as a yearning for heroes and heroism speaks to the subconscious desires of the culture. We need heroes, and we search for candidates to be anointed.