This was written for the movie The Graduate, starring Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson, a middle-aged woman who seduces the much younger Dustin Hoffman. Bancroft, who died in 2005, had a long and successful film career, but is best known for her part in this movie.
Regarding the famous line, "Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?": DiMaggio was a star baseball player for the New York Yankees who was briefly married to Marilyn Monroe. Simon was using him to represent heroes of the past. DiMaggio was a little miffed when he heard this, since he was still very much alive even though he retired from baseball in 1951, but he realized that he had become a new icon now with the baby boomer generation due to this song's success.
Simon, who is a huge fan of The Yankees, explained in a 1990 interview with SongTalk magazine: "The Joe DiMaggio line was written right away in the beginning. And I don't know why or where it came from. It seems so strange, like it didn't belong in that song and then, I don't know, it was so interesting to us that we just kept it. So it's one of the most well-known lines that I've ever written."
Paul Simon was a much bigger fan of Mickey Mantle than Joe DiMaggio. On The Dick Cavett Show, Simon was asked by Mantle why he wasn't mentioned in the song instead of DiMaggio. Simon replied, "It's about syllables, Mick. It's about how many beats there are."
When DiMaggio died in 1999, it was a very emotional event for many baseball fans who grew up watching him play. The part of this song that mentions him summed of the feelings of many people who felt there was no one left to look up to. Simon wrote an editorial about DiMaggio in The New York Times shortly after his death.
Simon began writing this as "Mrs. Roosevelt," and had just the line, "Here's to you, Mrs. Roosevelt" when he changed it to "Mrs. Robinson" for The Graduate
Eleanor Roosevelt was a likely influence on the song. Some of the lyrics support this theory:We'd like to help you learn to help yourself
Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes
Going to the candidates debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you've got to choose
Every way you look at it, you lose
Roosevelt was a female rights and black rights activist, always helping everyone but herself during the Great Depression. A lot of the time she seemed to have been running the country as much as FDR, but never would have actually won the presidency because she was female.
When Mike Nichols was making The Graduate
, he used three existing Simon & Garfunkel songs as placeholders: "The Sound of Silence
," "Scarborough Fair / Canticle
" and "April Come She Will." He was hoping that Paul Simon would write some original songs for the film, but touring and work on an upcoming album left him drained. Nichols decided to use these placeholder songs, but really wanted a new song to serve as the soundtrack.
Art Garfunkel had heard Simon working on "Mrs. Roosevelt," and mentioned this to Nichols, who realized the title had the same number of syllables as "Mrs. Robinson." Desperate for a song, Nichols asked Simon to change it to "Mrs. Robinson" and write the rest of it. Simon decided to give it a shot.
According to Art Garfunkel, this song may never have been recorded had it not been for The Graduate director Mike Nichols, who asked the duo for songs for his film. Garfunkel said that at the time, the tune was "A trifle song we were about to throw out," but when Nichols heard this early version, he heard something in it and asked Simon to adapt it for the film.
"His intelligence allowed him to hang loose and make all these different, fabulous choices," Garfunkel said of Nichols, who died in 2014. Nichols directed Garfunkel in the 1971 movie Carnal Knowledge. (source of quote: Entertainment Weekly)
This would have had a good chance to win an Oscar for Best Song From A Movie, but it was never nominated because Simon & Garfunkel never filled out the forms to get it considered, leaving "Talk To The Animals" from Doctor Dolittle as the winner. Simon explained, "It was the '60s, we just weren't paying attention." It took 35 years, but Simon finally was nominated for an Oscar in 2003 for his song "Father And Daughter," which was used in The Wild Thornberry's Movie.
According to a "making of" feature on The Graduate DVD, Paul Simon did not originally write a full-length version of this song, only the verses that are heard in the movie. After the movie became a hit, he finished the lyrics and recorded the full version that is known today.
This song won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1969. The award was first given out in 1959, and in the '60s, songs like "Moon River
" and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco
" won the award. "Mrs. Robinson" was the first Record of the Year with ties to rock music.
Many top session musicians recorded with Simon & Garfunkel, including drummer Hal Blaine, who played on this and considers it one of his favorites.
Speaking with Mail on Sunday's Event magazine, Garfunkel recalled: "We tightened the harmonies, and it became something very appealing. I remember walking into the studio, with Hal Blaine playing congas, Larry Knetchel playing bass, and Paul playing terrific, chugga-chugga rhythm guitar, all around one microphone.
I tiptoed into the control room to check that we were recording, and started getting very excited, thinking, this has got it! It swings like a mutha."
A cover version of this song was recorded and charted by the '90s group Lemonheads. Their single peaked at US #8 on the US Modern Rock chart in 1992, and hit #19 on the UK Pop chart. The Lemonheads were asked to record the song for the 25th anniversary release of The Graduate, prompting Lemonhead Evan Dando to comment, "Some people, probably wearing Italian shoes, said, 'Hmmm, we need to get The Graduate out to more of a flannel-wearing kind of audience." Dando would later say, "I'm more proud of my own songs than the version of 'Mrs. Robinson,' which frankly I can take or leave – mostly leave."
Frank Sinatra covered this on his 1969 album My Way. He changed the words, adding some of his own jive and making reference to the movie The Graduate.