‘Mrs. Robinson’ Actually Makes No Sense in ‘The Graduate’
It’s impossible to think about The Graduate (which turns 55 this month, officially becoming too old to hit on college kids) without hearing those timeless, groundbreaking lyrics: “Dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee...” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” became one of the most iconic theme songs in cinematic history, which is ironic because what the hell do those lyrics have to do with a young dude sleeping with some *gasp* 36-year-old woman? Also, what’s with all the Jesus talk? And what do the FBI and Joe DiMaggio have to do with any of it? (That part isn’t in the movie, but still.)
Well, the official answer is... nothing, as this song wasn’t intended for the movie and ended up in it almost by accident. You may find that hard to believe given that the track is named after one of the principal characters — that’s like asking you to believe Will Smith wrote the full theme to Men in Black before learning there was a movie called Men in Black — but it's true.
See, while making The Graduate, director Mike Nichols became fixated with Simon & Garfunkel’s music and started using their songs as placeholders before they had the final soundtrack. Eventually, the not-entirely-enthusiastic Paul Simon agreed to write a couple of new songs for the movie. Months later, he emerged with the classic... “Overs” and “Punky’s Dilemma.” Nichols didn’t care for either of them; Barbra Streisand evidently felt differently.
According to Nichols, he begged Simon for another song, but he was too busy with touring (and with the whole not caring much about the movie thing, it seems). However, Simon did show him a snippet of a new song he was working on for the tour, warning Nichols that “it’s not for the movie. It’s a song about times past — about Mrs. (Eleanor) Roosevelt and Joe DiMaggio and stuff.” The song‘s general theme was nostalgia for simpler, more wholesome times, hence the religious talk and name-dropping. Nichols replied: “It’s now about Mrs. Robinson, not Roosevelt.”
Simon himself tells it a little differently: Before showing the song to Nichols, he’d sometimes sing it as “Mrs. Roosevelt” and sometimes as “Mrs. Robinson,” just because he needed a three-syllable name and that one was laying there. He had no intention of using the song in the movie. Then, one day, a confused Nichols called him and said, “You’re working on a song called ‘Mrs. Robinson,’ and you haven’t told me?” Simon explained that he hadn’t decided which name to use yet, and Nichols, who we’ll remind you was contractually owed a song, decided for him: “Mrs. Robinson.”
The version of the song you hear in the movie was actually sung live while Simon & Garfunkel looked at the footage, which is why the guitar slows down when the car does. As for all those “dees” and “doos,” those are there because Simon hadn’t finished the lyrics yet, so Nichols is lucky he didn’t end up with a bunch of “yadda-yaddas.”
The result: pure movie magic by pure happenstance. Next, we’ll find out Smash Mouth wasn’t even thinking of Shrek when they wrote "All Star."
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Thumbnail: Embassy Pictures