In the film The Graduate, listless recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock has an affair with an older married woman, Mrs. Robinson. The song as it appears in the film is different from the familiar hit single version, as only the chorus of the song appears late in the film and with slightly different lyrics: "Stand up tall, Mrs. Robinson, God in heaven smiles on those who pray." It was only later on that Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel re-recorded the song by employing additional lyrics to form the hit single.
Director Mike Nichols had become obsessed with Simon & Garfunkel's music while shooting the film. Larry Turman, his producer, made a deal for Simon to write three new songs for the movie. By the time they were nearly finished editing the film, Simon had only written one new song. Nichols begged him for more but Simon, who was touring constantly, told him he didn't have the time. He did play him a few notes of a new song he had been working on; "It's not for the movie ... it's a song about times past – about Mrs. Roosevelt and Joe DiMaggio and stuff." Nichols advised Simon, "It's now about Mrs. Robinson, not Mrs. Roosevelt." During an appearance on Dick Cavett's television show, Simon told the story of how the song was originally called "Mrs. Roosevelt", to which Cavett quipped: "That would have changed the plot of the movie."
Later references in film and Internet culture
The film Rumor Has It… is based on the assumption that The Graduate is based on real events which become uncovered. The song "Mrs. Robinson" is featured in this film as well.
In early January 2010, after news of Iris Robinson (wife of Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson) having an extramarital affair with the (40 years younger) adult child of a family friend became public, a group was set up on Facebook attempting to get the song "Mrs. Robinson" to No.1 in the Official UK Singles Chart for that week via download sales. It received coverage in The Telegraph and other British media. It also received coverage in gay-related publications because of the anti-gay stand of Peter Robinson.
The 2011 Doctor Who episode "The Impossible Astronaut" has the young-looking Eleventh Doctor introduce his middle-aged future wife River Song in 1969 to President Nixon as "Mrs. Robinson", a nod towards a hinted-at romantic relationship between the two in the Doctor's future and in River's past (due to time-travel). River's line "Hello, Benjamin" spoken in the Doctor Who episode "Let's Kill Hitler" is a quote from a line spoken by Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate.
References in the last verse to Joe DiMaggio are perhaps the most discussed. Paul Simon, a fan of Mickey Mantle, was asked during an intermission on The Dick Cavett Show why Mantle wasn't mentioned in the song instead of DiMaggio. Simon replied, "It's about syllables, Dick. It's about how many beats there are." For himself, DiMaggio initially complained that he had not gone anywhere, but soon dropped his complaints after a cordial meeting with Paul Simon when he explained what the lines meant. In a New York Timesop-ed in March 1999, shortly after DiMaggio's death, Simon discussed this meeting and explained that the line was meant as a sincere tribute to DiMaggio's unpretentious heroic stature, in a time when popular culture magnifies and distorts how we perceive our heroes. He further reflected: "In these days of Presidential transgressions and apologies and prime-time interviews about private sexual matters, we grieve for Joe DiMaggio and mourn the loss of his grace and dignity, his fierce sense of privacy, his fidelity to the memory of his wife and the power of his silence." Simon subsequently performed "Mrs. Robinson" at Yankee Stadium in DiMaggio's honor the month after his death.
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Sinatra's changing the lyrics
One of the earliest well-known cover versions of this song was by Frank Sinatra for his 1969 album My Way. This version changes a number of lines, including replacing "Jesus" with "Jilly" and including a new verse directly referring to Mrs. Robinson's activities in The Graduate. Writing in The complete guide to the music of Paul Simon and Simon & Garfunkel, Chris Charlesworth writes that Sinatra's word-change was "senseless", motivated by the refusal of some radio stations to play the song because of the word "Jesus".
New songs about the character Mrs. Robinson
The folk punk band Andrew Jackson Jihad based their song "People II: The Reckoning" on the song. Its final verse repeats the line "Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson" but asserts that no one cares rather than the original sentiment that Jesus loves her.
Dutch band The Nits wrote a continuation of the romance between Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin, with new lyrics and music. Simon considered refusing to let the band re-use a few lines of his song, forcing them to delay release of the CD to record a version that used none of Simon's lyrics. The song, "Robinson", appeared on their 1998 album Alankomaat and was released as a single in the Netherlands. The live version contains lyric snippets from many other Simon and Garfunkel songs including opening with the line from "Sounds of Silence": "Hello darkness, my old friend."
George Watsky & Mody based their song on a love of "older women" with Mrs. Robinson being the focus of the song.
Covers in different musical styles
The James Taylor Quartet released an instrumental version in a jazz funk style on their premiere album Mission Impossible, which consisted largely of covers of '60s film music.
American soul singer Billy Paul did a rhythm and blues version in the 1970s.
The Coolies' first album, dig..?, released in 1986 by DB Records, consisted of nine covers of Simon & Garfunkel classics, including an instrumental version of "Mrs. Robinson".
The Lemonheads recorded a punk-inflected cover version of this song that made #19 in December 1992. Although not originally included on The Lemonheads' album It's A Shame About Ray, the album was re-released with the cover of "Mrs. Robinson" included after the single's chart success.
Stadium rockers Bon Jovi recorded the song on one of their live performances. The song was included on the limited edition bonus disc of their 1995 These Days album.
Garth Brooks for the 2013 "The Melting Pot" album in the "Blame It All on My Roots: Five Decades of Influences" compilation.
Foreign language covers
In 1968 Francesco Guccini translated "Mrs. Robinson" into Italian; it was first covered in this version by the Italian beat group Royals and later was recorded by Bobby Solo on his LP Bobby Folk in 1970.
In 1999 the Finnish band Eläkeläiset released a song "Herra Kekkonen" (Mr. Kekkonen, in reference to former president of Finland Urho Kekkonen) on their EP Humppaorgiat.[better source needed] While the melody is identical to Paul Simon's song, the lyrics are entirely new and different and are not a translation of the original lyrics.
^BBC, The Impossible Astronaut (episode & prequel), Fourth Dimension: "The Doctor's teasing reference to Mrs Robinson alludes to the character played by Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967), directed by Mike Nichols. She's a character who's attracted to a much younger man – hence River's reaction", April 2011