Initially, Paul Simon intended this song to be about “Mrs. Roosevelt,” not “Mrs. Robinson,” but when The Graduate’s director, Mike Nichols, pressed Simon for more songs for his movie, Simon re-cast the song’s central figure.
Simon changed more, however, than just the title. The original song was going to take a nostalgic look at the past and heroic figures like Eleanor Roosevelt and Joe DiMaggio that were nowhere to be found in contemporary society. In order to make the song fit the movie, though, Simon kept only a portion of the original scheme. DiMaggio was retained as a representative of the sort of hero that no longer existed in American society, but he was contrasted with Mrs. Robinson rather than coupled to Mrs. Roosevelt. Luckily “Robinson” and “Roosevelt” have the same number of syllables, otherwise Simon would’ve been right back where he started with the Mantle/DiMaggio problem.
The new verses about Mrs. Robinson could hardly have been applied to Mrs. Roosevelt. There was no mysterious stay in rehab or an asylum in her life. Her “pantry” was certainly not filled with secrets, although her “panties” may have been. There has been some speculation that she had an affair with one of her male bodyguards, and there are separate rumors concerning a lesbian relationship with a female reporter. For the most part, though, the reputation of America’s longest serving First Lady has been strengthened over the years rather than muddied by rumors. In fact, most now view Eleanor Roosevelt as the model for all subsequent First Ladies. She insisted on being more than just a hostess during her stay in the White House. Instead, she used her visibility to address contemporary issues. In fact, she was an outspoken supporter of civil rights and the rights of women.