Robert Guillaume

Actor


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his three-hour Archive interview, Robert Guillaume (1927-2017) discusses his lengthy career in television, which began with guest appearances on the series Julia, All in the Family and The Jeffersons. He describes originating the character of "Benson DuBois" in the series Soap and continuing to play the role in the spin-off, Benson (1979-86). He speaks eloquently and openly about avoiding stereotypes in his portrayal of "Benson" and the evolution of the character from Soap to Benson. He details several other television performances, including his work in The Robert Guillaume Show (1989), and discusses his lengthy stage career, which included replacing Michael Crawford in Broadway's Phantom of the Opera. Guillaume also speaks of his then-current role in the ABC sitcom Sports Night which premiered in 1998 and the stroke that sidelined him during the series. Meryl Marshall conducted the interview in Encino, CA on March 24, 1999.

"One of the things I was trying to avoid was dignity, that terrible term that you're either a buffoon if you're black or you play it with dignity. I hated that idea because I knew that dignity did not make people laugh. I wanted desperately to make people laugh. So I found a way to say what I was going to say in the script without demeaning black people or myself. At the same time, I found a way to do comedy that I don't think many blacks had found before that -- that you could be yourself and make people laugh."

Highlights
Robert Guillaume on the end of Benson
02:07
Robert Guillaume on forming a publishing company, The Confetti Company, to publish children's books with African-American characters
01:29
Robert Guillaume on his favorite episode of Benson
00:57
Robert Guillaume on the work of which he's proudest
00:52
Robert Guillaume on his pursuit to be funny without being a buffoon; playing a part with "dignity" on Soap
01:01
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood and early influences; on going to Catholic School; on joining the Army in 1945; on his college years and transitioning from a business to music major; on the Aspen Music Festival; on theater work in Colorado
On moving to New York to do theater; on his first television appearance, on Julia; on the difficulty of black actors getting on television

Chapter 2

On his first television role on Julia; on appearing on Marcus Welby, M.D., All in the Family, and on The Jeffersons
On getting the role of "Benson" on Soap and how he played his character; on audience response to "Benson"

Chapter 3

On fellow cast members on Soap; on the controversy the series caused; on working with creator Susan Harris; on his favorite storyline
On starring in Benson, the spin-off of Soap; on the cast and chemistry on Soap; on his favorite episodes and directors

Chapter 4

On the concept of Benson; on his contract dispute; on his approach to playing the character; on the end of the series
On producing a television movie; on producing and making guest appearances; on producing and starring in The Robert Guillaume Show; on episodes airing out of order

Chapter 5

On working with network executives; on "Phantom of the Opera"; on short-lived series
On his personal life; on forming a publishing company with his second wife
Robert Guillaume on co-starring in Sports Night; on situation comedies; on the importance of a good script;  on the work of which he's proudest; on influential people in his career and the aftermath of his stroke

Chapter 6

On African-Americans behind and in front of the camera; on how he would like to be remembered; on colleagues 
On playing "Sportin' Life" on Porgy and Bess
Shows

All in the Family

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Robert Guillaume on appearing on All in the Family in the episode "Chain Letter" (airdate: October 20, 1975)
02:37

Benson

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Robert Guillaume on starring in Benson
16:02
Robert Guillaume on the concept of Benson; his contract dispute; his approach to playing the character; the end of the series
16:35
Robert Guillaume on the end of Benson
02:07

Benson: "The President's Double"

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Robert Guillaume on his favorite episode of Benson - "The President's Double"
00:57
Robert Guillaume on his favorite episode of Benson - "The President's Double"
00:57

Jeffersons, The

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Robert Guillaume on appearing on The Jeffersons in the episode "George Won't Talk" (airdate: November 8, 1975)
01:27

Julia

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Robert Guillaume on his first television appearance, on Julia
00:46
Robert Guillaume on his first television role on Julia
00:46

Marcus Welby, M.D.

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Robert Guillaume on appearing on Marcus Welby, M.D.  in the episode "The Soft Phrase of Peace" (airdate: January 6, 1970)
03:12

Robert Guillaume Show, The

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Robert Guillaume on producing and starring in The Robert Guillaume Show
05:10

Soap

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Robert Guillaume on being cast on Soap  and the controversy surrounding the show
04:05
Robert Guillaume on his pursuit to be funny without being a buffoon or playing a part with "dignity" on Soap
03:16
Robert Guillaume on not emphasizing racial issues directly with his character "Benson" on Soap; but finding ways to make a statement
03:52
Robert Guillaume on fellow cast members on Soap; on the controversy the series caused; on working with creator Susan Harris
10:26
Robert Guillaume on his favorite storyline on Soap
01:44

Sports Night

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Robert Guillaume on co-starring in Sports Night
07:53
Topics

Characters & Catchphrases

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Robert Guillaume on changes to the character of "Benson" when transitioning from Soap to Benson
00:50
Robert Guillaume on playing "Benson" in a way in which things would be funny to him and not just have "Benson" be a buffoon
03:41
Robert Guillaume on his character in Sports Night
00:22

Emmy Awards

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Robert Guillaume on winning two Emmy awards
00:16

Minorities

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Robert Guillaume on the difficulty of black actors getting on television
02:42
Robert Guillaume on his pursuit to be funny without being a buffoon or playing a part with "dignity" on Soap
03:16
Robert Guillaume on not emphasizing racial issues directly with his character "Benson" on Soap; but finding ways to make a statement his first television role on Julia
03:52
Robert Guillaume on audience response to his character "Benson" on Soap
01:49
Robert Guillaume on how the show Benson and the main character were categorized
04:59
Robert Guillaume on other African-American actors on television in the late 1970s and early 1980s
00:51
Robert Guillaume on multiculturalism 
01:19
Professions

Actor

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Robert Guillaume on the difference between acting for film or television
00:51
Robert Guilluame on the challenge of waiting for the punchline during a tense scene on All in the Family
01:49
Robert Guillaume on his pursuit to be funny without being a buffoon or playing a part with "dignity" on Soap
03:16
Robert Guillaume on not emphasizing racial issues directly with his character "Benson" on Soap; but finding ways to make a statement
03:52
Genres

Comedy Series

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Robert Guillaume on starring in Benson
16:02
Robert Guillaume on the concept of Benson; his contract dispute; his approach to playing the character; the end of the series
16:35
Robert Guillaume on co-starring in Sports Night
07:53
People

Rene Auberjonois

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Robert Guillaume on Rene Auberjonois
00:27

Diahann Carroll

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Robert Guillaume on his first television appearance, on Julia
00:46

Marcy Carsey

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Robert Guillaume on Marcy Carsey
00:19

Gary Coleman

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Robert Guillaume on Gary Coleman
00:07

Billy Crystal

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Robert Guillaume on Billy Crystal
00:20

Cathryn Damon

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Robert Guillaume on fellow cast members on Soap
00:33

Redd Foxx

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Robert Guillaume on actor Redd Foxx
01:12

Whoopi Goldberg

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Robert Guillaume on offering encouraging words to Whoopi Goldberg
00:52

Susan Harris

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Robert Guillaume on working with Soap creator Susan Harris
06:15
Robert Guillaume on writer Susan Harris
00:21

Katherine Helmond

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Robert Guillaume on working with actress Katherine Helmond, "Jessica" on Soap
02:50
Robert Guillaume on fellow cast members on Soap
00:33
Robert Guillaume on Katherine Helmond
00:53

Sherman Hemsley

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Robert Guillaume on actor Sherman Hemsley
00:56

Bob Hope

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Robert Guillaume on Bob Hope
00:14

Norman Lear

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Robert Guillaume on working with Norman Lear
00:29

Hal Linden

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Robert Guillaume on Hal Linden
00:02

Meryl Marshall

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Robert Guillaume on his wife partnering with HBO executive Meryl Marshall
00:44

James Noble

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Robert Guillaume on James Noble
00:22

Sy Rosen

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Robert Guillaume on Sy Rosen
00:06

Jay Sandrich

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Robert Guillaume on working with director Jay Sandrich
02:33

Isabel Sanford

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Robert Guillaume on Isabel Sanford
00:20

Thomas Schlamme

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Robert Guillaume on the cast and crew of Sports Night
00:31

Jerry Seinfeld

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Robert Guillaume on Jerry Seinfeld appearing on Benson
00:45

Fred Silverman

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Robert Guillaume on Fred Silverman
00:20

Aaron Sorkin

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Robert Guillaume on co-starring in creator Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night
02:12

Tony Thomas

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Robert Guillaume on Tony and Danny Thomas
02:02

Danny Thomas

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Robert Guillaume on Tony and Danny Thomas
02:02

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