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Robert Guillaume

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Information about Robert Guillaume

Profile image of Robert Guillaume

Profession

Category:
EntertainmentMakers
Occupation(s):
Actor

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Black
Favorite Food:
Chinese Food
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Hawaii
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
11/30/1927
Birth Location:
St. Louis, Missouri

Profession

Category:
EntertainmentMakers
Occupation(s):
Actor

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Black
Favorite Food:
Chinese Food
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Hawaii
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
11/30/1927
Birth Location:
St. Louis
See how Robert Guillaume is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Actor Robert Guillaume was born Robert P. Williams on November 30, 1927, in St. Louis, Missouri. Raised by his grandmother, Jeanette Williams, Guillaume attended St. Nicholas School where, as a promising singer, he idolized Paul Robeson, Roland Hayes, and William Warfield. Expelled by St. Joseph’s High School, Guillaume joined the United States Army in 1945, where he served until 1947. Guillaume eventually returned to St. Joseph’s High School, from which he graduated; from there he went on to work as a postal clerk and a streetcar driver while attending St. Louis University and Washington University, where he majored in music. In 1957, Guillaume won a nine week classical music summer scholarship to Aspen, Colorado; there he met Russell and Rowena Jelliffe who invited him to join Karamu House Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio.

At Karamu Guillaume changed his name from Williams to Guillaume (French for Williams), received his first acting lessons, and befriended Ron O’Neal, who would later cast him in Superfly TNT in 1973. In 1959, Guillaume toured Europe with Quincy Jones, Clark Terry, and Harold Nicholas in the musical Free and Easy. Spending most of the 1960s and 1970s in musical theatre and drama, Guillaume appeared in Kwamina in 1961; Fly Blackbird in 1962; Tambourines to Glory in 1963; Golden Boy in 1965; Porgy and Bess from 1965 through 1972; Purlie in 1971; Othello in 1973; and Guys and Dolls in 1976. In 1968 Guillaume made his first television appearance on Diahann Carroll’s Julia; many programs followed, but Guillaume achieved stardom when he won an Emmy Award playing the acerbic butler, Benson, on ABC’s hit sitcom, Soap in 1979. Guillaume reprised the role of Benson DuBois in his own sitcom, Benson, which ran from 1979 through 1986. Nominated five times for best actor in a comedy series, Guillaume won another Emmy in 1985, and appeared in The Robert Guillaume Show, the first comedy about an interracial family, in 1989. In 1994, Guillaume became the voice of Rafiki, the mandrill sage in Walt Disney’s The Lion King, and its sequels. That same year, Guillaume played Gleason Golightly in Derrick Bell’s Space Traders.

Producer and director of John Grin’s Christmas in 1988, Guillaume also produced The Kid with the 2000 I.Q in 1983. After suffering a stroke in his dressing room while working on the sitcom Sports Night, Guillaume made history by returning to the show; he went on to appear in more films, including Big Fish in 2003, Tough Like Wearing Dreadlocks in 2005, and Jack Satin, also in 2005.

Guillaume passed away on October 24, 2017 at age 89.

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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Robert Guillaume's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Robert Guillaume lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Robert Guillaume describes his mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Robert Guillaume relates how he was raised by his maternal grandmother
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Robert Guillaume talks about not knowing his father
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Robert Guillaume describes his earliest childhood memory
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Robert Guillaume describes his childhood neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Robert Guillaume describes the sights, sounds and smells of his neighborhood
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Robert Guillaume recalls the streetcar system in St. Louis, Missouri
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Robert Guillaume describes segregation in St. Louis during his childhood
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Robert Guillaume describes his childhood personality
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Robert Guillaume describes attending St. Nicholas Grade School in St. Louis
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Robert Guillaume recalls his grandmother's work as a housekeeper
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Robert Guillaume recalls the Veiled Prophet Parade in St. Louis, Missouri
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Robert Guillaume recalls racist incidents from his childhood in St. Louis
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Robert Guillaume recalls the nightlife of St. Louis and East St. Louis
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Robert Guillaume reflects upon the black community's reactions to racial injustice
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Robert Guillaume reflects upon his reactions to racial injustice
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Robert Guillaume recalls his childhood talent for singing
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Robert Guillaume describes prejudice based on skin color among African Americans
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Robert Guillaume recalls being expelled from two high schools in St. Louis
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Robert Guillaume describes his influences growing up
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Robert Guillaume describes his favorite high school teacher
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Robert Guillaume remembers applying to work for the Missouri Pacific Railroad
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Robert Guillaume describes traveling home after quitting the Missouri Pacific Railroad
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Robert Guillaume recalls joining the U.S. Army in 1945
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Robert Guillaume describes his duties in the U.S. Army
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Robert Guillaume describes his battles with authority in the U.S. Army
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Robert Guillaume describes his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Robert Guillaume recalls returning to St. Joseph's School in St. Louis
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Robert Guillaume recalls his 1947 graduation from St. Joseph's School
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Robert Guillaume describes his women's clothing shop in St. Louis
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Robert Guillaume describes his interest in singing
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Robert Guillaume describes his early jobs in St. Louis, Missouri
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Robert Guillaume reflects upon the impact of his grandmother's death
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Robert Guillaume recalls his scheme for selling hair products
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Robert Guillaume describes his first marriage to Marlene Scott
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Robert Guillaume recalls attending St. Louis University
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Robert Guillaume describes majoring in music at Washington University in St. Louis
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Robert Guillaume recalls joining Karamu House in Cleveland, Ohio
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Robert Guillaume describes the artists he worked with at Karamu House
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Robert Guillaume recalls moving to New York to perform in the musical 'Free and Easy'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Robert Guillaume remembers his early acting career in New York City
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Robert Guillaume describes why he changed his name
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Robert Guillaume describes how he developed his character in 'Benson'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Robert Guillaume recalls how he ensured his character on 'Benson' was not derogatory
  • Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Robert Guillaume recalls learning about comedic acting while auditioning for 'Benson'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Robert Guillaume recalls how he got his start in television acting
  • Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Robert Guillaume describes his passion for acting
  • Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Robert Guillaume describes how the character Benson DuBois changed between 'Soap' and 'Benson'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Robert Guillaume describes how 'Benson' resonated with viewers
  • Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Robert Guillaume describes the origins of the character Benson DuBois
  • Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Robert Guillaume describes the episode "Lifesaver" of 'Benson'
  • Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Robert Guillaume describes a fan's reaction to the episode "No Sad Songs" on 'Benson'
  • Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Robert Guillaume describes his creative input on the TV show 'Benson'
  • Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Robert Guillaume describes the end of the TV show 'Benson'
  • Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Robert Guillaume reflects upon his favorite roles
  • Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Robert Guillaume describes his role in the TV episode 'Space Traders'
  • Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Robert Guillaume describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community
  • Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Robert Guillaume reflects upon his life
  • Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Robert Guillaume reflects upon his legacy
  • Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Robert Guillaume describes performing in 'The Phantom of the Opera'
  • Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Robert Guillaume describes how he would like to be remembered, pt. 1
  • Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Robert Guillaume describes how he would like to be remembered, pt. 2
  • Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Robert Guillaume reflects upon his family life