Mister Rogers told co-star Officer Clemmons to stay in the closet or leave the Neighborhood
Francois Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons on the classic children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, has claimed that Mister Rogers told him to stay in the closet and marry a woman.
The show, which ran between 1968 and 2001, was beloved by generations of Americans.
Clemmons was a regular on the series from its inception until 1993, and he told People that he saw the titular Mister Rogers, otherwise known as Fred Rogers, as a father and mentor.
But in his new memoir, Officer Clemmons, Clemmons has revealed that there was some friction behind the scenes regarding his sexuality.
He wrote that one day Rogers called him into his office and said: “Franc, you have talents and gifts that set you apart and above the crowd.
“Someone has informed us that you were seen at the local gay bar downtown. Now, I want you to know, Franc, that if you’re gay, it doesn’t matter to me at all.
“Whatever you say and do is fine with me, but if you’re going to be on the show as an important member of the Neighborhood, you can’t be out as gay… You must do this Francois, because it threatens my dream.”
Clemmons told People that he was heartbroken, and added: “I could have his friendship and fatherly love and relationship forever. But I could have the job only if I stayed in the closet.”
He continued: “I was destroyed. The man who was killing me had also saved me. He was my executioner and deliverer.
“But, at the same time, I knew that he would know how to comfort me. I didn’t have another mother or father to comfort me. I had no one to go and be a boy with.
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“I was just vulnerable. He got in a few slaps, some tough love, a good spanking. But I was not kicked out of the family.”
He said Mister Rogers told him: “The world doesn’t really want to know who you’re sleeping with — especially if it’s a man. You can have it all if you can keep that part out of the limelight.”
He said the children’s TV star even suggested that Clemmons get married, adding: “People do make some compromises in life.”
Clemmons did in fact get married, but he and his wife divorced in 1974 on good terms when he finally came out as gay.
He added: “Lord have mercy, yes, I forgive him. More than that, I understand.
“I relied on the fact that this was his dream. He had worked so hard for it. I knew Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was his whole life.”