Mister Rogers Advised Officer Clemons To Stay In The Closet If He Wanted To Be Part Of 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood'
Kids who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s remember Francois Clemmons as a member of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood . He played Officer Clemons on the beloved PBS series from 1968 to 1993, but in his new memoir he reveals that Fred Rogers told him he would have to stay in the closet if he wanted to be part of the show.
Ahead of the release of his memoir titled Officer Clemmons , he told People magazine that over the years, Rogers - who he called Fred or “Doc” because of his numerous honorary degrees - became his mentor, father figure, and “the spiritual love of his life.”
In the book, Clemmons says that when he met the children’s program host through Joanna Rogers at church, he had already survived a violent childhood. Clemmons quickly became good friends with Rogers, and he also became an important part of the Neighborhood .
Clemmons says that one day, Rogers called him into his office at the studio and told him he had talent and gifts that set him apart from the crowd. However, there was a problem, and Clemmons recalled the conversation.
“Someone has informed us that you were seen at the local gay bar downtown,” Rogers told him, according to the memoir. “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.”
Clemmons says that he began to sob when Rogers told him that because he could have Rogers’ friendship, fatherly love, and relationship forever, but he could only work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood if he stayed in the closet.
Clemmons says Rogers told him he “must” stay in the closet because it threatened Rogers’ dream. He admits that the request “destroyed” him because the man who was killing him had also saved him. Clemmons added that he knew Rogers would know how to comfort him, and he didn’t have a mother or father who could. Instead of being kicked out of Rogers’ family, Clemmons says he got a few slaps, tough love, a good spanking.
“‘The world doesn’t really want to know who you’re sleeping with — especially if it’s a man,’” Clemmons says Rogers told him. “‘You can have it all if you can keep that part out of the limelight.’”
However, Rogers went further and asked Clemmons if he had considered making a compromise by marrying a woman.
Francois Clemmons says that by the time he left Fred Rogers office, he had decided to marry La-Tanya Mae Sheridan. At the wedding reception, Fred and Joanna approached the couple, and Clemmons says it felt like he and Fred were “sealing some kind of secret bargain.”
Clemmons and Sheridan amicably divorced in 1974 and he started living his life as an openly gay man. Clemmons says he forgives Rogers, and he also understands.
“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,” said Clemmons.
Officer Clemmons will be available wherever books are sold on May 5th.