With Election Day results fresh in everyone’s mind, I am reminded of one particular, though entirely fictional, campaign: Benson Dubois’s campaign for governor in the series Benson. The television series, which ran from 1979 to 1986, ended with a cliffhanger as Benson and Governor Gatling wait on bated breath for the election to be called. The series was cancelled after it’s seventh season, leaving viewers to wonder who might have been the next resident of the governor’s mansion.
It would have been fitting for Robert Guillaume’s title character to become the Governor, as the series started with him as butler to that very same house. The Soap spin-off began with the premise of Guillaume’s Benson being hired as the head of household affairs at the governor’s mansion, occupied by struggling widower Eugene Gatling and his daughter Katie. Though the series started with Benson managing household squabbles, his integrity and competence soon proved him capable of much more. Throughout the series, Benson showed tremendous growth as he won titles of state budget director and eventually Lieutenant Governor.
While Benson was not the first African American character in television to show success, Robert Guillaume’s portrayal as the wise, honest, and dry-humored Benson remains one of the most enduring and engaging series heroes in television history. As Guillaume explains, “I sought consciously to avoid the stereotypical sociological traps… I always wanted kids of any background to understand the characters I’ve portrayed were real, that the solutions they found were true and possible. It has always been important to me to stress that there was no diminution of power or universality just because my characters were African- Americans.” Guillaume won two Emmy Awards for the role, Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Soap, 1979), and Best Actor (Benson, 1985).
Here at the Anacostia Community Museum, we have a great collection donated by the acclaimed actor and performer, Robert Guillaume. The collection includes objects, awards, and memorabilia from his film and stage career. See more of the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum collection, gift of Robert Guillaume, here.