Robert Guillaume Collection consists of thirty-five objects which document Guillaume’s acting and singing career, and philanthropic work from the 1970s through the 1990s. Most of the collection includes stage props from Benson’s gubernatorial campaign and awards in recognition of Guillaume’s talent and charitable contributions to social and health organizations.
Benson was a spin-off from the soap opera parody, Soap. Guillaume played the title character, Benson DuBois, the director of household affairs for an absent-minded Governor and his daughter. Throughout the series, Benson rose to loftier positions including the state budget director, Lieutenant Governor, and eventually a gubernatorial candidate.
The collection also includes clothing, Sports Night baseball cap, Guillaume’s parking space sign, Night of 100 Stars poster signed by numerous celebrities in celebration of the centennial of the Actors’ Fund of America, Phantom of the Opera teddy bear, and several pieces of artwork, including a sculpture of Phantom of the Opera, a drawing of Guillaume as Phantom of the Opera, and a portrait of Guillaume. A plaque awarded by the Drug Enforcement Administration to Donna Brown Guillaume for her support of Women’s History Month is also part of the collection. Another of the awards, presented to Robert Guillaume by Telethon Chabad in recognition of his commitment to charity, is a Plate of Dedication designed by Yaacov Agam, Israeli sculptor and experimental artist.
A related archival collection – Robert Guillaume papers – which consists of scripts from various television shows (including Benson, Soap, and Sports Night), postcards, promotional material, audiovisual materials, certificates, photographs, correspondence, clippings, magazines, illustrations, and posters is available in the Archives at the Anacostia Community Museum. Contact the Archivist for more information.
In 1927, Robert Guillaume was born Robert Peter Williams in the slums of St. Louis, Missouri. Guillaume was raised by his maternal grandmother, who sacrificed to send him to Catholic school. After a stint in the United States Army, he attended St. Louis University as a business administration major and then Washington University as a voice major. His classical voice and performance at the Aspen, Colorado musical festival led to an apprenticeship at Cleveland’s Karamu Theatre, where he performed opera and musical comedy.
During his time in New York City, Guillaume became one of the stage’s best reviewed young actors. His Broadway performances included Kwamina, Tambourines to Glory, Othello, Porgy and Bess, Jacques Brel, Purlie, Golden Boy, and Guys and Dolls, in which he received a Tony nomination for his performance as Nathan Detroit.
While in Los Angeles, Guillaume starred in theatrical films, including The Lion King and Lean on Me, and television programs, including Soap, Benson, and Sports Night. His television work earned him two Emmy Awards. He also received a Grammy Award for his recording of The Lion King in the voice of Rafiki and rave reviews for his performance in Los Angeles production of Phantom of the Opera.
In 1992, Guillaume and his second wife, Donna Brown Guillaume, began the Confetti Entertainment Company which publishes read-along books and tapes. The company’s work inspired the HBO television series, Happy Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child, in which fairy tales were voiced by a multi-ethnic cast of celebrities.
In addition to his work as a performer, Guillaume generously contributed time and resources to charitable, social, and health organizations, including TransAfrica, Sickle Cell Disease Association of America, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, The Thalians (charitable organization dedicated to mental health), and the Special Olympics. Guillaume also received recognition from Producers Guild of America, City of Los Angeles Hollywood Walk of Fame, Walt Disney World Company, Jomandi Productions (Atlanta, GA), Friendly House, The Foundation for Health Services, Community Coalition (South Los Angeles), Congregation Emanu El (San Bernardino, CA), New Directions for Youth, ICAN Associates, and Telethon Chabad for his talent, inexhaustible energy, promotion of social justice through arts and entertainment, devotion to freedom, and commitment to charity.
Guillaume is French for Williams.
Donna Brown Guillaume, a television producer, served as the Executive Producer of the award-winning animated program Happy Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child for three seasons. Guillaume began her television career in the newsroom at KCBS in Los Angeles; then she moved to The CBS Evening News and Two on the Town, a news magazine show. She is also known for producing A Look Back, A Look Forward, a documentary special on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives, a HBO documentary which received four Emmy award nominations and an NAACP Image Award nomination.
In recent years, the non-profit world has benefited from Guillaume’s writing and producing skills. For two years, Guillaume was Director of External Affairs in the Communications Department at LA's BEST, a city-wide afterschool program. Currently, she is Program Director for the National Foster Youth Institute, whose mission is to reform and strengthen the child welfare system and drastically improve outcomes for foster youth. Additionally, she is a founder of Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA) and a member of Women in Film.
Guillaume, Robert, and David Ritz. 2002. Guillaume a life. Columbia: University of Missouri Press. http://site.ebrary.com/id/10048215.
Archive Interview with Robert Guillaume. Archive of American Television: A Program of the Television Academy Foundation.
Meryl Marshall conducted the interview in Encino, CA on March 24, 1999.
Robert Guillaume papers, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Robert Guillaume.
African American actors
African American philanthropists
African Americans in the performing arts
African Americans on television
Broadway (New York, N.Y.)
Permanent Collection, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum