Mister Rogers encouraged co-star Francois Clemmons to not come out as gay and marry a woman

Los Angeles, Apr 25 (PTI) Actor Francois Clemmons, who was an integral part of the “Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood” from 1968 to 1993, has revealed that show’s star Fred Rogers had asked him stay in the closet and marry a woman.

Francois, who played Officer Clemmons in the popular children's television series, said Fred told him that if he wanted to be an important member of the show, then he had to keep his sexuality a secret.

'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 'Neighbourhood', you can’t be out as gay,” Francois writes in his new memoir “Officer Clemmons”.

In an interview with the People magazine, Francois said Fred had given him inspiration and stardom but told him there was a condition.

“‘You must do this Francois,’ he told me, ‘because it threatens my dream’. 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. 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,” Francois said.

Fred told him that the world doesn’t want to know who he was “sleeping with -- especially if it’s a man”.

He also advised Francois to make some “compromises” and get married to a woman.

The actor then decided to tie the knot with La-Tanya Mae Sheridan. The couple had an amicable split in 1974 and after that, he came out as gay.

Francois, however, has no hard feelings towards Fred as he understands that “Neighbousrhood” was his dream.

“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,” Francois said. PTI SHD RB RB