American actress Anne Bancroft (1931–2005) had an extraordinary career that spanned over five decades, garnered one Oscar, two Tonys, and two Emmy Awards, and earned the respect of millions. Her roster of memorable characters ranged from the heroic Annie Sullivan to the predatory Mrs. Robinson to the larger-than-life Golda Meir. No mater what the role, Bancroft made it her own.
Bancroft was born Anna Maria Louisa Italiano on September 17, 1931, in the Bronx borough of New York City, to Italian immigrant parents. Her mother, Mildred, was a telephone operator and her father, Michael, a pattern maker. The urge to perform was apparent in her even as a toddler. Tom Vallance of the London Independent quoted Bancroft as saying, "When I was two, I could sing "Under a Blanket of Blue.' I was so willing, so wanting, nobody had to coax me." But encouragement, especially from her mother, she did get. Even the Great Depression and her father's unemployment in the late 1930s did not stop the family from finding a way to provide the aspiring entertainer with tap dancing lessons.
At Christopher Columbus High School, Bancroft acted in student productions and briefly considered a career as a laboratory assistant. Her mother, however, championed the young girl's dreams and insisted that she enroll at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Bancroft studied a year there, and began to perform on radio and television, at first as Anne Italiano, and then as Anne Marno. She supplemented her income by working as a salesgirl and as an English teacher to noted Peruvian singer Yma Sumac. Early television credits included The Torrents of Spring and The Goldbergs. Then in 1952, Anne Bancroft was born.
In one of those quirks of fate that often become the stuff of legend, Bancroft helped a fellow actor by reading in his screen test for 20th Century Fox, but it was Bancroft, not her friend, who was offered a contract with the studio. So Bancroft headed west. Once in Hollywood, she was given a list of possible screen names from which to choose. The London Observer's Philip French quoted her simple explanation for her choice as, "Bancroft was the only one with any dignity." That dignity was not immediately transferred to Bancroft's career, however, as the next five years and 15 movies proved largely unsuited to her talents. Time's Richard Corliss described this period: "She was groomed as a standard babe when Hollywood signed her at 20. It was like fitting a firestorm for a corset."
Bancroft made her film debut with her new name in 1952's Don't Bother To Knock. Starring Marilyn Monroe and Richard Widmark, the movie gave Monroe her first big dramatic role and featured Bancroft as a cabaret singer, but hardly made Bancroft a household name. Other films of that time included The Kid from Left Field (1953), Gorilla at Large (1954), and Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954). After her contract with Fox lapsed, Bancroft remained in California for a time as an independent artist, appearing in such movies as New York Confidential (1955), The Last Frontier (1955), Walk the Proud Land (1956), and Nightfall (1957). But neither did these later efforts bring Bancroft any particular notice.
Disillusioned by her stalled career and a failed marriage to building contractor Martin May, Bancroft decided to regroup. Brian Baxter of the Guardian quoted her recollections: "Life was a shambles. I was terribly immature. I was going steadily downhill in terms of self-respect and dignity." So Bancroft made the sensible choice of so many before her and thousands yet to come—she went home.
Two Tonys and an Oscar
After returning to New York in 1957, Bancroft lived at home and put her life back in order. She studied with a vocal coach, went into therapy, and appeared in such television anthologies as Playhouse 90 and the Lux Video Theater. At least as important, she began to take acting classes with famed Viennese actor/director Herbert Berghof, whose eminent HB Studio should not be confused with the Actors' Studio, although both are located in New York City. In Bancroft's obituary in the Independent, Vallance quoted her recollections of those classes: "It was the beginning of a whole new approach to acting, a deeper, more fulfilling, and more thinking approach. I learned to think a little, to set certain tasks for myself. My work became much more exciting." Her career became much more exciting as well.
In January of 1958 Bancroft made her Broadway debut in William Gibson's Two for the Seesaw. The two-person play featured her as a bohemian girl from the Bronx who has an affair with a married businessman (Henry Fonda). It was an unmitigated success, with such glowing reviews as that of John McLain's of the N.Y. Journal America, as quoted by Les Spindle in Back Stage West: "Bancroft threatens at times to take the entire theatre under her arm and go home. She can swear outlandishly without being at all vulgar; in the next sentence, she can break your heart." The plaudits were topped off with Bancroft's winning a Tony Award for best featured actress in 1958, and her lagging career was jump-started.
The following year, another William Gibson play cemented Bancroft's reputation. She was cast as Helen Keller's extraordinary teacher, Annie Sullivan, in The Miracle Worker, with Patty Duke as Keller. Duke recalled the moment in the production when Bancroft's character announced to Keller's parents that she had finally broken through to their daughter. She told Spindle, "The sound that she had in her voice [at that moment] transported every creature in the theatre to the place where you find lost souls." Critics and audiences agreed, and Bancroft was awarded another Tony Award, this time for Best Actress, in 1960. The triumph was rendered even more delicious when Gibson and director Arthur Penn insisted that she reprise the role on film, against Hollywood's wishes. That performance earned Bancroft an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1963. The formerly frustrated actress had both conquered Broadway and returned to Hollywood as a star.
An Extraordinary Career
As a newly-respectful Hollywood beckoned, Bancroft appeared determined to tackle it on her own terms. Independence, intelligence, and a fair amount of non-conformity with the star system seemed to dictate her subsequent career choices. This relative autonomy was likely partially fueled by her marriage to actor/director Mel Brooks in 1964. Many found the match an odd one—he was the fast-talking funny man from Brooklyn and she was the cool beauty with more than a dash of class. But the partnership endured over forty years, and the marriage produced one child, a son, Maximilian. Director Robert Allen Ackerman described the pair's relationship to Gregg Kilday of the Hollywood Reporter as "one of the great show business love stories of all time. They were madly in love with each other, the most inseparable, devoted, loving couple I have ever known. He could make her laugh so hard—she thought he was the funniest man, and she was as funny as he was. She could keep up with him, and he never stopped feeling how beautiful and talented she was." Such a strong relationship, along with having with a solid career of her own, was bound to give Bancroft a sense of security and keep her priorities in line.
Bancroft's Hollywood career was a rich and varied one that yielded four more Academy Award nominations, although no more wins. Beginning with her Oscar-nominated performance in 1964's The Pumpkin Eater, and moving on to 1965's The Slender Thread and 1966's Seven Women, her initial outing as a movie star had her specializing in women who were victimized by men in one way or another. Thus, it must have been refreshing to read the script for what was to become, for good or ill, Bancroft's most famous role: that of the coolly predatory Mrs. Robinson in Mike Nichols's The Graduate in 1967. The character of a bored, middle-class housewife who seduces a young man (Dustin Hoffman) interested in her daughter was summarily turned down by other actresses as too insulting. Bancroft, however, only six years older than her co-star, sunk her teeth into the part and put an indelible stamp on the role that helped turn the film into a cultural phenomenon. But the huge success, which nabbed Bancroft another Oscar nomination, was something of a mixed blessing, in that its star never entirely escaped the character's clutches. Unlike Annie Sullivan, for instance, Mrs. Robinson and Anne Bancroft were forever one.
Whatever her possible misgivings about her most remembered role, Bancroft was too good an actress to rest. She took a comic turn as Edna Edison in Neil Simon's The Prisoner of Second Avenue in 1975, received another Oscar nod for the role of Emma Jacklin in 1977's The Turning Point, and appeared with her husband in 1983's To Be or Not to Be. The year 1984 saw her in Garbo Talks, 1985, in her fourth Oscar-nominated performance in Agnes of God, and 1986, she starred in 'Night, Mother. Her many other feature films included 84 Charing Cross Road (1987), Torch Song Trilogy (1988), Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), Home for the Holidays (1995), G.I. Jane (1997), Great Expectations (1998), and Heartbreakers (2001).
Nor did Bancroft neglect the stage or television. She returned to Broadway in Mother Courage and Her Children (1963), The Devils (1965), The Little Foxes (1967), A Cry of Players (1968), the Tony-nominated Golda (1977), and Duet for One (1981). Among television work that included the Emmy-nominated Broadway Bound (1992), Mrs. Cage (1992), and Haven (2001), Bancroft also appeared in the Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (1994) and The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (2003). She did receive two Emmy Awards, in addition to her Oscar and two Tonys, one for 1970's Annie: The Woman in the Life of a Man, and the other for 1999's Deep in My Heart. It was a rare feat to win top accolades across performance mediums as she did, but Bancroft had long since proven herself an uncommon actress.
By 2005 Bancroft's remarkable career had spanned over 50 years. But failing health brought her run to an untimely end. On June 6, 2005, Bancroft died in New York City at the age of 73. Two nights later, the lights on Broadway theater marquees were all dimmed in her honor. Friends and fans all over the world mourned the passing of this indomitable spirit and superior talent.
Duke told Mark Harris of Entertainment Weekly, "She taught me … the ethics and discipline of the theater. And she also had one of the best senses of humor in the world." Nichols characterized her for Les Spindle in Back Stage West: "Her combination of brains, humor, frankness, and sense were unlike any other artist. Her beauty was constantly shifting with her roles, and, because she was a consummate actress, she changed radically for every part." Yet, producer David Geffen may have described Bancroft most succinctly when he told People, "She was the consummate everything. Actress, comedienne, beauty, mother and wife. She made it all look easy."
American Theatre, September 2005.
Back Stage West, June 23, 2005.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), June 9, 2005.
Entertainment Weekly, June 17, 2005.
Guardian (London, England), June 9, 2005.
Hollywood Reporter, June 8, 2005.
Independent (London, England), June 9, 2005.
New York Times, June 8, 2005.
Observer (London, England), June 12, 2005.
People, June 20, 2005.
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), June 8, 2005.
Time, June 20, 2005.
Variety, June 13, 2005.
"Actress Anne Bancroft Dead at 73; Tony-Winner Was Helen Keller's Hope in Miracle Worker," Playbill, June 7, 2005, http://www.playbill.com/news/article/print/93413.html (January 14, 2006).
"Actress Anne Bancroft Dies," CNN, June 7, 2005, http://www.cnn.com/2005/SHOWBIZ/Movies/06/07/bancroft.obit (January 14, 2006).
"Anne Bancroft," IBDB, http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?id=66812 (January 14, 2006).
"Anne Bancroft," IMDb, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000843/ (January 14, 2006).
"HB Studio Alumni," http://www.hbstudio.org/hbmenu.html (January 22, 2006).
Nationality: American. Born: Anna Maria Luisa Italiano in the Bronx, New York, 17 September 1931. Education: Attended Public School 12 and Christopher Columbus High School, the Bronx; studied at American Academy of Dramatic Arts, New York, 1948–50, with Herbert Berghof, 1957, and at the Actors Studio, New York, 1958. Family: Married 1) Martin A. May, 1953 (divorced 1957); 2) the director Mel Brooks, 1964, son: Maximilian. Career: 1950—first TV appearance (as Ann Italiano) in Turgenev's The Torrents of Spring; 1951—contract with 20th Century-Fox; chose name "Anne Bancroft" from list submitted to her by Darryl Zanuck; 1952—film debut in Don't Bother to Knock; 1953—resumed TV work; 1955—two-picture contract with Columbia; 1958–59—Broadway appearances in Two for the Seesaw and The Miracle Worker; 1970s—Broadway appearances in The Devils and Golda; mid-1970s—attended American Film Institute's Woman's Directing Workshop and directs first film, The August (never released); 1980—wrote and directed Fatso for 20th Century-Fox; 1994—in TV mini-series The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. Awards: Best Actress Academy Award and Best Foreign Actress, British Academy, for The Miracle Worker, 1962; co-recipient: Best Actress, Cannes Festival, and Best Foreign Actress, British Academy, for The Pumpkin Eater, 1964; Best Actress, British Academy, for 84 Charing Cross Road, 1988. Address: c/o Toni Howard, William Morris Agency, 151 EL Camino Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 9021, U.S.A.
Films as Actress:
Don't Bother to Knock (Baker) (as Lyn Leslie)
Treasure of the Golden Condor (Daves) (as Marie); Tonight We Sing (Leisen) (as Mrs. Sol Hurok); The Kid from Left Field (Jones) (as Marian)
Demetrius and the Gladiators (Daves) (as Paula); The Raid (Fregonese) (as Katy Bishop); Gorilla at Large (Jones) (as Laverne Miller); A Life in the Balance (Horner) (as Maria Ibinia); New York Confidential (Rouse) (as Kathy Lupo)
The Naked Street (Shane) (as Rosalie Regalzyk); The Last Frontier (Mann) (as Corinna Marston)
Walk the Proud Land (Hibbs) (as Tianay); The Girl in Black Stockings (Koch) (as Beth Dixon); Nightfall (Tourneur) (as Marie Gardner); The Restless Breed (Dwan) (as Angelita)
The Miracle Worker (Penn) (as Annie Sullivan)
The Pumpkin Eater (Clayton) (as Jo Armitage)
The Slender Thread (Pollack) (as Inga Dyson); Seven Women (Ford) (as Dr. D. R. Cartwright)
The Graduate (Nichols) (as Mrs. Robinson)
Arthur Penn (Hughes—doc) (as an interviewee)
Young Winston (Attenborough) (as Lady Randolph Churchill)
The Prisoner of Second Avenue (Frank) (as Edna); The Hindenburg (Wise) (as the Countess)
Lipstick (Johnson) (as Carla Bondi); Silent Movie (Mel Brooks)
The Turning Point (Ross) (as Emma Jacklin)
Jesus of Nazareth (Zeffirelli) (as Mary Magdalene)
The Elephant Man (Lynch) (as Mrs. Kendal)
To Be or Not to Be (Mel Brooks) (as Anna Bronski)
Garbo Talks (Lumet) (as Estelle Rolfe)
Agnes of God (Jewison) (as Sister Miriam Ruth)
'night, Mother (Moore) (as Thelma Cates); 84 Charing Cross Road (Jones) (as Helene Hanff)
Torch Song Trilogy (Bogart) (as Ma)
Bert Rigby, You're a Fool (Carl Reiner) (as Meredith Perlestein)
Broadway Bound (Bogart); Love Potion No. 9 (Launer) (as Madame Ruth); Honeymoon in Vegas (Bergman) (as Bea Singer); Mrs. Cage (for TV)
Point of No Return (Badham) (as Amanda); Mr. Jones (Figgis) (as Dr. Catherine Holland); Malice (Becker) (as Claire Kennsinger)
How to Make an American Quilt (Moorhouse) (as Glady Jo) Home for the Holidays (Foster) (as Adele Larson)
Homecoming (Jean) (as Grandma)
G.I. Jane (Scott) (as Lillian DeHaven)
Great Expectations (Cuaron) (as Nora Dinsmoor); Mark Twain's America in 3D (Low) (as Narrator)
Deep in My Heart (Kern—for TV) (as Gerry Cummins)
Keeping the Faith (Norton); Up at the Villa (Haas) (as Princess San Ferdinando)
Breakers (Mirkin); Haven (Gray—for TV)
Film as Director and Scriptwriter:
Fatso (+ ro as Antoinette)
By BANCROFT: articles—
Interview with Allan Hunter, in Films and Filming (London), May 1987.
Interview with T. Casablanca, in Premiere (Boulder), December 1995.
On BANCROFT: book—
Holtzman, Will, Seesaw, A Dual Biography of Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks, New York, 1979.
On BANCROFT: articles—
Current Biography 1960, New York, 1960.
Arthur, Karen, "Anne Bancroft: She Paid Her Dues," in Close-Up: The Movie Star Book, edited by Danny Peary, New York, 1978.
"Anne Bancroft," in Ecran (Paris), September 1978.
Haspiel, J. R., "Anne Bancroft: The Odyssey of Ruby Pepper," in Films in Review (New York), January 1980.
"Anne Bancroft," in Film Dope (London), March, 1982.
Roth-Bettoni, Didier, "Troublez-nous encore," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), May 1990.
* * *
Once upon a time, one could count on Anne Bancroft for consistent brilliance. As youth faded, she rushed prematurely into character work and dismayed those who fondly recalled the slinky glamor of her TV variety specials. Why survive being manhandled by a gorilla in 3-D, silence your naysayers by winning two Tony awards, an Emmy, and an Oscar, only to specialize in irascibly cute character roles (Home for the Holidays)? And yet, how can one censure her for playing the steady work game, when Hollywood cavalierly wastes the most gifted actresses of her era (Julie Harris, Gena Rowlands, and others).
Never garnering less than laudatory notices (Don't Bother to Knock, A Life in the Balance) during her starlet period, Bancroft showed her moxie by fleeing the twilight time of contractual stardom and resurrecting her career with two consecutive Broadway smashes. Although Two for the Seesaw disintegrated on-screen with Shirley MacLaine's gamine overload, director Arthur Penn fought for his original theater stars to shine in his trenchant visualization of The Miracle Worker. After her Oscar victory, Bancroft won universal acclaim as a housewife imprisoned by her own maternal instinct (The Pumpkin Eater), then reversed this victim image and became a sixties icon as The Graduate's Mrs. Robinson, a suburban mom manqué who might have died laughing at Stella Dallas's nobility. Occasionally recharging herself with Broadway stints (The Devils, Golda), Bancroft's finest hour in the seventies was a still-cherished TV variety special, Annie: The Women in the Life of a Man, which showcased a dazzling musical comedy brio (that briefly resurfaced in her husband's To Be or Not to Be remake where Bancroft's tomfoolery bore favorable comparison with Carole Lombard's).
Although The Turning Point restored melodrama to transitory box-office glory, Bancroft's Daughter-of-Bette-Davis thesping barely tapped her resources. And if 84 Charing Cross Road was stagebound and Garbo Talks was gimmicky, Bancroft evidenced enough magnetism to transform medium and long shots into personal close-ups. In addition to wasting her time with great lady stints in Young Winston and Elephant Man, she sugarcoated otherwise perceptive interpretations of vinegary characters (Agnes of God, 'night, Mother) with her own desire to be liked. Through all the years of compromised performances, however, Bancroft rebounded again and again. In virtual cameos in Malice and Point of No Return, she electrified stalled escapism with mini tour de forces in which a lifetime of training pulsed through every gesture.
Television has been particularly stimulating for Bancroft who spilled an entire Crayola box of colors over her elegist role in The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All. As the careworn homemaker railing against obsolescence in Mrs. Cage, Bancroft was a virtuoso clearly deserving of the epithet, great actress. Proving her outbreaks of hamminess aren't chronic, she displayed a rock-like resolve as a grandmother refusing to surrender to tenderness in 1996's Homecoming. Her affinity for the small screen was once again demonstrated with her trenchant performance in the melodramatic Deep in My Heart. When she attacked her roles cleanly without fussbudget mannerisms or a conspiratorial wink, she was surpassingly effective.
On the big screen, her problem has been less one of mis-application than over-application of her gifts, particularly a tornadic delivery, which many directors, seem incapable of harnessing.
For someone who rejected the role of Mommie Dearest, she often seems to be out-Dunawaying Faye. Apparently, the old reliable Bancroft was unavailable for the filming of Michael Cimino's pious drivel, Sunchaser, because over-the-top Anne blasted viewers out of their seat with a saccharine cameo as an alternative medicine practitioner. Is it any wonder she would load up a fusillade of acting tricks, when a mere volley would serve unworthy roles better—you could sense this short-changed performer's anger in How to Make an American Quilt, because she had been given nothing but attitudes to play. The potential for a moving experience featuring wonderful, seasoned actresses was botched in an attempt to have them prop up their less interesting star, Winona Ryder.
And yet, she continued astonishing fans in the oddest of places, none odder than a Demi Moore vehicle, GI JANE, in which she bent her Anna Magnani-intensity to serve her characterization as a cold-bloodedly pragmatic senator, trading in feminist causes to promote her own glory. Every time one's heart leapt with joy, however, the false Anne returned with a vengeance, as in Great Expectations. This MTV-style update was as exhaustively excessive as the recent BBC production (with Charlotte Rampling also falling short) was enervatingly muffled. Outfitted like a crone version of Jean Shrimpton, Bancroft portrayed Miss Haversham as a victim of fashion, not passion. As futilely grotesque a performance as you will ever see, Bancroft comported herself like a John Waters discovery on Crystal-Meth. Of course, she didn't bore you like De Niro does in his cameo, but she was brutalized by a director who used her for camp relief in a bankrupt re-conception of Dickens. Will she rediscover, at this late career juncture, the ability to simmer instead of boil over? (Not on the evidence of her cutesy turn in Edward Norton's directorial debut, Keeping the Faith.) Self-defeatingly, she seems to be undermining the adage that there are no small parts, only small actors, into a new proposition: There are only showy parts for veteran actors too big for small parts.
(b. 17 September 1931 in New York City; d. 6 June 2005 in New York City), actress who began her film career as a contract player and developed over the years into a formidable on-screen force, often playing fierce, intelligent, and complicated women.
Born Anna Maria Louisa Italiano in the Bronx, Bancroft was the daughter of Michael Italiano, a cutter in the garment district in Manhattan, and Mildred DiNapoli, a switchboard operator at a Macy’s department store in Manhattan. Bancroft had two sisters. She attended Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx, where she demonstrated an early interest in acting. After graduating in 1947, she enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan, where she studied for several years.
In April 1950, appearing under the name of Anne Marno, Bancroft attained her first professional role on Studio One, the prestigious television drama series, in an episode that was an adaptation of Ivan Turgenev’s short story “Torrents of Spring.” Afterward, she played a fairly regular character on the television version of The Goldbergs, an adaptation of the durable radio series about a Bronx family and its matriarch, Molly Goldberg. She continued to play dramatic roles on television, eventually starring opposite Charlton Heston in the December 1950 Studio One episode entitled “Letter from Cairo.” She also gained featured or starring roles in other popular television series, such as Danger and Kraft Suspense Theatre.
In 1951 Bancroft signed a contract with Twentieth Century–Fox, at which time she adopted her more “elegant” name, making her film debut as a nightclub singer in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952), a melodrama designed to showcase the studio’s new star, Marilyn Monroe. She then appeared in such low-budget movies as The Kid from Left Field (1953), Gorilla at Large (1954), The Raid (1954), New York Confidential (1955), and Walk the Proud Land (1956). She occasionally took supporting roles in high-budget films such as Tonight We Sing (1953), in which she played the wife of the music impresario Sol Hurok, and Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954). Throughout the 1950s she also appeared frequently on television in popular dramatic series such as The Alcoa Hour, Lux Video Theatre, and Playhouse 90. On 1 July 1953 Bancroft married the law student Martin May; they divorced in 1957.
Aware that her film career was stalling in mediocre roles, Bancroft eventually decided to try her hand at the New York stage. Enrolling in Herbert Berghof’s acting studio, she won the leading role in William Gibson’s two-character play Two for the Seesaw (1958). As Gittel Mosca, a vulnerable, Bronx-born aspiring dancer who has an affair with a Nebraska lawyer, played by Henry Fonda, she gave an endearing, full-bodied performance that won her enthusiastic reviews from critics. She received that year’s Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Play.
By then an established stage actress, Bancroft was besieged with offers, and the one she chose next proved to be a highlight of her career. Gibson had written another play, The Miracle Worker, which recounted the childhood of the blind and deaf Helen Keller and the tenacious efforts of her longtime teacher and friend Annie Sullivan. Gibson had originally written the script for a 1957 television production; for the stage version, the producers cast Bancroft as Annie and a prodigal child actress named Patty Duke as Helen. The ferocious second-act clash between Annie and her feral young charge electrified audiences when the play opened in 1959 to enthusiastic reviews, and both actresses later received Tony Awards for their performances. The two likewise received Academy Awards for reprising their performances in the 1962 film version.
Subsequently, Bancroft decided to appear in a new translation of Bertolt Brecht’s antiwar play Mother Courage and Her Children (1963). After a limited run that garnered mostly favorable reviews, Bancroft returned to films, starting with an adaptation of Penelope Mortimer’s novel The Pumpkin Eater (1964). Heading an impressive cast that included Peter Finch, James Mason, and Maggie Smith, Bancroft played a British wife and mother of eight who has a nervous breakdown when she learns of her husband’s affair. She received an Oscar nomination for her performance but lost to Julie Andrews, who won for her role in Mary Poppins.
In February 1964, while rehearsing a guest appearance on Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall, Bancroft met Mel Brooks, a writer whose brash, broadly satirical humor had contributed greatly to the success of the television comedy-and-variety series Your Show of Shows (1950–1954). After Brooks’s intense courtship, he and Bancroft married on 5 August 1964, beginning a union that lasted until Bancroft’s death. Their son was born in 1972.
After The Pumpkin Eater, Bancroft continued to appear in films that drew on her ability to portray intense, troubled women, notably as a would-be suicide in Sydney Pollack’s first film, The Slender Thread (1965), and as a doctor trapped with a group of women in a Chinese mission overrun by Mongolian bandits in John Ford’s 7 Women (1966). In November 1965 she again appeared on Broadway, opposite Jason Robards, in a short-lived production of John Whiting’s play The Devils, based on Aldous Huxley’s novel The Devils of Loudon.
In 1967 Bancroft played the film role for which she is best remembered: the icy, predatory Mrs. Robinson, in Mike Nichols’s film The Graduate. Adapted from Charles Webb’s novel, the film created an unexpected sensation with its portrait of a shy, aimless college graduate, played by Dustin Hoffman, who enters into an affair with Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father’s law partner, then falls in love with and feverishly pursues her daughter, played by Katharine Ross. For their work, Mike Nichols won an Academy Award for Best Director, while Bancroft, Hoffman, and Ross were nominated for Oscars. In time, the film was viewed as an iconic statement of 1960s alienation.
After her triumph in The Graduate, Bancroft decided to return to the stage, appearing first as Regina Giddens in a 1967 revival of Lillian Hellman’s play The Little Foxes, then as Anne Hathaway to Frank Langella’s William Shakespeare in William Gibson’s play A Cry of Players (1968). She also starred in her first television special, Annie: The Women in the Life of a Man, which aired on 19 February 1970, receiving an Emmy Award for her performance. Her film career did not falter throughout the next few decades, as she was seen in both starring and supporting roles, including as Jack Lemmon’s tenacious wife in The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975), as a feisty dying woman whose last wish is to meet Greta Garbo in Garbo Talks (1984), and as the mother of a suicide-bent daughter in ’Night, Mother (1986). Two of her performances, as a former ballerina in The Turning Point (1977) and as a worldly mother superior in Agnes of God (1985), earned her nominations for Academy Awards for Best Actress. She also appeared in cameo roles in several of her husband’s freewheeling satirical film comedies, and she costarred with Brooks in a 1983 remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be. While ever acting in films, even in small roles, Bancroft also sought to extend her talent in other directions. In 1980 she directed, acted, and wrote the screenplay for the dark comedy Fatso, which starred Dom DeLuise as a lonely overweight man. Throughout the 1990s she largely took supporting roles, in such films as How to Make an American Quilt (1995), Home for the Holidays (1995), G. I. Jane (1997), and Great Expectations (1998).
Bancroft occasionally returned to the stage, portraying the Israeli prime minister Golda Meir in Gibson’s play Golda (1977), starring as a crippled cellist in writer Tom Kempinski’s Duet for One (1981), and appearing as famed sculptor Louise Nevelson in Edward Albee’s play Occupant (2002). In later years she often appeared on television, in such movies as Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (1994), Homecoming (1996), and The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (2003). In 1999 she won an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for her performance in Deep in My Heart. Bancroft died of ovarian cancer in 2005 at age seventy-three. She is buried in Valhalla, New York, near the grave of her father.
Great actors are held to come to inhabit the characters they create on stage or screen through both skill and passion. Bancroft succeeded in transforming herself from a conventional movie ingénue into a great actor whose intensity riveted audiences and critics alike. Over time, she became a vivid presence in every role she played.
Bancroft’s life and career is discussed in William Holtzman, Seesaw, a Dual Biography of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft (1979). Information on Bancroft can also be found in Bill Adler and Jeffrey Feinman, Mel Brooks: The Irreverent Funnyman (1976). An obituary is in the New York Times (8 June 2005).
(b. 17 September 1931 in New York City), award-winning stage, film, and television actress who first came to national prominence during the 1960s with her portrayal of Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker (1962), and for her unforgettable performance as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate (1967).
Born Anna Maria Louisa Italiano, daughter of Michael Italiano and Mildred di Napoli, Bancroft grew up in the Bronx, and began taking acting and dancing lessons when she was only four years old. She attended P.S. 12 and Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx. After graduating from high school, Bancroft enrolled at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA) in Manhattan, where she studied acting from 1948 until 1950. Upon leaving AADA in 1950, she found work in television dramas, appearing under the name Anne Marno.
In 1952 Bancroft made her way to Hollywood. She signed a contract with Twentieth Century–Fox and began a largely unremarkable career in second-rate films, mostly westerns and crime dramas. The first of her films for Fox during this period was Don't Bother to Knock (1952), which costarred Marilyn Monroe and Richard Widmark and was a notable exception to the mostly undistinguished fare that followed. Bancroft married Martin A. May, a building contractor, on 1 July 1953, but they divorced four years later on 13 February 1957. Dissatisfied with the direction her career was taking in Hollywood, Bancroft headed back east in 1957, determined to make a name for herself on the stage. That same year, she studied with famed acting coach Herbert Berghof in New York. The following year, she landed a starring role in Two for the Seesaw on Broadway, a performance that won for her the Antoinette Perry (Tony) Award as Best Actress. In 1960 Bancroft enjoyed another major Broadway triumph, winning a New York Drama Critics Award and her second Tony for her role as Sullivan, private tutor to a young Helen Keller in William Gibson's stage production of The Miracle Worker.
On the strength of her Broadway triumphs, Bancroft returned to Hollywood in the early 1960s to reprise her portrayal of Sullivan in director Arthur Penn's film adaptation of The Miracle Worker (1962). She starred opposite Patty Duke as the young Helen Keller, a role that Duke had played in the Broadway production of Gibson's play. Although the film was not a financial success, it scored big with the critics, almost all of whom lavished praise on Bancroft's performance. Looking back on her first major film success on the fortieth anniversary of its release, Bancroft fondly remembered the help she had received from the film's director. "Arthur Penn taught me everything," she told Richard Ridge of Broadway Beat. "He really was … more help to me in my acting than any other person alive or dead. He's just an extraordinary teacher, and I was a good student just like Annie and Helen. That was Arthur and me. Everything he taught me I learned."
Not all of Bancroft's memories about the filming of The Miracle Worker were fond ones. In a May 2000 interview with the Calgary Sun, she recalled some of the contrasts between toiling on an independent production and acting in a major studio's film. "It was the first movie I did that wasn't a big studio film, and it was the first time I saw the future of showbiz and what would happen with these independent movies. You got so spoiled by the big studios. Now you have a trailer instead of having your own dressing room on the lot. And being a princess at heart, it was very difficult for me."
Despite her newfound success in motion pictures, Bancroft was hardly ready to turn her back on Broadway, which had done so much to resuscitate her career. After she completed work on The Miracle Worker, she returned to the New York stage to appear in a revival of Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children (1963). Her appearance on Broadway, however, prevented Bancroft from attending the Academy Awards presentation when she was up for Best Actress for her performance in The Miracle Worker. Asked to select someone to receive the Oscar for her should she win, Bancroft told Van Wyk, "I said I'd like one of the greats like Joan Crawford or Bette Davis, somebody like that. But I didn't know that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were having a feud. Obviously lots of people did, but I didn't. So the fact that Bette Davis was also nominated meant she couldn't pick up my Oscar, so they got Joan Crawford to pick it up. And I won and Joan Crawford walked out on stage and picked up the Oscar, and there was Bette Davis so angry at Joan Crawford and me!"
Bancroft's work in The Miracle Worker was the first of several motion picture successes for the actress during the 1960s. In 1964, fewer than two years after the release of The Miracle Worker, she received her second Academy Award nomination as Best Actress for her role in The Pumpkin Eater (1964), a British film with a screenplay by Harold Pinter. Bancroft portrayed the mother of several young children who leaves her second husband to marry a promising scriptwriter, played by Peter Finch. Over time she begins to disintegrate mentally as she gradually becomes aware of her husband's infidelities. Variety's reviewer wrote: "The role may sound conventional enough, but not as played by Bancroft; she adds a depth and understanding which puts it on a higher plane." Although Bancroft lost her Oscar bid to Julie Andrews, she did win the British Academy Award as Best Actress for her performance in film .
In 1964, Bancroft married comedy writer/director Mel Brooks. The couple first met when they both appeared as guests on a television talk show in the early 1960s. Brooks paid a staffer on the show to tell him which restaurant Bancroft was planning to eat in after the show so that he could "accidentally" bump into her and strike up a conversation. After a brief courtship, they married in New York's City Hall with a passerby serving as their witness.
Bancroft portrayed an American mission doctor in Seven Women (1966), the final film from director John Ford. The story line chronicles the indignities suffered by the female members of an American mission team in northern China after they are taken captive by bandits. Bancroft's character, smoldering with worldly cynicism, clashes with the rigidly moralistic head of the mission, played by Margaret Leighton. According to the review in Variety, "Bancroft endows her character with some authority." Bancroft also starred as Inga Dyson in The Slender Thread (1965), which costarred Sidney Poitier and marked the directorial debut of Sidney Pollack.
Perhaps Bancroft's greatest cinematic triumph of the 1960s came with her role as the unforgettable, "man-eating" Mrs. Robinson in 1967's The Graduate, directed by Mike Nichols. In a reappraisal of the film some thirty years after its release, Chicago Sun-Times reviewer Roger Ebert wrote that, although the film seemed decidedly dated three decades later, Bancroft's Mrs. Robinson survives as its "most sympathetic and intelligent character." In Ebert's view, "Mrs. Robinson is the only person in the movie who is not playing old tapes. She is bored by a drone of a husband, she drinks too much, she seduces Benjamin [played by Dustin Hoffman in his screen debut] not out of lust but out of kindness or desperation.… She is also sardonic, satirical and articulate—the only person in the movie you would want to have a conversation with." Certainly there is no other role in her career with which Bancroft is more closely identified than Mrs. Robinson, a figure who has become something of an icon for the 1960s. Bancroft was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her role in The Graduate but lost to Katharine Hepburn.
Since the 1960s, Bancroft has continued to work steadily in film and television, appearing in such films as The Turning Point (1977), for which she received an Academy Award nomination; Agnes of God (1985), which earned her another nomination from the Academy; as well as 84 Charing Cross Road (1986), Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), and Heartbreakers (2001). An actress of uncommon talent, Bancroft has entertained audiences for more than half a century, and is still going strong. Although her very earliest films were not particularly memorable, no one was more keenly aware of this than the actress herself. In the years since The Miracle Worker, Bancroft has created a long string of memorable characters. One of the greatest actresses working today, Bancroft continues to impress audiences with the breadth of her acting ability. Although probably best known for her work in film, she has made a significant contribution to the Broadway stage and television drama as well.
An excellent overview of the lives and careers of Bancroft and her husband, Mel Brooks, can be found in Will Holtzman, Seesaw: A Dual Biography of Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks (1979). Also helpful are Karen Arthur, "Anne Bancroft: She Paid Her Dues," in Close-Up: The Movie Star Book (1978), Danny Perry, ed.; J. R. Haspiel, "Anne Bancroft: The Odyssey of Ruby Pepper," Films in Review (Jan. 1980); and Anika Van Wyk, "Bancroft's Royal Role," Calgary Sun (2 May 2000).
Born Anna Maria Louise Italiano, September 17, 1931, in New York, NY; died of uterine cancer, June 6, 2005, in New York, NY. Actress. Award-winning star of stage and screen Anne Bancroft was best known for her role as the seductive Mrs. Robinson in the 1967 film, The Graduate. Despite a rich and varied career in which she proved herself across a number of challenging roles, Bancroft would be forever linked to the leopard-coat-clad sophisticate who preyed on a young Dustin Hoffman.
Born in 1931, Bancroft grew up in the New York City borough of the Bronx. Her father worked in the garment industry as a pattern-maker, and her mother was a telephone operator. She seemed a natural performer from an early age, and after high school took classes at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Soon she was working in the fledgling medium of television, and went to Hollywood in 1952, where Twentieth Century-Fox signed her to a contract. Handed a list of surnames that day, she chose "Bancroft" for her new professional name. "My goal was simply to be a movie star. I had no idea what to be an actress meant," the Los Angeles Times quoted her as saying. "It was just to be famous and popular and powerful and rich."
Bancroft had a strong start in her film debut, 1952's Don't Bother To Knock, a thriller with Marilyn Monroe. Over the next few years, however, studio executives seemed unsure how to best utilize her talents, and she drifted from film noir capers into B-movies. What was likely the most regrettable role of her career came in 1954's Gorilla at Large, in which she played a trapeze artist who commits murders while wearing an ape suit. Finally, she returned to New York in 1955, living back at home with her family and looking for television work. She also began a more intensive study of her craft, under the guidance of Herbert Berghof, a renowned workshop teacher.
A favorable recommendation from a fellow actor helped her land an audition for a new Broadway play, but its playwright and producer were reluctant to even see her because of her lack of stage inexperience. As the play's author later remembered, Bancroft "was a dark, quick, not pretty but vitally attractive girl with a sidewalk voice that greeted me instantly with 'How was the coast, lousy, huh?' and my mind blinked; she could have walked off my pages," William Gibson said, according to the London Independent.
Bancroft made her Broadway debut in Gibson's Two for the Seesaw opposite Henry Fonda in January of 1958. She played a free-spirited, bohemian New Yorker opposite Fonda's straightlaced Midwestern lawyer, and won a Tony Award for it. She next originated the role of Annie Sullivan, the determined teacher who taught a blind and deaf Helen Keller to speak, in another play by Gibson, The Miracle Worker. Again, she took the Tony for Best Actress, and went on to reprise the part in the film version, which also starred her stage co-star, Patty Duke. Both women then won Academy Awards for their work.
Bancroft went on to make a number of well-received films over the next few years, but it was her appearance in The Graduate that forever slotted her in the public eye as Mrs. Robinson, the woman who seduces the son of her husband's law partner. Her target is Benjamin Braddock, played by an unknown Dustin Hoffman, a recent college graduate whose ineptness with the opposite sex provides much of the movie's early humor. The plot takes a darker turn when Benjamin is set up on a date with Elaine, the Robinsons' daughter. Bancroft's performance, wrote Mark Harris in Entertainment Weekly, proved to be "one of those acting moments that is simply a permanent part of the fabric of American movies. With a voice that sounded like a liquor cabinet filtered through a cigarette holder and a stone-cold seduction technique that was all business and half bored-to-tears, Bancroft turned Mrs. Robinson, the matron who made mincemeat of Dustin Hoffman, into an alluring and fearsome comic creation."
Bancroft was nominated for another Academy Award for The Graduate, which launched her costar's career. But roles for her became scarcer, and she also became choosier. The few well-written parts she took included The Turning Point, a 1977 drama of female friendship and resentments set in the ballet world, which earned her another Oscar nomination. She was nominated once more, this time as Best Supporting Actress, in 1985 for the film Agnes of God.
Bancroft wrote and directed a 1980 comedy, Fatso, and appeared in some of husband Mel Brooks' projects. In 1999, she won an Emmy Award for her part in the miniseries Deep in My Heart, which made her one of just 15 performers who had won Emmy, Oscar, and Tony awards in their career. She died of uterine cancer on June 6, 2005, at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City at the age of 73. Broadway dimmed its lights the next night in her honor. Survivors include Brooks, her husband of 41 years, as well as their son, Max, a television writer; her mother, Mildred, and two sisters also survive her. Mike Nichols, who directed Bancroft in The Graduate, lamented the loss, remarking to CNN.com that "her combination of brains, humor, frankness, and sense were unlike any other artist. Her beauty was constantly shifting with her roles, and because she was a consummate actress she changed radically for every part." Sources: CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2005/SHOWBIZ/Movies/06/07/bancroft.obit. ap/index.html (June 8, 2005); Entertainment Weekly, June 17, 2005, p. 18.; E! Online, http://www. eonline.com/News/Items/0,1,16709,00.html?eol.tkr (June 8, 2005); Houston Chronicle, June 8, 2005, p. 3; Independent (London), June 9, 2005, p. 58; Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2005, p. A1, p. A18; New York Times, June 8, 2005, p. A17; People, June 20, 2005, p. 137; Washington Post, June 8, 2005, p. B6.
BANCROFT, Anne. British, b. 1923. Genres: Theology/Religion. Publications: Religions of the East, 1974; Twentieth Century Mystics and Sages, 1976; Zen: Direct Pointing to Reality, 1980; The Luminous Vision: Six Medieval Mystics, 1982; Chinese New Year, 1984; Festivals of the Buddha, 1984; The Buddhist World, 1984; The New Religious World, 1985; Origins of the Sacred, 1987; Weavers of Wisdom, 1989; The Spiritual Journey, 1991; Women in Search of the Sacred, 1996; The Dhammapada, 1996. EDITOR: The Buddha Speaks, 2000; The Wisdom of Zen, 2001.