Anne Bancroft Profile
* Films in Bold Type air on 8/6
Star Sign: Virgo
Star Qualities: Rich voice, dramatic intensity, unexpected flair for comedy. Star Definition: "A beautiful and talented woman who can lift your spirits just by looking at you." Mel Brooks
Galaxy Of Characters: Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker (1962), Jo Armitage in The Pumpkin Eater (1964), Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate (1967), Mother Miriam Ruth in Agnes of God (1985).
"Warm, ambitious, and utterly effective," was how the late film historian Leslie Halliwell accurately described the acting style and dark beauty of the late Anne Bancroft. This consummate actress who entertained audiences on stage and screen for six decades, and whose most memorable roles included an Oscar®-winning turn as the teacher of young Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker (1962); and of course, the middle-aged seductress Mrs. Robinson, in Mike Nichols' classic The Graduate (1967), died on June 6, 2005 in New York. She was 73.
She was born Anna Maria Louise Italiano on September 17, 1931, in the Bronx to Italian immigrant parents. Her mother encouraged her to enroll at the American Academy for Dramatic Arts in Manhattan, where she graduated in 1949. In the early '50, she made several appearances on live television drama in her native New York (then the nation's television capital) as Ann Marno before being taken to Hollywood by Daryl Zanuck in 1952 by Twentieth Century-Fox. They changed her name to Ann Bancroft and she made a slew of forgettable films that were beneath her talents: Don't Bother to Knock (1952), The Kid from Left Field (1953), Gorilla at Large (1954) were films that didn't register with the critics. Her lone impressive film from this early period was Jacques Tourneur's tight little noir thriller Nightfall (1956).
Frustrated, Bancroft returned to New York after her contract finished in 1957, and she enrolled in the Actors Studio to hone her craft. Her work dedication paid off handsomely as cracked Broadway and earned two Tony Awards in three years: the first for Two for the Seesaw (1958) with Henry Fonda, and the second for her star turn as Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller's teacher in The Miracle Worker (1960).
Her success in the latter part brought her back to Hollywood for Arthur Penn's adaptation of The Miracle Worker (1962) for which she won an Academy Award (AA) and a BAFTA (a British Oscar) for Best Actress. Her next film, Harold Pinter's The Pumpkin Eater (1964), is to many critics, arguably her most stunning achievement. Her performance as a frustrated housewife who desires to have an adulterous affair with a writer (Peter Finch), only to feel betrayed and disillusioned by him in the aftermath, was widely praised for its subtlety and complexity, and she won her second BAFTA, the Cannes Film Award, and another Oscar® nomination for Best Actress.
Her next important role was one that few film fans will unlikely ever forget. That role was Mrs. Robinson, the woman who seduces a naive Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) in Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967). In a performance that was deft, sultry and cunning, audience and critics were left panting. Indeed, few who see the film can forget the image of Bancroft in leopard-skin lingerie cooly smoking a cigarette as she slyly dissects Ben for a seduction. She received her third Oscar® nomination and had a clean claim to be hailed as one of the finest actresses of her generation.
She took some time off in the early 70's to appease her domestic side. She married actor/director Mel Brooks in 1964, and gave birth to their son Max in 1972. She did return to the silver screen soon enough to show off her comedic chops in Neil Simon's The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975); and held her own against Shirley MacLaine in the overrated, but still watchable The Turning Point (1977, her fourth Oscar® nomination). In 1979, she studied at the American Film Institute for a directing workshop for women at UCLA. She wrote and directed a feature, an oddly appealing character study Fatso (1980) which offered Dom DeLuise one of his best film roles.
The '80s were a time of rich character roles for Bancroft: she had a lead role in her husband¿s remake of Ernest Lubitsch's classic To Be or Not to Be (1983); garnered her fifth and final Oscar® nomination as a protective Mother Superior in Agnes of God (1985); a mother who frantically tries to talk her daughter (Sissy Spacek) out of suicide in Night, Mother (1986); Anthony Hopkins pen pal in the sweet romantic drama 84 Charing Cross Road (1987); and Harvey Fierstein's mother in Torch Song Trilogy(1988).
In the '90s, Bancroft's parts weren't as strong, but she made the most of what she was given: a mysterious old con woman in Malice (1993), a domineering matriarch in Jodie Foster's hit-or-miss comedy Home For the Holidays (1995); a strident feminist senator in the Demi Moore vehicle G.I. Jane (1997); and an updated Mrs. Havisham in Great Expectations (1998).
In recent years, she made a triumphant return to Broadway in Edward Albee's Occupant (2002); and lent her voice for the upcoming animated feature Delgo (2005). Bancroft is survived by her husband Brooks, her son Max and grandson Henry Michael.
by Michael T. Toole