June 7, 2005


Here's to you, Ms Bancroft, screen and stage superstar (James Bone, 6/08/05, Times of London)

THE show-business world united in a final “Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson” yesterday on the death of Anne Bancroft, who was immortalised on screen as the middle-aged seductress in The Graduate.

The Oscar-winning actress succumbed to uterine cancer on Monday night at the age of 73 at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital, according to a spokesman for her husband, the comedian and director Mel Brooks.

Bancroft won her Oscar for her performance as Annie Sullivan, the woman who taught the deaf, dumb and blind Helen Keller, in the 1962 film The Miracle Worker.

It was a role that she had originated on stage in the play by William Gibson in 1959, winning her second successive Tony Award. [...]

Born Anna Maria Louise Italiano in the Bronx in New York, she started acting on television as Anne Marno. Offered a choice of screen names by her Hollywood studio, she picked Bancroft “because it sounded dignified”.

After a string of B-movies, she escaped to Broadway in 1958 and won her first Tony opposite Henry Fonda in Two for the Seesaw.

Other Oscar nominations came for The Pumpkin Eater (1964), The Graduate (1967), The Turning Point (1977) and Agnes of God (1985).

Mel Brooks, who co-starred with Bancroft in To Be Or Not To Be, met her on the set of a television talk show. He found out which restaurant she aimed to dine in, walked in and “accidentally” met her again.

The couple married on August 5, 1964, and had one son Max, a screenwriter, in 1972.

By sheer coincidence--I wasn't aware she was that ill--The Wife and I watched the surprising good film Keeping the Faith last night, in which Ms Bancroft has a secondary role, but is, as always, one of the best things in the movie.

ANNE BANCROFT | 1931-2005: Versatile, but Forever 'Mrs. Robinson': She won an Oscar and a Tony for 'Miracle Worker,' among many laurels, but seductress in 'The Graduate' was her signature role. (Myrna Oliver, June 8, 2005, LA Times)

Anne Bancroft, the versatile, husky-voiced actress who won an Academy Award for portraying Helen Keller's teacher in "The Miracle Worker" but will forever be remembered as the coldly seductive Mrs. Robinson in "The Graduate," has died. She was 73.

Bancroft died Monday night of uterine cancer at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, John Barlow, spokesman for Bancroft's husband, entertainer Mel Brooks, announced Tuesday.

An actress of uncommon versatility, Bancroft collected one Oscar, two Tonys, two Golden Globes, an Emmy and in 1996 a lifetime achievement comedy award in a career spanning more than half a century.

Bancroft earned a Tony and an Academy Award for best actress in "The Miracle Worker" as Annie Sullivan, the willful and determined half-blind teacher of Patty Duke's blind and deaf Keller. The Broadway and motion picture versions of William Gibson's play established Bancroft as a multifaceted actress with deep talent.

Duke, who was 12 when she began working with Bancroft, was in tears Tuesday as she told The Times: "I don't know if we'll ever see the particular likes of her again…. I am blessed to have ever been in her presence. I am devastated…. But she leaves us with that great, throaty rasp and that wicked sense of humor."

Arthur Penn, director of the stage and screen versions of "The Miracle Worker," called Bancroft "a magnificent actress, a woman of rich, rich emotion and great humor."

Dustin Hoffman, who played the callow post-collegiate youth to Bancroft's world-weary Mrs. Robinson in "The Graduate," said Tuesday that he could not think of her in the past tense.

"She was one of the most alive people I ever met," he told The Times. "Such exuberance, and she had this laugh in her that filled her from head to toe. I can see her, see her laughing right now."

Mike Nichols, who directed "The Graduate," called Bancroft a masterful performer and said in a statement Tuesday, "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."

Anne Bancroft dies; turned Mrs. Robinson into metaphor (ROGER EBERT, 6/08/05, Chicago Sun-Times)
Her long-running marriage with Brooks was a high-wire act between two quick-witted verbal acrobats. Brooks cast her in cameos in his "Blazing Saddles" (1974) and "Silent Movie" (1976); they co- starred in Alan Johnson's "To Be Or Not to Be" (1983), and Brooks cast her as a psychic seer in "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" (1995).

In "Silent Movie," her brief but scene-stealing moment comes when she crosses her eyes. In an interview with Brooks, I observed that she seemed able to cross either eye separately.

"How did you get that effect?" I asked. "Effect?" Brooks said. "That was no effect, that was Annie! She can really do that! That's why I married her. Twelve years ago, we're sitting in 21, I'm in love with her, I ask, 'Come on, how am I doin'?' And in reply, she crosses her eyes like that. Now I know it's love. For years, I've been searching for the right role for Annie. Not 'The Miracle Worker.' Not 'The Pumpkin Eater.' Not Mrs. Robinson. The right role, where she can cross her eyes!"

George Anthony, chief of entertainment programming for the CBC, remembers that Bancroft and Brooks were a "genuine bonafide love match, in the early years almost as famous for their public battles as Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Todd." He recalls one of their fights when he grabbed her arm and she pulled away from him. Anthony's story:

"'Don't you dare touch my instrument'!" she raged, in her highest Actors Studio dudgeon.

"'Oh, so this is your instrument?'

"'Yes. This is my instrument!'

"'Okay. Play 'Melancholy Baby'."

She was Italian, he was Jewish, together they were electric. In person, she was as funny as he was, but he was always on; she sometimes took a break. Their careers had ups and downs. Brooks had a box-office slump with such later films as "Spaceballs" (1987) and "Life Stinks" (1991), then came back with a musical version of his 1968 comedy "The Producers" that became one of the biggest hits in Broadway history.

She started in the movies, as she was fond of observing, at the bottom of the ladder, claiming to have played the title role in "Gorilla at Large" (1954). After more forgettable roles, she moved to Broadway for her two Tony-winning performances and other successes, and returned to Hollywood much further up the ladder. She appeared in some 65 films and made-for-TV movies and miniseries, notably as Jenny Churchill in "Young Winston" (1972), Greta Garbo's biggest fan in "Garbo Talks!" (1984), a book lover in "84 Charing Cross Road" (1987), the title role in "The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All" (1994), and a rich Italian princess in "Up at the Villa" (2000).

When the stage version of "The Producers" opened in Chicago before moving to Broadway, it was clear on opening night that the musical would be a huge hit. At the party afterward, I asked her what she was doing. "I keep retiring," she said. "Then I get offered something. Then I retire again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 7, 2005 10:29 PM

Rest in peace lovely lady.

Posted by: erp at June 7, 2005 10:32 PM

Those kinds of coincidences are eerie. I was on a spree of downloading Ella Fitzgerald a couple of days before she died. Again, didn't even know she was ill (or even still alive, to tell you the truth).

Posted by: ted welter at June 7, 2005 10:50 PM

She was 35 when she was in the Graduate. I was 19, and I thought she was old.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at June 7, 2005 11:25 PM

I know from nothing about their marriage, but living with Mel Brooks has got to require special abilities.

Posted by: ghostcat at June 8, 2005 1:00 AM

As was I, but when she was crossing and uncrossing her legs and spreading, she was hot.

Posted by: jd watson at June 8, 2005 4:19 AM

I was 21 and just out of the Army when I seen the Graduate. I agree with jd. If only I could have had such luck with a hot older woman.

Posted by: AllenS at June 8, 2005 5:54 AM

I just saw The Graduate for the first time a couple of weeks ago (I'm 31) and she was a total babe.
Their son, Max Brooks also wrote the excellent Zombie Survival Guide which I highly recommend for anyone looking to arm themselves against the coming apocalypse.

Posted by: Governor Breck at June 8, 2005 10:02 AM

Unfortunately, the movie is unwatchable.

Posted by: David Cohen at June 8, 2005 7:53 PM