abancroft.jpgAnne Bancroft, an Oscar, Emmy and Tony award-winning actress who was best known for working miracles and seducing young men on screen, died on June 6 of uterine cancer. She was 73.
Born in the Bronx to Italian immigrants, Anna Maria Louise Italiano decided to become an actress when she was only nine years old. Anne fulfilled that dream in 1948 when she enrolled at the American Academy for Dramatic Arts. The formal education gave her a solid base of artistic knowledge, but Anne always maintained that the greatest school for actors was live television. She appeared in dozens of TV dramas as a young woman before signing with Twentieth Century Fox in 1952. The studio made her change her name to one that sounded less “ethnic,” and gave her a glamorous makeover.
After appearing in a series of B- and C-grade pictures, Bancroft returned to New York in 1958 to appear opposite Henry Fonda in “Two for the Seesaw.” Her Broadway debut as quirky, New York bohemian Gittel Mosca earned Bancroft a Tony Award for best supporting actress. A year later, she received a second Tony, this time for best actress, playing Annie Sullivan, the teacher who helped a deaf and blind girl named Helen Keller communicate, in the Broadway hit “The Miracle Worker.” When Bancroft appeared in the 1962 film version of “The Miracle Worker,” she won the Academy Award for best actress as well.
Bancroft became a pop culture icon five years later when she tackled the role of seductive Mrs. Robinson opposite a young Dustin Hoffman in the film ”The Graduate.” The movie made older women seem more sexually appealing to younger men, turned Hoffman into a star and earned Bancroft another Oscar nod. She also received Academy nominations for ”The Pumpkin Eater,” “The Turning Point” and “Agnes of God.”
Acting is all about choices and Bancroft made some unique ones during her five decades in show business. Always willing to play against type, she embodied a variety of characters, including Prime Minister Golda Meir of Israel in the play “Golda,” a gypsy in the film ”Love Potion No. 9,” a crippled violinist in the play “Duet for One,” a suicidal housewife in the movie “A Slender Thread,” a centenarian in the TV movie ”Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,” the mother of a mixed-race child in the TV movie “Deep in My Heart” (for which she won an Emmy), Mary Magdalene in Franco Zeffirelli’s miniseries “Jesus of Nazareth,” spunky American writer Helene Hanff in the film version of “84 Charing Cross Road,” a feminist U.S. senator in the movie “G.I. Jane” and a rich eccentric in the film “Great Expectations.”
To heighten her understanding of the craft, Bancroft later attended the Actors Studio in New York and the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women at UCLA. She also wrote and directed the 1980 film ”Fatso,” starring Dom DeLuise.
Bancroft is survived by comedian-director-producer Mel Brooks, her husband of 41 years, and their son, author Maximilian Brooks. She acted in three of Brooks’ comedies (“Silent Movie,” “To Be or Not to Be”‘ and “Dracula: Dead and Loving It”) and was credited with encouraging him to adapt his screenplay ”The Producers” into a Broadway musical. ”The Producers” became a box office smash in 2001, and took home 12 Tonys. In 2002, Bancroft returned to her theatre roots to play sculptor Louise Nevelson in Edward Albee’s “Occupant,” but the show closed during previews when Bancroft contracted pneumonia.
Bancroft’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 6368 Hollywood Blvd. The lights of Broadway were dimmed last week in her honor.
Listen to a Tribute From NPR
Charlie Rose: Remembering Anne Bancroft, June 8, 2005 Download an Interview With Charlie Rose and Anne Bancroft