Anne Bancroft, one of America’s great actresses, died yesterday at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City of uterine cancer. She was 73.
Her range was extraordinary. She was Mrs. Robinson, who seduced her daughter’s would-be boyfriend (Dustin Hoffman) in The Graduate, and she was Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher in The Miracle Worker.
In 50 years on stage, screen and television, Bancroft did just about everything there was to do — Brecht’s “Mother Courage” and mother superior at a convent, an aging ballerina and, Prime Minister Golda Meir of Israel – and did it better than almost anyone.
Arthur Penn, who directed her in two Broadway plays, said “More happens in her face in 10 seconds than happens in most women’s faces in 10 years,” according to the New York Times.
Born on September 17, 1931 in the Bronx, Anna Maria Louisa Italiano was the daughter of a patternmaker, and a telephone operator. At 2, she was singing and dancing.
After attending the New York Academy of Dramatic Arts, she began to work in television, appearing, as Anne Marno, in dozens of dramatic shows. In 1951, she was signed by 20th Century Fox, which changed her name to Anne Bancroft. After a run of really mediocre films, she returned to New York, appeared in “Two for Seesaw” with Henry Fonda and “The Miracle Worker,” both written by Wiliam Gibson and directed by Penn, and won fame, acclaim, two Tonys, a return trip to Hollywood, five Oscar nominations and one Oscar.
In 1964 she married writer/director/comedian Mel Brooks, who survives her along with their son, Maximilian, and a grandson.
Some years ago, the Brooks built a house on La Mesa Drive in Santa Monica. At the time, its design triggered some protests from neighbors, but today it seems entirely of a piece with the street.In addition to being a great actress, Bancroft was, by all accounts, a great dame, and irreplaceable.