Anne Bancroft, known for her perf as the seductress of her daughter’s boyfriend in “The Graduate,” as well as her Oscar-winning role in “The Miracle Worker,” died Monday of uterine cancer in New York. She was 73.
During her long career as a stage, screen and television actress, she won an Oscar, two Tonys and two Emmys.
The longtime spouse of writer-director Mel Brooks won her Oscar for “The Miracle Worker,” which also brought her a second Tony. The first came for “Two for the Seesaw,” the play that made her a star. The Emmys were for variety special “Annie: The Women in the Life of a Man” and TV movie “Deep in My Heart.”
She also received an Oscar nom for her seminal role as Mrs. Robinson opposite a young Dustin Hoffman; posters for the Mike Nichols-helmed pic showed her peeling off a stocking.
The versatile, earthy beauty had two Hollywood careers. The first was as a contract player ingenue in 1950s movies, most of them unmemorable. Then, after her back-to-back Tonys on Broadway and the film version of “The Miracle Worker,” she returned to Hollywood as a top-billed star and, for a while, had her pick of meaty roles such as those in “The Pumpkin Eater,” “The Graduate,” “The Turning Point” and “Agnes of God,” each of which brought her Oscar noms.
A year ago, Daily Variety reported that Brooks had asked Bancroft to appear in the film version of Broadway tuner “The Producers.” Before that, she had bowed out of “Spanglish” due to illness.
Though she never lacked for film roles, particularly in later years, some were supporting roles that gave her little to do.
In real life, she never quite lost the Bronx accent of Anna Maria Louise Italiano, no matter how grande the dame she played. She got her start in radio, first appearing as Anne St. Raymond on a local Peekskill radio station. For her role in the live presentation of Turgenev’s “The Torrents of Spring,” in 1950, she was billed as Anne Italiano.
Next calling herself Anne Marno, she appeared in 49 roles over the next couple of years in various radio programs, supporting herself as a salesgirl and an English teacher to Peruvian singer Yma Sumac.
In 1951, Fox signed her to a contract and Darryl Zanuck changed her name to Anne Bancroft. Her debut came in “Don’t Bother to Knock” in 1952, co-starring the young Marilyn Monroe. Bancroft went on to appear in B pictures such as “Treasure of the Golden Condor” and “The Kid From Left Field.” After “The Raid,” Fox let her contract lapse.
She appeared on early TV shows such as NBC’s Kraft Theater and then returned to the bigscreen for “New York Confidential,” “A Life in the Balance” and “The Naked Street.”
One of her better early roles was in Anthony Mann’s “The Last Frontier.” She also starred for Jacques Tourneur in “Nightfall” and Allan Dwan in “The Restless Breed” in 1957.
She returned to New York and began studying with Herbert Berghof. In 1957, she was recommended to director Fred Coe to play Gittel in “Two for the Seesaw” opposite Henry Fonda. She won a Tony and stayed with the show until 1959, when she and Patty Duke starred in William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker” as Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller, respectively, under the direction of Arthur Penn.
Her perf in the film version of “The Miracle Worker” brought her an Oscar in 1963.
Bancroft returned to the theater that year in Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children,” which did not fare as well as expected. But Jack Clayton’s 1964 British film “The Pumpkin Eater,” with Peter Finch and Maggie Smith, brought her the actress prize at Cannes, the British Film Award for foreign actress and her second Oscar nom.
In 1964, she stepped into John Ford’s “Seven Women” when the original star, Patricia Neal, had a stroke. Though the film was not a hit, Bancroft’s perf was praised. She also starred as a suicidal woman in “The Slender Thread” with Sidney Poitier in 1966.
Her indelible performance as Mrs. Robinson to Hoffman’s Benjamin in Nichols’ seminal ’60s comedy “The Graduate” brought her another Oscar nom. Hoffman delivered the famous line when he realized his girlfriend’s mother was coming on to him in a hotel room: “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me, aren’t you?”
When Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly were not available for “The Turning Point,” Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine filled in, both garnering Oscar noms in 1977 for the ballet-themed drama.
In 1980, she tried her hand at film directing and co-starred with Dom DeLuise in “Fatso,” a moderately well-received effort.
Bancroft also appeared in husband Brooks’ “Silent Movie,” “To Be or Not to Be” and Brooksfilm’s production of “The Elephant Man,” directed by David Lynch.
Her performance as a nun in “Agnes of God” brought her a fifth Oscar nomination in 1985. She continued to act on stage, TV and screen, and during the 1990s had a successful run in TV movies, winning an Emmy for “Deep in My Heart” and netting Emmy noms for “Broadway Bound,” “Mrs. Cage,” “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,” “Haven” and “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.” She recently lent her voice to upcoming animated feature “Delgo.”
In 1953 Bancroft married Texas oilman Martin May; they divorced four years later. In 1961 she met Brooks and they were married in 1964. Their son Max, a TV writer and actor, was born in 1972.