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Bancroft, Anne
Written by Diana Saenger   

ANNE BANCROFT PROFILE

Oscar and Tony-winner Anne Bancroft was a consummate actress of stage and screen who endeared her fans in many different roles during her long career. Here death on June 6, 2005 from cancer was a sad loss to all who enjoyed her exceptional work.

upatthevillacmg.jpg Bancroft was born Anna Maria Italiano on September 17, 1931 in the Bronx, New York to Italian immigrant parents. Her father (Michael) was a patternmaker, and her mother (Mildred) a telephone operator. She showed her early acting chops at the age of two, always singing and dancing around the house. So it was natural after high school when she wanted to become a lab technician that her mother insisted she attend the New York American Academy of Dramatic Arts instead.

 

Up At The Villa USA Films

Under the name Anne Marno in the early 1950s, Bancroft found work in television episodes on many popular TV shows such as Lux Video Theatre and The Alcoa Hour. Another lucky break came when she screen tested for 20th Century Fox, was offered a contract and went to Hollywood. She chose her new last name from a book of names.

Bancroft made her film debut in 1952 in Don't Bother to Knock. She worked in supporting actress roles in many movies including Treasure of the Golden Condor (1953), Gloria at Large (1954), New York Confidential (1955) and The Restless Breed (1957). In 1954 Bancroft married building contractor Martin A. May. They divorced in 1957.

Disillusioned with Hollywood, Bancroft moved back to New York and auditioned for several plays. She landed roles in two William Gibson plays that would once again change her luck. Director Arthur Penn, who directed her award-winning Broadway performances in The Miracle Worker and Two for the Seesaw said about Bancroft at the time, "More happens in her face in ten seconds than happens in most women's faces in ten years."

Bancroft always maintained that Penn had the greatest impact on her career. She won a Tony for Best Actress for her portrayal as Sullivan (in Miracle) on the Broadway stage, and another for Best Supporting Actress opposite Henry Fonda in Two for the Seesaw.

Penn also directed the film version of The Miracle Worker (1962), which also starred Bancroft and was her favorite and one of her best. She won the Oscar for Best Actress in her role as Anne Sullivan, the teacher to the young Helen Keller (Patty Duke).

Mel Brooks and Bancroft met while appearing together on a TV talk show. He was smitten with her, found out where she liked to eat and accidentally bumped into her there. Bancroft said in several interviews that she loved Mel's humor. The couple married at New York City Hall in 1964, where a passer-by served as their witness.

Bancroft's talent only improved with time, and she found many favorable roles during the 1960s including The Pumpkin Eater (1964), The Slender Thread (1965) and John Ford's 7 Women (1966). Most people, however, remember Bancroft for her provocative Oscar-nominated role as a seductress in The Graduate (1967) directed by Mike Nichols.

In the famous film, her younger co-star Dustin Hoffman delivered the famous line when he realized his girlfriend's mother was coming on to him at her house: "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you Mrs. Robinson?"

New York Times writer Bosley Crowther called Bancroft's performance in the film, a sullenly contemptuous and voracious performance.

By now Bancroft had nothing to prove by doing movie role after movie role, and took some time off between films for her family. Her and Mel's son, Max, was born in 1972. Her 70s films include Young Winston (1972), a small role in Blazing Saddles (her husband's film) in 1974, The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975) and The Turning Point (1977) with Shirley MacLaine, which earned Bancroft another Oscar nomination.

Bancroft was nominated for another Tony in 1978 as Best Actress (Play) for Golda, in which she played the title character, Golda Meir. Bancroft and Brooks made their only film together in 1983, the comedy To Be or Not to Be, which a popular Broadway play was also.

The 1980s brought more good roles for Bancroft in films such as Garb Talks (1984) and yet another Oscar nomination for Bancroft's portrayal of a mother superior in Agnes of God (1985) with Jane Fonda. In 1987 Bancroft starred in 84 Charing Cross Road with Anthony Hopkins.

In much of the 1990s Bancroft returned to TV, but did some films. She appeared in Honeymoon in Vegas in 1992 as Nicolas Cage's mother. Her roles in TVs Mrs. Cage (1992) and Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (1997) on PBS earned Bancroft two Emmy nominations.

In 1995 Bancroft tipped toward her comedic side as the chain-smoking, coupon-clipping mother in Jodie Foster's Home for the Holidays. In 1997 she played a cunning Senator in G. I. Jane. Bancroft tried her hand at directing the same year with Fatso, starring Dom DeLuise. The film did not do well.

Great Expectations 20th Century Fox

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Bancroft impressed her audience once again with her exceptional performance in Great Expectations (1998) as the eccentric Mrs. Dinsmoor, a wealthy and recluse made bitter by the fact that she was deserted on her wedding day 20 years earlier. Bancroft held nothing back in her performance. Also in 1998 Bancroft took on a different role as the voice of the Queen in DreamWorks' Antz. Bancroft said it was the script that enticed her to do the film. There's nothing that will get an actor quicker than a good script, because they are not easy to find, she said.

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Antz DreamWorks

Tim Johnson, co-director of the film, said about Bancroft, We hit a home run by getting Anne. She brings a regal power to the voice of the Queen, as well as a material presence.

In 1999 Bancroft became the 15th performer to win the Triple Crown of acting. Oscar: Best Actress, The Miracle Worker (1962), Tonys: Best Supporting Actress-Play, Two for the Seesaw (1958) & Best Actress-Play, The Miracle Worker (1960), and Emmy: Best Supporting Actress-Miniseries/Movie, Deep in My Heart (1999).

She is still one of only eight actors to have won both a Tony and an Oscar for having portrayed the same roles on stage and screen. The others are Joel Grey (Cabaret , Shirley Booth (Come Back, Little Sheba), Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady), Yul Brynner (The King and I), Paul Scofield (A Man For All Seasons), Jose Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac) and Jack Albertson (The Subject Was Roses).

In recent years Bancroft appeared in Keeping the Faith (2000), Up at the Villa (2000) and Heartbreakers (2001). In Up At the Villa Bancroft played a Princess and queen bee in an Anglo-American expatriate community in Florence. Producer of the film, Geoff Steir, said about Bancroft, "Anne is an actress of great complexity who can convey all the elements of the Princess's character. She was the perfect choice for the role."

Bancroft had set a trademark in many of her films by habitually removing an earring before answering a telephone. Her fans will miss this favorite moment and the fine acting talent in which she expertly brought so many film characters to life.

 

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