“Film critics said I gave a voice to the fear we all have, that we'll reach a point in our lives, look around and realize that all the things we said we'd do and become will never come to be and that we're ordinary.” Anne Bancroft (on her role in “The Graduate”)
Actress Anne Bancroft (1931-2005) first left her mark on Broadway with performances in William Gibson's “Two for the Seesaw” (1958) and “The Miracle Worker” (1959), both of which were directed by Arthur Penn. She made a victorious comeback in 1962 when she recreated her Tony Award winning portrayal of Anne Sullivan in the feature film version of “The Miracle Worker,” which reunited her with Penn, Gibson and the young Patty Duke. For her spectacular acting performance, she took home an Academy Award, a National Board of Review Award, a BAFTA Award, the Prize San Sebastián at the 1962 San Sebastián International Film Festival and a Golden Globe nomination. She, however, did not reach cultural icon status until she starred as the seductive Mrs. Robinson in Mike Nichols' big screen adaptation of “The Graduate” (1967), where she earned a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination. Bancroft also earned Oscar nominations for her role in “The Pumpkin Eater” (1964, also won a Golden Globe Award, a Cannes Film Festival Award and a BAFTA Award), “The Turning Point” (1977) and “Agnes of God” (1985). Other notable film credits include “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” (1975), “To Be or Not to Be” (1983), “Garbo Talks” (1984),“'night, Mother” (1986), “84 Charing Cross Road” (1987), “How to Make an American Quilt” (1995), “G.I. Jane” (1997), “Great Expectations” (1998), “Keeping the Faith” (2000) and “Up at the Villa” (2000). The versatile performer also enjoyed significant success on television. In 1999, she became the 15th actress to win the Triple Crown for acting after she received an Emmy Award for her scene stealing role of Geraldine 'Gerry' Eileen Cummins in the CBS television film “Deep in My Heart” (1999). First winning an Emmy Award in 1970 as the star of the variety special “Annie, the Women in the Life of a Man,” Bancroft went on to receive Emmy nominations for “Broadway Bound” (1992), “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All” (1994), “Haven” (2001) and “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone” (2003, also netted a SAG nomination and a Golden Satellite nomination).
Bancroft had been married twice. She and second husband Mel Brooks shared a son together named Max Brooks. The three are all Emmy winners.
Childhood and Family:
Anne Bancroft was born Anna Maria Louise Italiano on September 17, 1931, in The Bronx, New York, to Italian immigrants. Father Michael Italiano was a telephone operator and mother Michael Italiano made dress patterns to support the family. Anne, known by family and close friends as Annie, had two sisters named Joanne (older) and Phyllis (younger). She began taking dance and acting lessons at age 4, but had switched her ambition to becoming a lab technician by the time she graduated high school. However, thanks to her mother's encouragement, she enrolled at New York City's American Academy of Dramatic Arts and completed the two year program in 1948. She also trained at the HB Studio, the Actors Studio in NYC and the American Film Institute's Directing Workshop for Women at UCLA.
On July 1, 1953, Anne married Martin May, but the couple divorced on February 13, 1957. Anne married comedian/filmmaker Mel Brooks (born on June 28, 1926) on August 5, 1964, at New York City Hall, where a pedestrian became their witness. Upon the marriage, she converted to his husband's religion Judaism. She recalled, “When (Mel Brooks) told his Jewish mother he was marrying an Italian girl, she said, ‘Bring her over. I'll be in the kitchen with my head in the oven.’”
Anne gave birth to her first child, Maximilian “Max” Brooks, on May 22, 1972. He is an actor and a writer who won an Emmy in 2002 for his writing contribution to the hit sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live.” Anne was also the stepmother of Stephanie, Nicky and Eddie from Brooks' previous marriage.
On June 6, 2005, Anne died at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City of uterine cancer. She was 74. The death surprised many since she was very private and had not published her illness. Anne was survived by her husband, her son, Max, a grandson, her mother and two sisters.
The Miracle Worker
In 1950, Anne Bancroft was discovered by a television producer while performing at a neighborhood playhouse. First billed as Anne Marno, she made her TV debut in the Studio One production “The Torrents of Spring,“ which was broadcasted on April 17, 1950. She then appeared in the productions “The Man Who Had Influence” (1950) and “Wintertime” (1951). More gigs followed in the early 1950s, such as appearing in “Suspense,” “The Adventures of Ellery Queen,” “Danger” and “Lights Out,” before she headed to Hollywood and made her big screen debut in Roy Ward Baker's drama “Don’t Bother to Knock” (1952), where she played Lyn Lesley, opposite Richard Widmark as Jed Towers and Marilyn Monroe as Nell Forbes. During this period, she began using the surname Bancroft.
Following her debut, Bancroft appeared in a number of movies, including Mitchell Leisen's “Tonight We Sing” (1953), Harmon Jones' “The Kid from Left Field” (1953) and “Gorilla at Large” (1954), Hugo Fregonese's “The Raid” (1954), “Demetrius and the Gladiators” (1954), Russell Rouse's “New York Confidential” (1955), Maxwell Shane's “The Naked Street” (1955), “Walk the Proud Land” (1956), Jacques Tourneur's “Nightfall” (1957), Allan Dawn's “The Restless Breed” (1957) and Howard W. Koch's “The Girl in Black Stockings” (1957). Her subsequent TV credits included “Lux Video Theatre” (5 episodes, 1954-1957), “Climax” (2 episodes, 1956-1957), “The Alcoa Hour” (2 episodes, 1956-1957) and “The Frank Sinatra Show” (1 episode, 1958).
Disappointed with her film work, Bancroft decided to move back to New York City in the late 1950s and made her Broadway debut opposite Henry Fonda in the critically acclaimed two character play “Two for the Seesaw” (1958), written by William Gibson. Under the direction of Arthur Penn, she won a Tony in the category of Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play. She enjoyed further success with her lead role of Annie Sullivan in “The Miracle Worker” (1959), alongside the then-10 year old Petty Duke. From the same writer and director of “Two for the Seesaw,” the Broadway production was a hit and collected four Tony Awards, including Best Play, Best Direction and Best Actress (for Bancroft).
In 1962, Bancroft, Duke, Penn and Gibson were reunited for the big screen adaptation of “The Miracle Worker.” Despite the lack of financial support from the film studio United Artists because Penn insisted on using his original star to play Anne Sullivan, the film was a critical success and won Bancroft and Duke Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role, respectively. Bancroft also nabbed a 1962 National Board of Review for Best Actress, a 1963 BAFTA for Best Foreign Actress, the Prize San Sebastián for Best Actress, a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Actress - Drama and a Golden Laurel nomination for Top Female Dramatic Performance.
After the triumphant comeback to feature films, Bancroft was cast in the starring role of Jo Armitage, a woman who discovers her husband (played by Peter Finch) has been unfaithful to her, in the British film “The Pumpkin Eater” (1964), which was Harold Pinter's adaptation of Penelope Mortimer's 1962 novel of the same name. The role brought the actress a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress - Drama, a BAFTA for Best Foreign Actress, a Cannes Film Festival for Best Actress and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Bancroft followed it up as Inga Dyson in Sydney Pollacks' “The Slender Thread” (1965, opposite Sidney Poitier) and replaced an ill Patricia Neal in the role of Doctor Cartwright in John Ford's “Seven Women” (1966), alongside Margaret Leighton, Flora Robson and Sue Lyon. In “The Graduate” (1967), a movie helmed by Mike Nichols and adapted from the 1963 novel of the same name by Charles Webb, she delivered a memorable portrayal of an older woman who seduces her daughter's boyfriend and was nominated for her next Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance. The role also brought her a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress - Musical/Comedy, a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress and a Golden Laurel nomination for Female Dramatic Performance. The role and her performance made the actress a cultural icon.
Meanwhile, on stage, Bancroft resurfaced in a 1963 Broadway production of “Mother Courage and Her Children,” which was written by the German dramatist and poet Bertolt Brecht. From September 1965 to January 1966, she starred opposite Jason Robards on Broadway in the production of “The Devils,” helmed by Michael Cacoyannis. Bancroft next worked with “The Graduate” director Nichols in the Broadway revival of “The Little Foxes” (1967-1968), where she played the role of Regina Giddings. Other cast members of the play included Richard A. Dysart, Margaret Leighton, E.G. Marshall, George C. Scott and Austin Pendleton. She closed out the decade with a performance in a Broadway production of “A Cry for Players,” which ran from September 1968 to February 1969.
In 1970, Bancroft headlined the acclaimed CBS variety special “Annie, the Women in the Life of a Man” and won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety or Musical Program - Variety and Popular Music, which she shared with the show's executive producer Joseph Cates and producer Martin Charnin. In 1972, she returned to the big screen as Churchill's mother, Jennie Jerome, in the biopic “Young Winston,” based on the early life of British politician Winston Churchill. She next made a cameo appearance in her husband Mel Brooks' comedy “Blazing Saddles” (1974) and was cast opposite Jack Lemmon in the film version of Neil Simon's “The Prisoner of Second Avenue,” for which she received a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress for her performance as Edna Edison. Bancroft then portrayed Ursula in Robert Wise's “The Hindenburg” (1975), supported Margaux and Mariel Hemingway and Chris Sarandon in the Lamont Johnson directed drama “Lipstick” (1976) and appeared in the comedy “Silent Movie” (1976), which starred and was directed by Brooks.
After giving a memorable performance as Mary Magdalene in the NBC miniseries “Jesus of Nazareth” (1977), helmed by Franco Zeffirelli, Bancroft was cast as Emma Jacklin in the drama film “The Turning Point” (1977), which was a story of two women who were childhood friends and ex-competitors in the world of ballet. Under the direction of Herbert Ross, she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama, a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role and a National Society of Film Critics for Best Actress. Also that year, she played Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in a Broadway production of “Golda” and was nominated for a Tony for Best Performance in a Leading Actress in a Play for the role.
Bancroft made her feature film directorial debut with “Fatso” (198), which she also wrote and starred in. Later that same year, she assumed the role of actress Madge Kendal in the David Lynch directed “The Elephant Man,” which was produced by her husband's company. She then starred with her husband in the movie “To Be or Not to Be” (1983), a remake of the 1942 film of the same title. Playing Anna Bronski, she was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical. Bancroft also picked up Golden Globe nominations for her performances in Sidney Lumet's “Garbo Talks” (1984), Norman Jewison's “Agnes of God” (1985, as Mother Miriam Ruth, also received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress) and “'night, Mother” (1986), adapted by Marsha Norman from his Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name. She was then landed a BAFTA nomination for her portrayal of Helene Hanff in “84 Charing Cross Road” (1987), which was directed by David Hugh Jones and produced by her husband Brooks. It was followed by roles in “Torch Song Trilogy” (1988, as the mother of Harvey Fierstein) and Carl Reiner's “Bert Rigby, You're a Fool” (1989, as Meredith Perlestein).
1990 saw Bancroft star as Maxine (Max) Chandler in the British TV series “Max & Freddie.” She remained on television for the TV movie adaptation of Neil Simon's “Broadway Bond” (1992), where she played Kate Jerome, and the PBS drama “Mrs. Cage” (1992), in which she starred as Lillian Cage. The latter two roles brought the actress Emmy nominations in the categories of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Special and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special, respectively. She picked up another Emmy nomination for playing the title character in the CBS movie “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All” (1994), but did not win again until she played the supporting role of Geraldine Eileen Cummins in the drama “Deep in My Heart” (1999). She maintained her big screen presence throughout the decade with roles in “Honeymoon in Vegas” (1992), “Love Potion No. 9” (1992), “Point of No Return” (1993), “Malice” (1993), “Mr. Jones” (1993), “How to Make an American Quilt” (1995, as Glady Joe Cleary), “Home for the Holidays” (1995, as Adele Larson), Brooks' “Dracula: Dead and Loving It” (1995), “The Sunchaser” (1996), “G.I. Jane” (1997, as Lillian DeHaven), “Critical Care” (1997) and “Great Expectations” (1998, as Ms. Dinsmoor). Her voice was also heard as the Queen in the animated film “Antz” (1998).
Entering the new millennium, Bancroft teamed up with Ben Stiller, Edward Norton and Jenna Elfman in “Keeping the Faith” (2000), Norton's feature film directorial debut. In the movie, she played Stiller's domineering Jewish mother, Ruth Schram. She went on to portray Princess San Ferdinando in “Up at the Villa” (2000), a drama helmed by Philip Haas and starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Sean Penn, had a cameo as a con artist in the comedy film “Heartbreakers” (2001), for director David Mirkin, and played the role of Mama Gruber in the CBS miniseries “Haven” (2001), for which she received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie.
In 2002, Bancroft returned to Broadway in Edward Albee's “The Occupant,” but had to leave the production after six performances because of health reasons. The next year, she rebounded on the small screen costarring with Helen Mirren in the Showtime TV film “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.” Directed by Robert Allan Ackerman, she was nominated for a 2003 Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie, a Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries and a Golden Satellite for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television for her work in the film.
Bancroft voiced Sedessa in the computer animated fantasy film “Delgo” (2008), which was in development since 1999. The film marked the actress' final film and was dedicated to her.
Emmy: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie, “Deep in My Heart,” 1999
American Comedy: Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy, 1996
BAFTA: Best Actress, “84 Charing Cross Road,” 1988
National Board of Review: Best Actress, “The Turning Point,” 1977
Emmy: Outstanding Variety or Musical Program - Variety and Popular Music, “Annie, the Women in the Life of a Man,” 1970
Golden Globe: Best Motion Picture Actress - Musical/Comedy, “The Graduate,” 1968
Golden Globe: Best Motion Picture Actress - Drama, “The Pumpkin Eater,” 1965
BAFTA: Best Foreign Actress, “The Pumpkin Eater,” 1965
Cannes Film Festival: Best Actress, “The Pumpkin Eater,” 1964
Academy Award: Best Actress in a Leading Role, “The Miracle Worker,” 1963
BAFTA: Best Foreign Actress, “The Miracle Worker,” 1963
National Board of Review: Best Actress, “The Miracle Worker,” 1962
San Sebastián International Film Festival: Prize San Sebastián, Best Actress, “The Miracle Worker,” 1962
Tony: Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, “The Miracle Worker,” 1960
Tony: Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Dramatic), “Two For The Seesaw,” 1958