The Oscar-winning actress who hated being called 'Mrs Robinson' dies aged 73

Click to follow
The Independent US

The distinguished stage, television and screen actress, Anne Bancroft, who was never able to push her reputation beyond the impact of her role as the iconic Mrs Robinson in the 1967 film The Graduate, died of cancer at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York yesterday. She was aged 73.

The distinguished stage, television and screen actress, Anne Bancroft, who was never able to push her reputation beyond the impact of her role as the iconic Mrs Robinson in the 1967 film The Graduate, died of cancer at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York yesterday. She was aged 73.

Ms Bancroft, with her signature raven hair enlivened in later years with broad streaks of grey, will always be remembered best for those scenes in The Gruduate where, as a middle-aged woman with a dusky voice and insistent eyes, she steered a nervous and much younger Dustin Hoffman into her hotel bed.

Married to the comic actor and director Mel Brooks, she achieved her highest accolades in 1963 when she was awarded a Best Actress Oscar for playing the role of a teacher instructing a young Helen Keller in the film The Miracle Worker.

A spokesman for Mr Brooks, John Barlow, confirmed her death in the New York hospital last night. The cause was uterine cancer, he added.

In a long career, the Bronx-born Ms Bancroft was nominated for an Oscar three other times for her roles in The Pumpkin Eater by Harold Pinter (1964), The Turning Point (1977) and Agnes of God (1985).

It was the awkward and nerdy Mr Hoffman who, playing Benjamin Braddock, delivered arguably the most famous line of The Graduate - directed by Mike Nichols with a soulful soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel - as he found himself entrapped by the determined, cigarette-puffing mother of his girlfriend. "Mrs Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. ... Aren't you?"

In a 2003 interview she voiced frustration that she remained identified only with Mrs Robinson almost 40 years after The Graduate was released. "I am quite surprised that with all my work, and some of it is very, very good, that nobody talks about The Miracle Worker," she said. "We're talking about Mrs Robinson. I understand the world ... I'm just a little dismayed that people aren't beyond it yet."

Ms Bancroft originally won a Tony Award playing the poor-sighted teacher Annie Sullivan, the teacher of the deaf and blind Keller, in The Miracle Worker on Broadway. She was then cast in a film version of the story that gave her the Oscar.

Born Anna Maria Louise Italiano in 1931, she was told by the Hollywood studios to pick a name that sounded less ethnic. She settled on Bancroft, because, she once remarked, "it sounded dignified". In those early Hollywood years at the start of the 1950s, after many roles on television, she took parts in a series of mostly undistinguished films but, unlike many other actresses at the time, was never without work. Her first film, released in 1952 and long forgotten, was called Don't Bother to Knock.

Always a favourite among her own peers, Ms Bancroft was widely praised for her flexibility as well as her determination to dig as deeply as possible into her characters. To grasp how it was to be the young Keller, she even took to wearing tape over her eyes. In preparing to play Golda Meir, the former Israeli prime minister, in In Search of Peace she traveled to Israel to watch the prime minister in action. Over the years she played many parts. Arthur Penn, who directed her twice on Broadway, including in The Miracle Worker, once commented: "More happens in her face in 10 seconds than happens in most women's faces in 10 years."

After a first marriage in the early Fifties to a building contractor that lasted only three years, Ms Bancroft subsequently re-married, this time to Mr Brooks, best known for the film and stage versions of The Producers. That marriage was in 1964 and endured until her death yesterday. She left behind one son, Maximilian, and a grandson.

Fans will also remember her best playing the American-born mother of Winston Churchill in the film Young Winston and as an American writer who conducts a long-range romance with a London bookseller, played by Anthony Hopkins, in the film 84 Charing Cross Road.

Other films in which she took less important roles included The Hindenburg, The Elephant Man and Honeymoon in Vegas, with Nicolas Cage. Most recently, Ms Bancroft starred as Ben Stiller's mother in the 2000 romantic comedy Keeping the Faith and as a con artist opposite Sigourney Weaver in Heartbreakers.

She also appeared in four of Mr Brooks' films. She had an uncredited cameo in Blazing Saddles and starred in Silent Movie, To Be or Not to Be and Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

Comments