An American actress associated with the method acting school, which she had studied under Lee Strasberg. Respected for her acting prowess and versatility, Bancroft was often acknowledged for her work in film, theatre and television. She won one Academy Award, three BAFTA Awards, two Golden Globes, two Tony Awards and two Emmy Awards, and several other awards and nominations.
She made her film debut in Don't Bother to Knock (1952) and, following a string of supporting film roles during the 1950s, won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in The Miracle Worker (1962), receiving subsequent nominations for her roles in The Pumpkin Eater (1964), The Graduate (1967), The Turning Point (1977), and Agnes of God (1985). Bancroft's other acclaimed movies as a lead actress include Young Winston (1972), The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975), To Be or Not to Be (1983), and 84 Charing Cross Road (1987).
Later in her career, she made the transition back to supporting roles in theatrical films such as Point of No Return (1993), Home for the Holidays (1995), Great Expectations (1998), Antz (1998), Keeping the Faith (2000), and Heartbreakers (2001). She also starred in seven television films, the last of which was The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (2003) for which she received Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations.
Bancroft died of uterine cancer, age 73, in 2005. Among her survivors were her mother Mildred, her husband of 40 years, Mel Brooks, and their son Max Brooks.
Bancroft was born Anna Maria Louisa Italiano in The Bronx, New York, the daughter of Mildred (née DiNapoli; 1907–2010), a telephone operator, and Michael Italiano (1905–2001), a dress pattern maker. Her parents were both children of Italian immigrants. She was brought up as a Roman Catholic. Bancroft graduated from Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx in 1948, and attended HB Studio, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, the Actors Studio, and the American Film Institute's Directing Workshop for Women at the University of California, Los Angeles. After appearing in a number of live television dramas under the name Anne Marno, she was told to change her surname for her film debut in Don't Bother to Knock.
Bancroft was a contract player in the early days of her career just as the studio contract system was ending. She left Hollywood because of the poor quality of roles she was being offered and returned to New York.
In 1958, Bancroft made her Broadway debut as lovelorn, Bronx-accented Gittel Mosca opposite Henry Fonda (as the married man Gittel loves) in William Gibson's two-character play Two for the Seesaw, directed by Arthur Penn. For Gittel, she won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play. (Though her role was quite equal to Fonda's, he, an established film actor, was the star, and so she was eligible in the featured category).
She subsequently won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play in 1960, again with playwright Gibson and director Penn, when she played Annie Sullivan, the sight-impaired, heroically indefatigable Irish girl who teaches the child Helen Keller to communicate in The Miracle Worker.
She took the latter role to Hollywood, and won the Academy Award for Best Actress, with Patty Duke repeating her own success as Helen alongside Bancroft in the 1962 film version of the play. Bancroft had returned to Broadway to star in Mother Courage and Her Children, so Joan Crawford accepted Bancroft's Oscar on her behalf, and later presented the award to her in New York. She is one of the very distinct few to have won an Academy Award and Tony Award for the same role. Bancroft also co-starred as a medieval nun obsessed with a priest opposite Jason Robards in the 1965 Broadway production of John Whiting's play The Devils. Produced by Alexander H. Cohen and directed by Michael Cacoyannis, it ran for a total of 63 performances.
Bancroft received a second Academy Award nomination in 1965 for her performance in The Pumpkin Eater. Her best-known role during this period was as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate (1967), for which she received a third Academy Award nomination. In the film, she played an unhappily married woman who seduces a family friend, the much-younger recent college graduate played by Dustin Hoffman. In the movie, Hoffman's character later dates and falls in love with her daughter. Bancroft was ambivalent about her appearance in The Graduate; she stated in several interviews that the role overshadowed all of her other work. Despite her character becoming an archetype of the "older woman" role, Bancroft was only six years older than Dustin Hoffman.
A CBS television special, Annie: the Women in the Life of a Man (1970), won Bancroft an Emmy Award for her singing and acting. Bancroft is one of a very select few entertainers to win an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony award. She followed that success with a second television special, Annie and The Hoods (1974), which was telecast on ABC and featured her husband Mel Brooks as a guest star. She made an uncredited cameo in the film Blazing Saddles (1974), directed by Brooks. She received a fourth Academy Award nomination for her performance in The Turning Point (1977) opposite Shirley MacLaine, and a fifth nomination for her performance in Agnes of God (1985) opposite Jane Fonda.
Bancroft made her debut as a screenwriter and director in Fatso (1980), in which she starred along with Dom DeLuise. Bancroft was also the original choice to play Joan Crawford in the film Mommie Dearest (1981), but backed out at the eleventh hour, and was replaced by Faye Dunaway. She was also a front-runner for the role of Aurora Greenway in Terms of Endearment (1983), but declined in order to act in the remake of To Be or Not to Be (1983), with her husband Mel Brooks.
During the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s, Bancroft took supporting roles in a number of films in which she co-starred with major film stars, including Honeymoon in Vegas (1992) with Nicolas Cage; Love Potion No. 9 (1992) with Sandra Bullock; Malice (1993) with Nicole Kidman; Point of No Return (1993) with Bridget Fonda; Home for the Holidays (1995) with Robert Downey Jr. and directed by Jodie Foster; How to Make an American Quilt (1995) with Winona Ryder, G.I. Jane (1997) with Demi Moore; Great Expectations (1998) with Gwyneth Paltrow; Keeping the Faith (2000) with Ben Stiller; and Heartbreakers (2001) with Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sigourney Weaver and Gene Hackman. She also lent her voice to the animated film Antz (1998) which also featured performances from Jennifer Lopez, Sharon Stone, and Woody Allen.
Bancroft also starred in several television movies and miniseries, receiving six Emmy Award nominations (winning twice), eight Golden Globe nominations (winning twice), and two Screen Actors Guild Awards. Her final appearance was as herself in a 2004 episode of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm. Her last project was the animated feature Delgo, released posthumously in 2008.
She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6368 Hollywood Boulevard, for her work in television. At the time of her star's installation (1960), she had recently appeared in several TV series.
Marriage and familyBancroft was married to Martin May from July 1, 1953, to February 13, 1957. They had no children.
In 1961, Bancroft met Mel Brooks at a rehearsal for the Perry Como variety show. Bancroft and Brooks married on August 5, 1964, at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau near New York City Hall and were together until her death. In 1972 Bancroft gave birth to her only child, Maximillian Brooks.
They were seen three times on the screen together: once dancing a tango in Brooks's Silent Movie (1976); in his remake of To Be or Not to Be (1983); and in the episode entitled "Opening Night" (2004) of the HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm. They were also in Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995), but never appeared together. Brooks produced the film The Elephant Man (1980), in which Bancroft acted. He also was executive-producer for the film 84 Charing Cross Road (1987) in which she starred.
Both Brooks and Bancroft appeared in season six of The Simpsons. According to the DVD commentary, when Bancroft came to record her lines for the episode "Fear of Flying", the Simpsons writers asked if Brooks had come with her (which he had); she joked, "I can't get rid of him!" In 2010, Brooks credited Bancroft as being the guiding force behind his involvement in developing The Producers and Young Frankenstein for the musical theatre, citing an early meeting as "From that day, until her death on June 5, 2005, we were glued together."
In April 2005, two months before her death, Bancroft became a grandmother when her daughter-in-law Michelle gave birth to a boy, Henry Michael Brooks.
Anne Bancroft died, age 73, of uterine cancer on June 6, 2005, at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Her death surprised many, even some of her friends. She was intensely private and had not released details of her illness. She is interred at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York, near her parents, Mildred (who died in April 2010, five years after her daughter) and Michael Italiano. A white marble monument with a weeping angel adorns her grave. Her last film, Delgo, was dedicated to her memory.
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