As many an aging actress knows, Hollywood can be an unfriendly place for no-longer-young leading ladies and sex symbols. And yet, the dark-haired, sensuous Anne Bancroft did just that-maintaining a healthy career in an industry that prizes youth and the next big thing. But Bancroft, who seduced critics, fans and Dustin Hoffman as suburban succubus Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate (1967), never relied on looks alone.
She was always the total package–beautiful, distinctive features, witty, seductive eyes and acting talent radiating from her pores.
After spending the 1950s plying her trade in schlocky Hollywood fare such as Gorilla at Large (1954) and Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), Bancroft soon returned to the theater in her native New York City. The Bronx-born Italian-American Bancroft (nee Anna Maria Louisa Italiano) proved a sensation onstage, winning Tony’s for “Two for the Seesaw” (1958) and “The Miracle Worker” (1960), playing Helen Keller’s caregiver/mentor, a role she would reprise in the eponymous film version (1962), winning a Best Actress Oscar®.
The Miracle Worker was of course the first of Bancroft’s iconic roles. In director Mike Nichol’s landmark The Graduate (1967), her turn as bored, libidinous housewife Mrs. Robinson earned her an Oscar® nod and the unofficial title of Most Desirable Older Woman in film.
No role after that garnered Bancroft as much attention or notoriety, but the actress continued to work steadily. She starred in The Turning Point (1977) as one half of a bitter rivalry between former prima ballerinas; directed and produced Fatso (1980), and appeared in husband Mel Brooks’ (they married in 1964) To Be or Not to Be (1983).
She also lent her talent to such 1980s hits as Agnes of God (1985) and Torch Song Trilogy (1988) and in small but lauded films such as 84 Charing Cross Road (1986). The work kept on coming through the 1990s and into the new millennium, with Bancroft appearing in Point of No Return (1993), How to Make an American Quilt (1995), G.I. Jane (1997), the Ethan Hawke/Gwyneth Paltrow Great Expectations (1998) and Up at the Villa (2000).
Sadly she died in 2005 of cancer. She was 73.