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Anne Bancroft: Mrs. Robinson in 'The Graduate' Has Died

Anne Bancroft Mrs. Robinson The Graduate Dustin HoffmanAnne Bancroft, Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate dead at 73

Anne Bancroft, Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate and the longtime wife of Mel Brooks, died of uterine cancer on July 6 at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. The Oscar-, Emmy-, and Tony Award-winning actress was 73. (Image: Dustin Hoffman as Ben, Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson The Graduate.)

Anne Bancroft movies

During Anne Bancroft's five-decade film career, she either starred or was featured in about 50 movies. Following a brief stint on television, Bancroft (born Anna Maria Louisa Italiano on September 17, 1931, in The Bronx, New York) entered movies via 20th Century Fox in the early '50s.

At Fox, she was cast either in supporting roles in A productions – Don't Bother to Knock (1952), starring Marilyn Monroe and Richard Widmark; the less successful The Robe follow-up Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), starring Victor Mature and Susan Hayward – or as leads in B movies, e.g., the dreary Tonight We Sing (1952), the laughable Gorilla at Large (1954).

Her film career going nowhere – she and Fox had parted ways in 1955 – Bancroft returned to New York in 1957. On Broadway, she landed the role of Gittel Mosca opposite Henry Fonda in Two for the Seesaw, which resulted in a Tony Award win for Best Actress in a Featured Role.

Next came the chance to play Anne Sullivan opposite Patty Duke's Helen Keller in the Arthur Penn-directed The Miracle Worker. Bancroft won a second Tony for her efforts, this time as Best Actress in a Leading Role. She would also win a Best Actress Academy Award for playing the same role under Penn's direction in the 1962 movie version.

Now officially a movie star (though never a box office draw), Anne Bancroft would be cast in a number of top roles in major productions in the next quarter of a century. She received her second Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance as Peter Finch's dejected wife in Jack Clayton's British-made The Pumpkin Eater (1964); was a suicidal woman getting help from Sidney Poitier in The Slender Thread (1965); and replaced Patricia Neal, who had a supporting role in the Broadway version of The Miracle Worker, in John Ford's 1966 critical and box office flop Seven Women.

Most successful of all, Anne Bancroft once again replaced Neal (and Doris Day) in the role of bourgeois seductress Mrs. Robinson in Mike Nichols' epoch-making blockbuster The Graduate (1967). For introducing Dustin Hoffman's suburban geek to the joys of illicit sex, Bancroft received her third Oscar nod. Mrs. Robinson remains her best-known character and most iconic performance.

Later Oscar nominations, lost movie roles

Anne Bancroft's two additional Oscar nominations were for her ageing ballerina and Shirley MacLaine's rival in Herbert Ross' unofficial Old Acquaintance remake, The Turning Point (1977) – Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins had starred as rival writers in the 1943 original – and for her cunning Mother Superior, trying to handle outsider Jane Fonda and mysteriously pregnant nun Meg Tilly in Norma Jewison's Agnes of God (1985).

Among the major roles for which Anne Bancroft was considered, but that were ultimately played by other actresses were the mother of the demonic girl in William Friedkin's The Exorcist, which went to Ellen Burstyn, and the mother of the young woman dying of cancer in James L. Brooks' Terms of Endearment. Shirley MacLaine eventually played that part and won a Best Actress Oscar for her efforts.

Anne Bancroft multiple-Emmy nominee

On television, Anne Bancroft was featured in more than 30 productions. She was nominated for seven Emmy Awards, winning two: for the variety special Annie: The Women in the Life of a Man and the TV movie Deep in My Heart.

Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson The Graduate photo: Avco Embassy.

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3 Comments to Anne Bancroft: Mrs. Robinson in 'The Graduate' Has Died

  1. John Kerr

    LOL! Yes, we wish, right?! I'm sure you know D. Day turned down the role, claiming it was “filthy!” Omg…it would've been an entirely different film, but I bet she would've been great.

  2. Andre

    I'd no idea. Thanks, John.
    They should have alternate versions of movies in some parallel universe, you know? Patricia Neal, Doris Day, Anne Bancroft, all as Mrs. Robinson…

  3. John Kerr

    Mike Nichols wanted her for the role of the mother in “Postcards From the Edge,” nixed by the studio, who insisted upon Shirley MacLaine. Nichols has said that regrets not having done at least ten pictures with her, he liked her so much. He directed her as Regina in “The Little Foxes,” onstage in NY, shortly after they shot “The Graduate.”