Anne Bancroft

Anne Bancroft


Born: 17 September, 1931, in New York.

Died: 6 June, 2005, in New York, aged 73.

SHE was one of the iconic Hollywood stars of the 1960s. Perhaps unfairly, Anne Bancroft is almost solely remembered for her portrayal of the sultry seducer of her neighbour's son in one of the era's great movies - The Graduate. Bancroft delivered a performance of simmering sexuality that epitomised the allure of the older woman. Her performance was thrilling (as was that of her co-star, Dustin Hoffman). Into this sensual cauldron was thrown the publicity poster of Bancroft's character peeling off her nylons and the song Mrs Robinson, performed by Simon and Garfunkel.

In fact the role of Mrs Robinson had been turned down by many Hollywood stars (including, it is thought, the wildly unsuitable Doris Day) because it was blatantly sexual and dealt with an affair between an older woman and her daughter's boyfriend: in 1967 that was dangerous territory. But Bancroft was ideal casting and, although not much older than Hoffman, she convinced audiences of her allure and of her boredom in her conventional marriage.

The scene in which the stuttering Hoffman asks: "Mrs Robinson, you're trying to seduce me ... aren't you?" has become part of movie history. Bancroft's raised eyebrow and huge pearl eyes said it all.

She was rightly nominated for an Oscar for her performance and despite a distinguished career it is the role for which she will be most remembered. One of her favourite directors, Arthur Penn, said of Bancroft: "More happens in that face in ten seconds than in most women's faces in ten years."

In fact, the legs on the film poster were not those of Bancroft. They belonged to a then unknown actress called Linda Gray, who was, two decades later, to star in the American TV soap Dallas.

Born Anna Maria Louise Italiano, Bancroft studied at the Actors Studio and drama college. She got parts in B-movies (using the name Anne Marno), then the studio suggested she change her name. Bancroft was one of four she was offered. "It sounded dignified" she said years later. In 1958 she and the young Henry Fonda were cast in Two For the Seesaw on Broadway, and Bancroft won her first Tony Award for her portrayal of a quirky Bronx girl. Two years later she got another Tony for her thrilling performance as the teacher of the blind girl Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker. This led to Bancroft being offered a string of major Hollywood movies.

She was Oscar-nominated for the movie version of The Miracle Worker (1962) and two years later she delivered a spellbinding performance in The Pumpkin Eater, based on Penelope Mortimer's novel of an unhappily married wealthy woman. Her co-stars included James Mason and Peter Finch. Then came The Graduate, which made Bancroft an international star. One New York critic hailed her performance as "sullenly contemptuous and voracious".

Other films of note included Young Winston, in which she played Churchill's mother, and she delivered a thrilling reading of an ageing ballerina (opposite Shirley Maclaine and Mikhail Barishnikov) in The Turning Point in 1977. It was a backstage drama that boasted one of cinema's most enthralling female fights, between the two stars on the roof of the theatre. Then came the charming role of the American writer who orders books from the bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road. Bancroft's lighthearted delivery ("I hope 'Dear Madame' does not mean the same in London as it does in New York") of the correspondence with Anthony Hopkins's proprietor was magical. More serious roles such as in The Elephant Man followed.

Other films (a version of Great Expectations) and stage (Golda Meir in Golda) appearances followed but Bancroft remained a private individual, happy within her marriage to the director Mel Brooks.

In the 1980s she was the star guest on Terry Wogan's British television chat show. The Irish charmer did all he could to break down Bancroft's barriers of reticence. All his questions were met with monosyllabic answers. In desperation Wogan eventually said: "You don't really want to be here, do you?" "No" came the answer. The interview was terminated in embarrassment.

She was one of the few artists to have won the "triple crown" of acting: an Oscar for The Miracle Worker, Tonys for Two for the Seesaw and The Miracle Worker and an Emmy for Deep in My Heart.

The relationship with Brooks was deep and long-standing. They had met in a TV studio before a talk show in 1963. He found out where she ate most evenings and became a regular. The romance blossomed and they married in 1964. Bancroft appeared in three of Brooks's comedies: Silent Movie, To Be or Not to Be and Dracula: Dead and Loving It. Bancroft was also instrumental in making her husband sit down and write the script for The Producers. The film, now a hugely successful musical, has earned Brooks a fortune.

Mike Nichols, the director of The Graduate, yesterday remembered working with Bancroft with great pleasure. He said: "Her beauty was constantly shifting with her roles and because she was such a consummate actress she changed radically for every part."

Bancroft was an actress of much flair, charisma and style. She always invested her characters with a dignity and wit, which made them credible, recognisable and real. But however distinguished her career she will forever be known for that wonderful sexual predator from Middle America: Mrs Robinson.

Bancroft had an early brief marriage in the 1950s but she is survived by Mel Brooks and their son.