Nationality: American. Born: Anna Maria Luisa Italiano in the Bronx, New York, 17 September 1931. Education: Attended Public School 12 and Christopher Columbus High School, the Bronx; studied at American Academy of Dramatic Arts, New York, 1948–50, with Herbert Berghof, 1957, and at the Actors Studio, New York, 1958. Family: Married 1) Martin A. May, 1953 (divorced 1957); 2) the director Mel Brooks, 1964, son: Maximilian. Career: 1950—first TV appearance (as Ann Italiano) in Turgenev's The Torrents of Spring ; 1951—contract with 20th Century-Fox; chose name "Anne Bancroft" from list submitted to her by Darryl Zanuck; 1952—film debut in Don't Bother to Knock ; 1953—resumed TV work; 1955—two-picture contract with Columbia; 1958–59—Broadway appearances in Two for the Seesaw and The Miracle Worker ; 1970s—Broadway appearances in The Devils and Golda ; mid-1970s—attended American Film Institute's Woman's Directing Workshop and directs first film, The August (never released); 1980—wrote and directed Fatso for 20th Century-Fox; 1994—in TV mini-series The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All . Awards: Best Actress Academy Award and Best Foreign Actress, British Academy, for The Miracle Worker , 1962; co-recipient: Best Actress, Cannes Festival, and Best Foreign Actress, British Academy, for The Pumpkin Eater , 1964; Best Actress, British Academy, for 84 Charing Cross Road , 1988. Address: c/o Toni Howard, William Morris Agency, 151 EL Camino Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 9021, U.S.A.
Don't Bother to Knock (Baker) (as Lyn Leslie)
Treasure of the Golden Condor (Daves) (as Marie); Tonight We Sing (Leisen) (as Mrs. Sol Hurok); The Kid from Left Field (Jones) (as Marian)
Demetrius and the Gladiators (Daves) (as Paula); The Raid (Fregonese) (as Katy Bishop); Gorilla at Large (Jones) (as Laverne Miller); A Life in the Balance (Horner) (as Maria Ibinia); New York Confidential (Rouse) (as Kathy Lupo)
The Naked Street (Shane) (as Rosalie Regalzyk); The Last Frontier (Mann) (as Corinna Marston)
Walk the Proud Land (Hibbs) (as Tianay); The Girl in Black Stockings (Koch) (as Beth Dixon); Nightfall (Tourneur) (as Marie Gardner); The Restless Breed (Dwan) (as Angelita)
The Miracle Worker (Penn) (as Annie Sullivan)
The Pumpkin Eater (Clayton) (as Jo Armitage)
The Slender Thread (Pollack) (as Inga Dyson); Seven Women (Ford) (as Dr. D. R. Cartwright)
The Graduate (Nichols) (as Mrs. Robinson)
Arthur Penn (Hughes—doc) (as an interviewee)
Young Winston (Attenborough) (as Lady Randolph Churchill)
The Prisoner of Second Avenue (Frank) (as Edna); The Hindenburg (Wise) (as the Countess)
Lipstick (Johnson) (as Carla Bondi); Silent Movie (Mel Brooks)
The Turning Point (Ross) (as Emma Jacklin)
Jesus of Nazareth (Zeffirelli) (as Mary Magdalene)
The Elephant Man (Lynch) (as Mrs. Kendal)
To Be or Not to Be (Mel Brooks) (as Anna Bronski)
Garbo Talks (Lumet) (as Estelle Rolfe)
Agnes of God (Jewison) (as Sister Miriam Ruth)
'night, Mother (Moore) (as Thelma Cates); 84 Charing Cross Road (Jones) (as Helene Hanff)
Torch Song Trilogy (Bogart) (as Ma)
Bert Rigby, You're a Fool (Carl Reiner) (as Meredith Perlestein)
Broadway Bound (Bogart); Love Potion No. 9 (Launer) (as Madame Ruth); Honeymoon in Vegas (Bergman) (as Bea Singer); Mrs. Cage (for TV)
Point of No Return (Badham) (as Amanda); Mr. Jones (Figgis) (as Dr. Catherine Holland); Malice (Becker) (as Claire Kennsinger)
How to Make an American Quilt (Moorhouse) (as Glady Jo) Home for the Holidays (Foster) (as Adele Larson)
Homecoming (Jean) (as Grandma)
G.I. Jane (Scott) (as Lillian DeHaven)
Great Expectations (Cuaron) (as Nora Dinsmoor); Mark Twain's America in 3D (Low) (as Narrator)
Deep in My Heart (Kern—for TV) (as Gerry Cummins)
Keeping the Faith (Norton); Up at the Villa (Haas) (as Princess San Ferdinando)
Breakers (Mirkin); Haven (Gray—for TV)
Fatso (+ ro as Antoinette)
Interview with Allan Hunter, in Films and Filming (London), May 1987.
Interview with T. Casablanca, in Premiere (Boulder), December 1995.
Holtzman, Will, Seesaw, A Dual Biography of Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks , New York, 1979.
Current Biography 1960 , New York, 1960.
Arthur, Karen, "Anne Bancroft: She Paid Her Dues," in Close-Up: The Movie Star Book , edited by Danny Peary, New York, 1978.
"Anne Bancroft," in Ecran (Paris), September 1978.
Haspiel, J. R., "Anne Bancroft: The Odyssey of Ruby Pepper," in Films in Review (New York), January 1980.
"Anne Bancroft," in Film Dope (London), March, 1982.
Roth-Bettoni, Didier, "Troublez-nous encore," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), May 1990.
* * *
Once upon a time, one could count on Anne Bancroft for consistent brilliance. As youth faded, she rushed prematurely into character work and dismayed those who fondly recalled the slinky glamor of her TV variety specials. Why survive being manhandled by a gorilla in 3-D, silence your naysayers by winning two Tony awards, an Emmy, and an Oscar, only to specialize in irascibly cute character roles ( Home for the Holidays )? And yet, how can one censure her for playing the steady work game, when Hollywood cavalierly wastes the most gifted actresses of her era (Julie Harris, Gena Rowlands, and others).
Never garnering less than laudatory notices ( Don't Bother to Knock , A Life in the Balance ) during her starlet period, Bancroft showed her moxie by fleeing the twilight time of contractual stardom and resurrecting her career with two consecutive Broadway smashes. Although Two for the Seesaw disintegrated on-screen with Shirley MacLaine's gamine overload, director Arthur Penn fought for his original theater stars to shine in his trenchant visualization of The Miracle Worker . After her Oscar victory, Bancroft won universal acclaim as a housewife imprisoned by her own maternal instinct ( The Pumpkin Eater ), then reversed this victim image and became a sixties icon as The Graduate 's Mrs. Robinson, a suburban mom manqué who might have died laughing at Stella Dallas's nobility. Occasionally recharging herself with Broadway stints ( The Devils , Golda ), Bancroft's finest hour in the seventies was a still-cherished TV variety special, Annie: The Women in the Life of a Man , which showcased a dazzling musical comedy brio (that briefly resurfaced in her husband's To Be or Not to Be remake where Bancroft's tomfoolery bore favorable comparison with Carole Lombard's).
Although The Turning Point restored melodrama to transitory box-office glory, Bancroft's Daughter-of-Bette-Davis thesping barely tapped her resources. And if 84 Charing Cross Road was stagebound and Garbo Talks was gimmicky, Bancroft evidenced enough magnetism to transform medium and long shots into personal close-ups. In addition to wasting her time with great lady stints in Young Winston and Elephant Man , she sugarcoated otherwise perceptive interpretations of vinegary characters ( Agnes of God , 'night, Mother ) with her own desire to be liked. Through all the years of compromised performances, however, Bancroft rebounded again and again. In virtual cameos in Malice and Point of No Return , she electrified stalled escapism with mini tour de forces in which a lifetime of training pulsed through every gesture.
Television has been particularly stimulating for Bancroft who spilled an entire Crayola box of colors over her elegist role in The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All . As the careworn homemaker railing against obsolescence in Mrs. Cage , Bancroft was a virtuoso clearly deserving of the epithet, great actress. Proving her outbreaks of hamminess aren't chronic, she displayed a rock-like resolve as a grandmother refusing to surrender to tenderness in 1996's Homecoming. Her affinity for the small screen was once again demonstrated with her trenchant performance in the melodramatic Deep in My Heart. When she attacked her roles cleanly without fussbudget mannerisms or a conspiratorial wink, she was surpassingly effective.
On the big screen, her problem has been less one of mis-application than over-application of her gifts, particularly a tornadic delivery, which many directors, seem incapable of harnessing.
For someone who rejected the role of Mommie Dearest, she often seems to be out-Dunawaying Faye. Apparently, the old reliable Bancroft was unavailable for the filming of Michael Cimino's pious drivel, Sunchaser , because over-the-top Anne blasted viewers out of their seat with a saccharine cameo as an alternative medicine practitioner. Is it any wonder she would load up a fusillade of acting tricks, when a mere volley would serve unworthy roles better—you could sense this short-changed performer's anger in How to Make an American Quilt , because she had been given nothing but attitudes to play. The potential for a moving experience featuring wonderful, seasoned actresses was botched in an attempt to have them prop up their less interesting star, Winona Ryder.
And yet, she continued astonishing fans in the oddest of places, none odder than a Demi Moore vehicle, GI JANE , in which she bent her Anna Magnani-intensity to serve her characterization as a cold-bloodedly pragmatic senator, trading in feminist causes to promote her own glory. Every time one's heart leapt with joy, however, the false Anne returned with a vengeance, as in Great Expectations. This MTV-style update was as exhaustively excessive as the recent BBC production (with Charlotte Rampling also falling short) was enervatingly muffled. Outfitted like a crone version of Jean Shrimpton, Bancroft portrayed Miss Haversham as a victim of fashion, not passion. As futilely grotesque a performance as you will ever see, Bancroft comported herself like a John Waters discovery on Crystal-Meth. Of course, she didn't bore you like De Niro does in his cameo, but she was brutalized by a director who used her for camp relief in a bankrupt re-conception of Dickens. Will she rediscover, at this late career juncture, the ability to simmer instead of boil over? (Not on the evidence of her cutesy turn in Edward Norton's directorial debut, Keeping the Faith .) Self-defeatingly, she seems to be undermining the adage that there are no small parts, only small actors, into a new proposition: There are only showy parts for veteran actors too big for small parts.