In her half-century on stage and screen, Anne Bancroft played everyone from Mary Magdalene to Israeli prime minister Golda Meir to Helen Keller’s teacher Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker, for which she won both a Tony and an Oscar. Yet, “I’m just a little dismayed,” she once told a reporter, “that people aren’t past [Mrs. Robinson] yet.”
Who can blame them? As the husky-voiced suburban matron who seduces Dustin Hoffman in 1967’s The Graduate, the actress left an indelible impression on a generation of moviegoers. For Bancroft, who died at 73 of uterine cancer June 6, it was simply another role. “She wasn’t a ‘personality’ type of performer; she tried to become the character she played,” says Entertainment Tonight film historian Leonard Maltin. Off-camera, “she was so warm and generous and sweet and a complete toughie all at the same time,” says Jenna Elfman, her costar in 2000’s Keeping the Faith.
Born in The Bronx as Anna Maria Louisa Italiano, she began her career in the ’50s as a B-movie actress in Hollywood before gaining Broadway acclaim. In 1961 she met Mel Brooks, whom she wed three years later, and had a son, Max, now 33 and a voice-over actor. “She was the consummate everything,” says their friend, producer David Geffen. “Actress, comedienne, beauty, mother and wife. She made it all look easy.”