The Oscar-winning actress, best known for her role in The Graduate, was 73

By Stephen M. Silverman
June 07, 2005 05:00 PM

Oscar-winning actress Anne Bancroft died of uterine cancer on Monday at New York’s Mt. Sinai Medical Center, a family spokesman announced. She was 73.

A longtime friend of the actress and her husband, comic writer and filmmaker Mel Brooks, tells PEOPLE that Bancroft had been suffering with the disease for some time, and that Brooks – who was in the middle of production of his movie musical The Producers – had been at her side all throughout the treatment period.

Bancroft won the Best Actress Oscar for her role as Helen Keller’s real-life teacher in the 1962 movie The Miracle Worker, for which she had also won the Tony on Broadway. But her most famous screen role was as the seductive older woman Mrs. Robinson, opposite Dustin Hoffman in the 1967 generation-gap comedy The Graduate – a breakthrough part that had been earmarked for Doris Day, who turned it down on the grounds that it was too sexy. The movie – and the Simon and Garfunkel song, “Mrs. Robinson” – made Bancroft a household name.

“I didn’t appreciate it at first,” she later told The New York Times about the sexy reputation she suddenly gained. “As the years went on, I began to have fun and take pleasure in it. To this day, when men meet me, there’s always that movie in the back of their minds.”

Bancroft was nominated for an Oscar for her role in The Graduate, as well as for her work in The Pumpkin Eater (1964), The Turning Point (1977) and Agnes of God (1985).

Her other major film roles included that of the dying yet overbearing mother in the sentimental comedy Garbo Talks, the retired dancer (opposite Shirley MacLaine) in The Turning Point and as the Victorian actress in The Elephant Man, a rare drama produced by Brooks. The two also starred together in a remake of the classic World War II comedy To Be or Not to Be, in which they famously delivered a duet of “Sweet Georgia Brown” – in Polish.

Born in the Bronx as Anna Maria Italiano, Bancroft graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan and made her screen debut in the 1952 Don t Bother to Knock, which starred Marilyn Monroe.

Bancroft and Brooks, who wed in 1964, have a son, Max Brooks, born in 1972. The couple have residences in both New York and California. Once asked to explain the success of their odd-couple marriage, Brooks said that he always made his wife laugh – and he was always scared of her.

In tribute, marquees on Broadway will be dimmed for one minute on Wednesday night. Funeral services will be private.