A dark-haired, earthy beauty and a versatile actress, Anne Bancroft has actually had two film careers. The first, which took place during the 1950s, was generally undistinguished and featured her in films that usually failed to fully utilize her talents. The second, which began in the early '60s, established her as an actress of great acclaim in films like The Miracle Worker and granted her screen immortality with roles such as that of the iconic Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate.
A first generation Italian-American hailing from the Bronx, Bancroft (born Anna Maria Louisa Italiano) was four years old when she began taking acting and dancing lessons. Billing herself as Anne Marno, she began appearing on television in 1950. Two years later she signed a contract with Fox and launched a six-year career in second-string Westerns and crime dramas that began with Don't Bother to Knock in 1952. By 1958, Bancroft had enough of Hollywood and turned her attentions to Broadway, where she spent the next five years. She proved her mettle as a serious dramatic actress by winning a Tony for Two for the Seesaw in 1958. Two years later, she won her second Tony and a New York Drama Critics Award for her portrayal of Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker. Armed with these triumphs, Bancroft returned to Hollywood to appear in the movie version of The Miracle Worker (1962), reprising her role opposite Patty Duke who played Helen Keller. Her performance earned her an Oscar for Best Actress; unable to attend the ceremony because she was performing on Broadway in Mother Courage, she was presented with the award by Joan Crawford a week later on the Broadway stage.
Bancroft followed this victory with a string of emotional dramas that included The Pumpkin Eater, which was released in 1964, the same year she married filmmaker/comedian Mel Brooks. Just when it would look like she would be typecast in such dramas, Bancroft showed up in Mike Nichols' seminal comedy The Graduate, playing Mrs. Robinson, the ultimate "older woman," to Dustin Hoffman's confused Benjamin Braddock. Her role in the landmark film won her an Oscar nomination, to say nothing of a permanent dose of notoriety. Although Bancroft seemed destined for a stellar career and she remained one of the more well-respected actresses in Hollywood, a long string of so-so films kept her from reaching major stardom. Still, Bancroft turned in a number of memorable performances in films such as The Turning Point (1977), The Elephant Man (1980), To Be or Not to Be (her 1983 collaboration with husband Brooks), Agnes of God (1985), 84 Charing Cross Road (1986), and Torch Song Trilogy (1988). In 1980, Bancroft made her debut as a director/screenwriter in the darkly comic Dom DeLuise vehicle Fatso.
Throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium, Bancroft continued to be visible onscreen, appearing in films like How to Make an American Quilt (1995), Home for the Holidays (1995), and Keeping the Faith (2000). Sadly, she became stricken with uterine cancer and succumbed to the disease in 2005. Her last performance would come postumously with a voice-role in the animated adventure Delgo.