- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — Anne Bancroft, who won the best actress Oscar as the teacher of a young Helen Keller in 1962’s “The Miracle Worker” but achieved greater fame as the seductive Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate,” has died. She was 73.

She died of cancer on Monday at Mount Sinai Hospital, John Barlow, a spokesman for her husband, Mel Brooks, said yesterday.

Miss Bancroft was awarded the Tony for creating the Broadway role of Annie Sullivan, the teacher of the deaf and blind Miss Keller. She repeated her portrayal in the film version.

Despite her Academy Award and four other nominations, “The Graduate” overshadowed her other achievements.

Dustin Hoffman delivered the famous line when he realized a classmate’s mother was propositioning him at her house: “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?”

Miss Bancroft complained to a 2003 interviewer: “I am quite surprised that with all my work, and some of it is very, very good, that nobody talks about ‘The Miracle Worker.’ We’re talking about Mrs. Robinson. I understand the world. … I’m just a little dismayed that people aren’t beyond it yet.”

Her beginnings in Hollywood were unimpressive. She was signed by 20th Century Fox in 1952 and given the glamour treatment. She had been acting in television as Anne Marno (her real name: Anna Maria Louise Italiano), but it sounded too ethnic for movies. The studio gave her a choice of names; she picked Bancroft “because it sounded dignified.”

Miss Bancroft became known for her willingness to assume a variety of portrayals. She appeared as Winston Churchill’s American mother in television’s “Young Winston”; as Golda Meir in “Golda” onstage; a gypsy woman in the film “Love Potion No. 9”; and a centenarian for the TV version of “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.”

After an unhappy three-year marriage to builder Martin May, Miss Bancroft married the comedian-director-producer Mr. Brooks in 1956. They met when she was rehearsing a musical number, “Married I Can Always Get,” for the Perry Como television show, and a voice from offstage called: “I’m Mel Brooks.”

She was born Sept. 17, 1931, in the Bronx to Italian immigrant parents. She recalled scrawling “I want to be an actress” on the back fence of her flat when she was 9. Her father derided her ambitions, saying, “Who are we to dream these dreams?”

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