A requiem for Mrs Robinson, the original desperate housewife

Los Angeles: Actress Anne Bancroft, who won an Oscar for ‘The Miracle Worker’ and a place in pop culture history as the coldly seductive Mrs Robinson in ‘The Graduate’, has died of cancer. She was 73. The wife of comedian Mel Brooks, Bancroft, who had been suffering from uterine cancer, died Monday in New York at Mt Sinai Hospital.

One of the most popular actresses of the ‘60s, Bancroft’s career started off dubiously in the ‘50s with a number of B movies for 20th Century Fox such as ‘Gorilla at arge’, ‘Demetrius’

and the ‘Gladiators’. The studio also renamed the then young actress, who was born Anna Maria Louise Italiano and originally went by Anne Marno. Given a list of names, she chose the dignified Bancroft.

However, fulfilling roles for the versatile TV and movie actress didn’t follow, and Bancroft left both big and small screens for Broadway in the late 50s, winning two Tonys for ‘Two For The Seesaw’ and ‘The Miracle Worker’. When Hollywood came calling to adapt both films, Bancroft lost the role in the former to Shirley MacLaine.

However, when studio heads wanted a more glamorous actress for the role of Annie Sullivan in ‘The Miracle Worker’, director Arthur Penn put his foot down and refused to budge and created a gripping black-and-white film which won Oscars in 1962 for both Bancroft (as the enigmatic, willful and driven half-blind teacher of the young Helen Keller) and co-star Patty Duke (as Keller, herself).

By millennium-end, this actress of uncommon versatility had collected one Oscar, two Tonys, two Golden Globes, an Emmy and in 1996 a lifetime achievement comedy award in a career spanning more than half a century. She had also been nominated for Academy Awards for four more films — ‘The Pumpkin Eater’ in 1964; ‘The Turning Point’ in 1977; ‘Agnes of God’ in 1985; and her most popular, ‘The Graduate’ in 1967. She collected Golden Globes for ‘The Pumpkin Eater’ and ‘The Graduate.’ There were also many nominations for other awards.

However, despite her Academy Award and four other nominations, ‘The Graduate’ overshadowed her other achievements. For several generations of film fans and moviegoers, mere mention of ‘The Graduate’ immediately conjures up memories of Simon & Garfunkel’s tuneful phrases: “And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know…”

The movie title also evokes images of Hoffman, as the son of her husband’s law partner, saying with slow realisation, “Mrs Robinson — you’re trying to seduce me… aren’t you?” In 2003 Bancroft admitted that nearly everyone discouraged her from undertaking the role “because it was all about sex with a younger man.” She viewed the character as having unfulfilled dreams and having been relegated to a conventional life with a conventional husband.

Bancroft was unhappily married to builder Martin May for three years before tying the knot with comedian-director-producer Mel Brooks in 1964, whom she had met on a talk show. —HNS