|Miracle lady: Anne Bancroft (top) and in the famous scene with Dustin Hoffman from The Graduate. (AFP, Reuters)
New York, June 8 (Reuters): Oscar and Tony Award winner Anne Bancroft, the husky-voiced actress immortalised as Helen Keller’s teacher in The Miracle Worker and the seductive Mrs Robinson in the iconic 1967 film The Graduate, has died, her family said yesterday.
Bancroft, who was 73, died at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York on Monday evening of uterine cancer, according to John Barlow, a spokesman for Bancroft’s husband, the comedian and director Mel Brooks.
Theatres on Broadway, where Bancroft delivered back-to-back Tony-winning performances in the late 1950s ' opposite Henry Fonda in Two for the Seasaw with Patty Duke in Miracle Worker ' planned to dim their marquees in her honour.
Speaking to Reuters by telephone, Duke, 58, described working with Bancroft as “breathtaking,” adding: “What I learned from her, really, was having a sense of humour and knowing how important laughter was.”
Born Anna Maria Italiano in 1931 to Italian immigrant parents in New York’s Bronx borough, Bancroft went on to become a versatile stage and screen performer whose career spanned five decades. She earned five Academy Award nominations, including an Oscar for Miracle Worker.
The sultry, dark-haired beauty evinced intelligence, yet might be best remembered for the flash of stockinged leg and cold, calculated seduction of her daughter’s boyfriend in The Graduate. The movie spawned the classic Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack hit Mrs Robinson and earned Bancroft her third Academy Award nomination.
Bancroft also garnered Oscar nominations for The Pumpkin Eater (1964), The Turning Point (1977), and Agnes of God (1985).
She began her acting studies at New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts at 17 and assumed the stage name of Anne Marno to find work in the early days of live television. After being lured to Hollywood and changing her surname to Bancroft at the urging of producer Darryl Zanuck, she worked in more than a dozen largely forgettable features.
She returned to New York seeking better roles and joined the famed Actors Studio, embracing the “Method” approach to performance popularised by such stars as Marlon Brando. Directed by Arthur Penn, Bancroft won her first Tony for her 1958 performance in the romance Two for the Seasaw.
Under Penn’s direction again, he scored a second Tony the very next year with her signature role as Annie Sullivan, the sight-impaired teacher to the blind, deaf and speechless Helen Keller, in The Miracle Worker.
Duke, who started off in the Keller role at the age of 12, recalled the emotional moment in the play when Bancroft’s character announced to Helen’s parents that she has finally communicated with their daughter, yelling: “She knows!”
“And the sound that she had in her voice transported every creature in the theatre to the place where you find lost souls,” Duke recounted. “It’s fascinating to have had so profound an experience as a child and be 58 years old and still be able to feel it and touch it and almost smell it.”
In 1964, she married comedian and director Brooks.