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Anne Bancroft: More Than Mrs. Robinson

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Anne Bancroft’s death on June 8 resulted in the expected tributes in print and broadcast media. It is perhaps unsurprising that many of these reports focused primarily on just one of her roles – that of Mrs. Robinson in the 1967 film The Graduate. The nature of the subject matter – sex between a young man and an older woman – was risqué for its time and Ms. Bancroft’s portrayal was certainly memorable.

A single film does not make for a noteworthy career, however, and the accolades she has received are due to a large number of performances, even if the others have been given short shrift. Included in her varied career in theater and movies are roles in The Miracle Worker (1962), To Be or Not To Be (1983), Agnes of God (1985), and G.I. Jane (1997).

One other performance stands out for me, however, and it reflects perhaps a bias for seeing mature women in roles that reflect depth and that challenge their acting skills. The 1977 Herbert Ross film, The Turning Point, deserves praise on many accounts, not least for its beautiful portrayal of ballet sequences. It provides a showcase as well for the talents of Ms. Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine as two former rivals now forced to face the consequences of choices made earlier in their lives. It is unfortunate that using ballet as the backdrop for developing characters keeps away many viewers from the type of performance for which Ms. Bancroft is justifiably praised.

It is equally unfortunate that the need to reduce news to sound bites results in summarizing a career in a manner that does not do true justice to the one who is being honored.

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About Gregg Guetschow

  • Amen. If I read one more obit saying “here’s to you…” I cringe on her behalf for every reviewer who talks about “The Graduate,” and then commnets on how she wanted distance from that role.
    She was a versatile actress.

  • carol

    I found Anne Bancroft to be a wonderful serious actress, but in my youth which was many years ago, I saw her do a tv special where she sang and danced. She was brilliant. Her performances in small budget movies with Anthony Hopkins – 24 charring road I think it was called, and her performance in a movie of a dying woman wishing to see Greta Garbo before she died and her son who searched all of NY and Long Island just to make his mother’s wish come true brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. Anne Bancroft touched many people with her performances, but her life with Mel Brooks was so perfect from a fan’s perspective because he made her laugh and in any marriage laughter is a big part of enjoying life together. If you wish to see her singing (not sure it was her voice, but probably was, since she sang beautifully) try renting KNOCK ON ANY DOOR,with Richard Widmark, and Marilyn Monroe. I send my sympathy to Mr. Brooks and the entire family and personal friends who will probably miss her most, but as for her fans, they can rent any number of brilliant movies she has starred in and sit back and smile at such a brilliant actress that made us laugh, cry, and brought us enjoyment in just 2 hours time.

  • Angie

    The name of that movie is actually “Don’t Bother to Knock,” and it is indeed well worth renting.