Anne Bancroft, who won an Oscar, two Tonys, and an Emmy for playing women from all walks of life, but who will be remembered most of all for playing bitter seductress Mrs. Robinson in 1967’s The Graduate, died Monday evening at age 73, Reuters reports. A representative for her husband, comedy icon Mel Brooks, said she died of uterine cancer at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center.
The actress was born Anna Maria Louisa Italiano in the Bronx, New York, in 1931. She got her start in live TV dramas in the 1950s (and segued to Broadway, winning her first Tony for her role as a free spirited bohemian in William Gibson’s Two for the Seesaw in 1958. That play led to her Tony-winning role in Gibson’s The Miracle Worker as Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s iron-willed teacher. She reprised the role in the 1962 film, which made her a film star and earned her a Best Actress Oscar.
She was nominated again for Academy Awards four more times, including her notorious role as Mrs. Robinson. Bancroft was 35 when she played the older woman who embarks on a joyless affair with directionless younger man Dustin Hoffman; though she was just six years older than Hoffman, she seemed convincingly worldly and jaded enough to convince audiences that she was a generation older than her 29-year-old costar.
Bancroft never really escaped Mrs. Robinson’s shadow, though she displayed her versatility over the rest of her career, whether as an aged ballerina in 1977’s The Turning Point, a chain-smoking Mother Superior in 1985’s Agnes of God, a vengeful and wealthy spinster in 1998’s Great Expectations, or a parasitic Italian contessa in the 2003 made-for-cable movie The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, her last completed project. Bancroft also wrote and directed a movie, the 1980 comedy Fatso, in which she also costarred opposite Dom DeLuise.
Bancroft married Brooks in 1964. She worked with him only a couple times, most notably in the 1983 remake of To Be or Not To Be, where they played married actors who outsmart the Nazis in Poland. They have a son, Max Brooks, who has written for Saturday Night Live.
Ill health had kept Bancroft out of the public eye in the last couple years. In 2002, she was set to return to the stage for the first time in two decades, in an off-Broadway production of Edward Albee’s Occupant, but the show had to be canceled when she contracted pneumonia. She was four weeks into filming the role of the alcoholic grandma in 2004’s Spanglish when she took ill; director James L. Brooks replaced her with Cloris Leachman. Still, to viewers, she always seemed to be popping up in a cameo. And the ubiquity of The Graduate meant Mrs. Robinson never went away. She was always trying to seduce us — wasn’t she?