20 How the actress overcame early heartbreak to find true success on-screen and in motherhood.
Five years after she seduced Dustin Hoffman — and millions of moviegoers — in 1967’s The Graduate, Anne Bancroft gave birth to her only child, Max. “She approached parenthood like her roles — she wanted to be perfect,” Douglass K. Daniel, author of Anne Bancroft: A Life, tells Closer. As Graduate director Mike Nichols said, “Everything she does is perfect.”
Anne developed her tireless work ethic while growing up Anna Maria Louisa Italiano, the second of three kids to immigrant parents, in NYC’s the Bronx. As a preschooler, she sang at family picnics. “Something drove her to want to perform,” says Daniel. “She never lost that.”
Yet Anne struggled early on, toiling in film flops like 1954’s Gorilla at Large. Her first marriage, to businessman Martin May, ended after four years in 1957. “Every picture I did was worse than the last,” she said. “Every man I was in love with was worse than the last.”
Her luck changed in 1958 with her Tonywinning turn in Broadway’s Two for the Seesaw. A few years later, she met comic Mel Brooks, and their
ICON FELT A DEEP COMMITMENT TO ALL OF HER ROLES
instant. “Every time I hear [his] key in the door, I know the party’s about to start,” she said. They wed in 1964 and shared more than 40 years of happiness.
Anne’s movie career had taken off after she reprised her stage role in The Miracle Worker and won a best actress Oscar in 1963. But she had a love/hate relationship with the part that made her a superstar: The Graduate’s Mrs. Robinson. “You’re making me look terrible!” she complained to Nichols, who lit Anne, 35, to appear a decade older. Over time, “she reconciled with Mrs. Robinson,” Daniel says. “She looked back on it as a moment in her life when everything came together.”
Though she’d do more great work, her most important role was as Max’s mom. “He’s dyslexic, and she saw to it all his textbooks were recorded because reading was difficult for him,” Daniel says. When she died of cancer in 2005, her family and fans were heartbroken, but their love lives on. Asked in 2014 about his greatest accomplishment, Mel said simply, “Marrying Anne Bancroft.”
— Bruce Fretts, with reporting by Diana Cooper
THE MIRACLE WORKER As teacher Annie Sullivan (with Patty Duke as Helen Keller), Anne won best actress at the 1963 Oscars. Anne with husband Mel Brooks and their beloved son, Max, in 1986
TWO FOR THE SEESAW Anne’s work opposite Henry Fonda in the 1958 play made her an overnight star.