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Here's to You, Ms. Bancroft

Anne Bancroft was one of the few performers to win all three major acting awards: the Oscar, two Tonys and an Emmy.

She is best known for two parts in her long and prolific career: Helen Keller's feisty teacher Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker and Mrs. Robinson, the sultry older woman who seduces Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate -- a part the actress said she nearly didn't take.

Before she was Anne Bancroft, she was Anna Maria Louisa Italiano, a girl from the Bronx whose parents had immigrated to the United States from Italy. She took the name Bancroft when she began acting in Hollywood but it was on Broadway that she first made her mark, in the 1957 production of Two for the Seesaw with Henry Fonda.

Bancroft won her first Tony for that play. Its director, Arthur Penn, recalls that when he was getting ready for his next production he had no doubt who he would cast in the role of Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker.

Bancroft's passionate performance won her another Tony and then an Oscar for her portrayal of Sullivan in the film version of the play.

But it was her portrayal of the coolly ferocious Mrs. Robinson in 1967 film The Graduate that won Bancroft her greatest fame -- despite her initial misgivings. She had told interviewers that many people tried to talk her out taking the part because the role was all about having sex with a younger man.

But her seduction of Dustin Hoffman was sexy funny and sad all at once -- and the scene has left an indelible mark on popular culture.

Later in her career, Bancroft starred in a number of other successful roles, most notably the aging dancer Emma in The Turing Point and the formidable Mother Superior Miriam in Agnes of God.

Bancroft, who had been married to director and producer Mel Brooks since 1964, died Monday of uterine cancer at age 73.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.
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