Tuesday, June 07, 2005

R.I.P. Anne Bancroft

Who didn't love Anne Bancroft (1931-2005)? Hilarious and classy, but tough enough that you wouldn't really want to cross her. She wasn't afraid to overdo her performances, and though it sometimes counted against her, especially in her late career, it also made her indelible when she was 'on.' And what a joy she was as an interview subject, a personality, and an awards presenter. One classic exchange from Oscar history came in the 1992 ceremony, when Anne and Dustin Hoffman co-presented the Screenplay awards, via satellite from somewhere. Ad libbing, the 55-year-old Hoffman asked, "Are you trying to seduce me?" Ad libbing right back, the 61-year-old Bancroft quipped, "Not anymore."

The obituaries are obliged to prioritize The Graduate, where she played her most iconic role, and The Miracle Worker, for which she won a Best Actress Oscar out of one of the two or three richest lineups that category has ever seen. In 1963, she became the first Mother Courage that Broadway audiences ever saw, missing her big night with Oscar because she was starring in the central role of the greatest play of the 20th century. (Purty good excuse.)

If you head out to savor some Anne this week, by all means re-rent the famous titles, but she was hearty, delicate, and luminous in a second-tier role in David Lynch's The Elephant Man, she makes Harold Pinter and Jack Clayton's The Pumpkin Eater seem much more serious and potent than it is, and she's a frazzled, affecting delight in Jodie Foster's perennially unsung Home for the Holidays. Amongst the wigged-out drag-queen roles she often took in her twilight years, I am still partial to Philip and Belinda Haas' Up at the Villa, though admittedly, I am almost alone in this. Meanwhile, I have my own long-deferred dates with John Ford's 7 Women and Herbert Ross' The Turning Point to look forward to. We'll miss you, Anne Bancroft.



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