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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

THE REEL REALS: Anne Bancroft

Anne Bancroft

Anne Bancroft was a damn fine actress. That's it. The End. Have a nice day.

I joke, but that's how her talent hits. Each of the characters she created in her 50+ years on the screen-- not to mention those she made on the stage-- were truly unique and particular unto themselves, yet they all possessed the same power. Whether her heroines would sock you in the jaw, kick you in the gut, or leave you weeping with a withering glare, as a viewer, you cannot help but be moved by the entrancing spell she was able to cast.

Anne cut her teeth on-camera doing the standard TV series of the '50s that all actors of her generation seemed to participate in. Her name and face appeared on the "Ford Theatre" program, and she performed in slew of guest spots on various series. Her film "debut" was in Don't Bother to Knock of 1952, wherein she performed opposite none other than Marilyn Monroe. While no one could steal the show from that iconic, blond bombshell, Anne acted as an interesting counterbalance on the screen. Even in her first, small role, her thoughtfulness, intelligence, and depth, were revealed, which ironically caused her to be a fish out of water in Tinsel Town. 

Studios, not knowing what to do with the Bronx-born Italian with a good head on her shoulders, continually miscast her in ridiculous films far beneath her talent, one example being Demetrius and the Gladiators. (Really, Hollywood? Really)? Within these flimsy story lines, there was no social commentary, no introspection, and no soulful revelation in the parts she was given. As such, she quickly tired of the charade and opted to tread the boards of the Broadway stage in search of her art and herself. She found it. The reputation she built there would finally prove just what she was capable of. In fact, she won a Tony for her debut in "Two for the See-Saw." The world that had tried to incorrectly package her soon stood back in awe at the authentic and unapologetically raw woman she just naturally was.

Almost as soon as her departure from the West Coast, Hollywood came crawling back, particularly after her astounding performance in "The Miracle Worker" as Annie Sullivan, the role she would reprise in the adapted film. Her tough, unrepentant, compassionate, and personally tormented performance as Helen Keller's notorious teacher shocked and impressed audiences across the nation, earning her a Best Actress Oscar (and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her co-star, Patty Duke). More gut-wrenching portayals were to follow, including her depressed housewife, existentially lost in her confining domesticity in The Pumpkin Eaters, a role in her husband Mel Brooks's Silent Movie, and other knock down, drag out performances in To Be or Not to Be, Agnes of God, Home for the Holidays, Great Expectations, and her most notorious masterwork: The Graduate

Portraying the iconic "Mrs. Robinson," Anne was an isolated and forgotten tragic figure, a woman discarded before her time, and also a vengeful and desperate panther, her red nails clawing violently for some last sense of gravity in her life. The tension between herself-- a woman on the way out, with resistance-- and Dustin Hoffman's "Ben Braddock"-- a young man on the way up, with resistance-- was so turbulent, poetic, heartbreaking, and doomed, that the nature of their relationship spoke volumes above his eventual, hypothetical absolution with her daughter (Katharine Ross). What Ben had with Elaine was fantasy. What he had with Mrs. Robinson was real. As in all of her roles, Anne was fearlessly vulnerable and even blood curdling. For this, she won another Oscar.

Anne worked continuously into her final years, on both the stage and screen, until she sadly succumbed to uterine cancer at the age of 73. Leaving behind her mourning husband-- the clown who had always tempered her pathos-- she too left that strange hole in cinema that only the greatest members of its tapestry can manifest. Just as in her work, he parting acted as a gaping wound that one must simply make peace with and allow to heal. Her caliber comes along very rarely, and the welcomed trauma such a one inflicts is made worthy by the mind-opening awareness left in her wake. "Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson."

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