Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Here's to you, Anna Maria Louisa Italiano Brooks

This news is a shock--Anne Bancroft is dead at age 73. I realize now that in the list of my ten favorite movie stars, she should have had a place.

But maybe I forgot to list her because she wasn't so much a movie star as an actress. One of the highlights of my childhood was being taken to the original Broadway production of "The Miracle Worker" and seeing Bancroft and Patty Duke go at it on stage. If you've only seen the movie, which is powerful enough, you can't even begin to imagine the fury and the sense of true danger they portrayed when seen live. How they did it night after night without breaking every bone in their bodies is a mystery.

And then, of course, there's her Mrs. Robinson. What would "The Graduate" have been without her? She was a beautiful, sophisticated, bitter burnt-out case. Who could forget those two delicious moments: Bancroft inhaling, then holding cigarette smoke in her mouth through Dustin Hoffman's awkward kiss and then exhaling afterwards; Bancroft watching Hoffman ineffectually trying to get service in the hotel bar and then taking charge herself, not even having to raise that amazing low and throaty voice of hers to get a waiter to instantaneously materialize at their table.

When I saw the movie as a college student, I thought Mrs. Robinson was funny. Seeing it again thirty years later, I knew she was tragic.

I have a confession to make: I was in a movie with Ms. Bancroft. Yes, back in my ballet dancer/teacher days, I was hired to do what's known as a "silent bit," which is only one small step above being an extra. In the 1977 movie "The Turning Point," I got paid a hundred dollars for a day of work, which seemed a princely sum to me at the time. It was hard work, too--we dancers had to suit up in various leotards and leg warmers, trying to look scruffy and yet glamorous at the same time.

We stood around on a cold stage for most of an entire day, waiting, for what I'm not quite sure. We weren't privy to the dialogue or the plot, we just knew it was a scene that was supposed to be a rehearsal, and the stars were there. I seem to recall that Anne Bancroft was present, although I'm sorry to say I don't exactly remember. Undoubtedly, though, Mikhail Barishnikov was, because I remember being astonished when for a moment I stood next to him and saw that, despite his wiry frame and majestic presence, he stood ever-so-slightly smaller than my own 5' 4".

Once in a while we were told to dance a little combination of steps they had set for us. Every now and then, while we waited and waited and waited, our muscles growing ever colder and colder, people armed with spray bottles would come by and spritz us with water to give the appearance that we were sweating heavily. I was in the back of the stage, so far away from the camera that, try as I might when I studied the scene much later on videotape, I could not find myself. The scene itself, product of a full day, passed in less than a minute and was quite inconsequential.

In that movie, Bancroft played an aging ballet dancer who had sacrificed marriage and family to her career, and was now faced with the emptiness of retirement. I'm happy to report that life did not imitate art in Bancroft's case. Her long marriage to Mel Brooks (something I never quite understood, not that it makes any difference), which produced a son Max, was reportedly that rarest of Hollywood commodities, a happy one.


At 11:44 AM, June 08, 2005, Blogger Tom Grey said...

The Turning Point was a great movie showing the opportunity costs of either decision -- stay in showbiz, no family; have family, give up the 10 curtain calls for a prima donna performance.

Too bad there's nothing remotely similar for the big US mistakes:
a) leaving Vietnam so that the Killing Field commies take over,
b) doing nothing in Rwanda.

[Bush HAS called Sudan genocide -- more than Amnesty or Human Rights Watch has done.]

The reality of opportunity cost is an economic concept almost always lost on the Left.

At 11:44 AM, June 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A "silent bit" player once upon a time and now you are a "voice" heard across the world!

At 12:24 PM, June 08, 2005, Blogger sygamel said...

An interesting footnote to The Graduate is Bancroft is not even 6 years older than Dustin Hoffman.

At 2:07 PM, June 08, 2005, Blogger Pastorius said...

I have been a big Mel Brooks fan since I was a kid. Thing is, I am also a very serious person (Philosophy Degree, Lit Degree, sit around reading Nietzsche and Harold Brodkey, Lord knows why?).

I also have noted the odd mixture of characters in the Brooks/Bancroft marriage. But, the thing is, their marriage lasted, which is rare in Hollywood.

Mel Brooks took on Hitler as a comedic target 30 years before Benigni did. That must have taken guts. And it must have taken an unimaginable chasm of pain to want to have confronted the subject in such a way.

They say life is a comedy for those who think, and a tragedy for those who feel. If that's the case than why are our serious theatre people, bufoons, while it is our comedians who tend towards the tragic?

I always took the fact that the Bancroft/Brooks marriage lasted all those years to be a testament to the depth of both their characters. There is certainly a mystery in their relationship. I doubt the mystery would be solved with a punchline.


At 2:58 PM, June 08, 2005, Blogger Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

I wouldn't be surprised if Bancroft was a very witty person in private. She was from the Bronx, after all.

I haven't seen THE TURNING POINT -- it seemed too corny when it first came out -- but I'll certainly want to see it now for her performance.

Thanks for the glimpse of ballet and movie life, NNC, and thanks for the nice words about my Bancroft piece.

At 10:49 PM, June 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

kcom--perhaps everything is about ecomonics :-).

At 3:49 AM, June 09, 2005, Blogger Doug said...

The End of Time
Reflections on a different life.
David Horowitz

At 5:54 AM, June 09, 2005, Blogger Doug said...

"In 1964 she married Mr. Brooks, who survives her, as does their son, Maximilian. Also surviving are her mother and two sisters, Joanne and Phyllis."
Are Italians different than Dutch?

"Suddenly, the woman realized who I was. And she said in Italian to the young men, 'Questa senora e Senora Robinson.' And I heard 'Robinson' and the four young men were so bowled over, they got up out of their seats, they took off my shoes, they kissed my feet, they threw me in the air, they danced with me, they wanted their picture taken (with me)," she recalls, laughing. "It was the most glorious celebration I have ever had in my life. So in times like that, on a hot summer day in Avellino, Italy, when these four darling, darling young men just celebrate you like that, it's quite wonderful."

At 6:47 PM, June 09, 2005, Blogger amba said...

Here's another tribute to Anne Bancroft. Reading yours, I realize I probably have Mrs. Robinson wrong. I'm going by memory, haven't seen the movie as enough of a grown-up to be aware of the tragedy. I'll see it again, now, to see the sadness in the character.

At 11:18 PM, June 09, 2005, Blogger camojack said...

Somehow I missed the news that she had died...but now I understand why someone sent me an e-mail in tribute to her the other day. She was a class act...

At 12:16 AM, January 20, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"kcom--perhaps everything is about ecomonics :-)."

Perhaps, up to a point. But don't go turning into Karl Marx on me. :)

The older I get the more I suspect pretty much everything is, neo. Well, perhaps not love.

kcom -- the thing about Marx is that he was SUCH a lousy economist, really. My highschool kid sees through it, as I did at his age -- though at least he's not being forced to study it in three courses (history, economics and social studies) as I was every year of highschool. ;-)



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