Hidden gems in Anne Bancroft’s life uncovered in new book


As an acclaimed actress with a 50-year career resulting in an Oscar, two Tonys, two Emmy awards, a Golden Globe, three BAFTAs, and the Best Actress accolade at The Cannes Film Festival, it’s hard to imagine Anne Bancroft lived a  “quiet life.”  

Maybe that’s part of the reason a finely detailed biography of the prolific actress has never been penned until journalist and biographer Douglass K. Daniel took the lack of material on the icon’s private life as an opportunity to go on a journalistic quest to discover more about the life of an actress who was all about the work.

While Bancroft did lead a “quiet life” away from the cheap spotlight of tabloids, which was centered around her craft,  Daniel explains, “that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an interesting life.’ It was quiet the opposite.

This long-overdue biography began with Daniel’s love for old Hollywood film.  The writer revealed to Reel 360, “Old movies have always been an interest of mine and I write about subjects I’m interested in. I also think it’s important to say I wrote this book in tandem with a full-time job, so the subjects of my book have to compel me to commit years of research and writing while working.”

With a day job as an editor and writer at the Washington, DC, bureau of the Associated Press, Daniel spends his nights exploring and writing about his passion – biographies. Daniel wanted to tackle a biography on an actress following his portraits of men in his previous biographies Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks; Harry Reasoner: A Life in the News; and Lou Grant: The Making of TV’s Top Newspaper Drama.

While searching for an actress from Hollywood’s “Golden Age” to research, he found the actress biography market overwhelmed with the accomplished and salacious lives of Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, Judy Garland, etc.

The writer was perplexed when he discovered the void in material on such an acclaimed actress as Anne Bancroft. “Such a monumental actress with so little written about her. That’s what hooked me. It was an invitation to write.”

He saw this lack of material as an opportunity to research an untapped story, as journalists are called to do. The author spent two years researching and writing Anne Bancroft: A Life, which was originally published in 2017 and is just now available in Paperback.

In this first biography to cover the entire scope of Bancroft’s life and career, Daniel brings together interviews with dozens of her friends and colleagues,  with never-before-published family photos, and material from film and theater archives to present a portrait of an artist who raised the standards of acting for all those who followed. Daniel reveals how, from a very young age, Bancroft was committed to challenging herself and strengthening her craft.

Her talent (and good timing) led to a breakthrough role in Two for the Seesaw, which made her a Broadway star overnight. The role of Helen Keller’s devoted teacher in the stage version of The Miracle Worker would follow, then her light on the silver screen began to shine when Bancroft also starred in the movie adaption of the play, which earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress.

Then, the actress’s seductive role as Mrs. Robinson in the groundbreaking film The Graduate solidified Bancroft a silver screen icon. She went on to appear in dozens of film, theater, and television productions, including several movies directed or produced by her husband, Mel Brooks and two films she even penned and directed herself. Her life was fiercely dedicated to her work and her line of work being “show business” made it a very interesting life worth writing about and reading about in this thorough biography. 

Douglass K. Daniel

On Daniel’s quest to uncover as much truth of Bancroft’s life, he found a truth that paralleled his own. “Anne was driven by discovery, it led her in her work and in her life.  Upon learning this in my research process of her, simultaneously I found that  I was very the same in that way. I am all about the discovery in my research and writing. The through-line in her life was that she was all about the work, the curiosity of it, the discovery of it and that is certainly something we share,” he noted.

Another overarching theme in the thespian’s life was her “all about the work mentality.” Bancroft’s hunger to grow as artist and her willingness to do whatever it took to achieve her creative goals– while sticking to her guns of integrity—was evident in every move she made.

A perfect example being, that after building an impressive resume of theatre and TV credits, she changed her very Italian last name of Italiano to Bancroft for her film debut in order to have a career in Hollywood. How even after much success in her career on Broadway she joined the Actors Studio to study with Lee Strasberg and go deeper within her craft.

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This way of being set her body of work in a caliber that transcended the stereotype of actresses. It also deeply inspired this young woman writing this article. The knowledge that another Italian woman from New York took the road less traveled on the path of an actress gave this woman a conviction to be true to my own path.

For me, Anne Bancroft wasn’t just any New York Italian, but a Great Cousin on my New York father’s “Italiano” side. It was Bancroft who directly influenced my decision to study at both The Actors Studio and The Lee Strasberg Institute in a conservatory program.  If Anne Bancroft took the outlier path with her singular pursuit of serious actress over glamorized, objectified starlet in the 1950s, in this modern social media abundant culture with reality “stars,” Instagram models, Youtube personalities, Tik Tok content creators, and influencers, the pursuit and path of the serious actress is more that of a pariah than that of an outlier.

It wasn’t an easy feat in Bancroft’s time and it certainly is that of a bygone era for this Millennial one. By reading Daniel’s biography it is even more clear that Anne knew how to silence out the noise of the industry’s cheap sentiment and live a life all about the work.  It is her life that has been a guiding light in my own as an actress. 

Daniel brilliantly and thoroughly uncovers hidden gems that reveal what made the relentless,  headstrong, and passionate Bancroft the artist she was and unearthed the secret behind such a prolific, yet “quiet life.” It was her unyielding passion to push herself to always be discovering something through her craft that served as the driving force that shaped the life of Anne Bancroft.

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Megan Penn reports on the indie film market and anything that empowers women and underrepresented groups.