According to the March 2008 “Vanity Fair” article, "The Making of "The Graduate," Director Mike Nichols said when Bancroft was offered the notorious role of “Mrs. Robinson”, “Everyone cautioned her to turn it down," implying that taking the role would be too risky for her career. Apparently, it was Bancroft's husband, Mel Brooks, who recommended she take the part because he enjoyed the script. And so, Bancroft accepted the role which became epitome of the word “cougar” and it changed her career forever, but was it for better or for worse?
“The Graduate” (1967), based on the novel by Charles Webb, starring Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross Hoffman plays “Benjamin Braddock,” a recent college graduate, who engages in an affair with “Mrs. Robinson” (Bancroft), the wife Benjamin’s father’s business partner. The plot is only further complicated by the fact that once Benjamin is in the middle of the affair, he falls in love with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine.
Thanks to movie magic, Bancroft was made to look deceptively older than Hoffman. In reality, the two actors were merely six years apart in age; she 36 and he 30 at the time of filming. However, Bancroft did not rely on make-up alone to carry her through the role. With her smokey voice and incredible acting ability to draw, not only Benjamin but the audience as well, into her web, filling the air with electricity and dry sarcasm.
When the film was released, it received critical acclaim for it’s balance of comedy and drama. When awards season came, “The Graduate” was nominated for seven Academy Awards including a “Best Actress” nod for Bancroft. Bancroft was also nominated for a BAFTA but only won a “Best Actress” Golden Globe for her performance.
However, the stamp of playing “Mrs. Robinson,” was permanent for Bancroft. In the future, no matter what role Bancroft excelled in whether it be Helen Keller’s teacher in “The Miracle Worker” (1962); the sarcastic wife of Jack Lemmon in the film adaptation of Neil Simon’s comedy “The Prisoner on Second Avenue” (1975); or as the prima ballerina, Emma, in “The Turning Point” (1977), in which she was nominated for a "Best Actress" Oscar, Bancroft would always be “Mrs. Robinson.”
So it seems the role had become a blessing and a curse to Bancroft when she mentioned in a 2003 interview, “I am quite surprised, that with all of my work and some of it is very, very good, that nobody talks about “The Miracle Worker.” We’re talking about Mrs. Robinson. I understand the world . . . I’m just a little dismayed that people aren’t beyond it yet.” Whereas in a 2005 interview for “Washington Post,” Bancroft said, “To this day, when men meet me, there’s always that movie [The Graduate] in the back of their mind.”
Besides Bancroft, there was a list of other interesting actresses considered for the role of “Mrs. Robinson”:
- The late Patricia Neal was ready to play the role but was forced to drop out because of Neal's unexpected stroke.
- Actress Jane Fonda was offered to either play “Mrs. Robinson” or “Elaine Robinson” and turned down both of them.
Other actresses considered: Shelley Winters, Angela Lansbury, Eva-Marie Saint, Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth.