She said in 2003 that nearly everyone discouraged her from playing the role of Dustin Hoffman's middle-aged seductress "because it was all about sex with a younger man." Yet Bancroft saw something deeper, viewing the character as having unfulfilled dreams and having been relegated to a conventional life with a conventional husband.
"Film critics said I gave a voice to the fear we all have: that we'll reach a certain point in our lives, look around and realize that all the things we said we'd do and become will never come to be — and that we're ordinary."
Friends recalled Bancroft as anything but ordinary Tuesday, a day after the actress died at the age of 73. She died of uterine cancer, according to John Barlow, a spokesman for her husband, producer Mel Brooks.
"Her combination of brains, humor, frankness and sense were unlike any other artist," Mike Nichols, who directed her in "The Graduate," said in a statement. "Her beauty was constantly shifting with her roles, and because she was a consummate actress she changed radically for every part."
The lights on Broadway will be dimmed Wednesday in Bancroft's honor.
Bancroft was among the most lauded actresses of the 1960s and 1970s, earning five Academy Award nominations and one Oscar, for playing the teacher of a young Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker," a role that also brought her one of two Tony Awards.
That was the first Broadway show Entertainment Tonight Film Critic Leonard Maltin ever saw.