Mary McNamara: The most romantic holiday gift this year is Mel Brooks' 'The Anne Bancroft Collection'

Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

No one stays married for 41 years unless they really mean it, especially in Hollywood.

Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft really meant it. And 14 years after her death, Brooks still means it.

Concerned that younger generations might not be familiar with the depth of his wife's talent, he recently curated "The Anne Bancroft Collection," a Blu-ray boxed set featuring eight of Bancroft's films, including the famous -- "The Miracle Worker," "The Graduate" -- and the lesser known -- "The Pumpkin Eater," "84 Charing Cross Road" -- as well the only film in which the couple appeared together, the comedy "To Be or Not to Be."

Brooks remains wildly prolific, even at 93. "Mel Brooks Unwrapped" premieres Dec. 13 on HBO; he voiced Melephant Brooks in this year's "Toy Story 4," and an animated version of his 1974 classic "Blazing Saddles" called "Blazing Samurai" is slated for 2021.

But "The Anne Bancroft Collection" was made for love.

Which makes it possibly the most romantic holiday gift of the year.


"They were playing 'The Graduate' on television," he said in a recent telephone interview, "and I thought it was really good and that there were so many things she had done that were not as well known."

His favorite of her roles, he says, was the middle-class, and notably fertile, British woman of "The Pumpkin Eater." "Harold Pinter was writing the script and Annie loved the character. She had just won the Oscar for 'The Miracle Worker' so she called (director) Jack Clayton. He said, 'You're not right for it,' and she said, 'I can do it.' So we flew over to England and she auditioned for it. Right after winning an Oscar. And he was stunned."

Bancroft was nominated for an Oscar for "The Pumpkin Eater," and Julie Andrews mentions in her book "Homework" how stunned she was when her name was called, for "Mary Poppins," instead of Bancroft's.

"I don't think 'Pumpkin Eater' ever got the play it deserved," Brooks said. "Neither did '84 Charing Cross Road,' which was just a stunning performance, or 'Fatso,' which was just brilliant. I just felt like audiences should see how great she was."


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