Anne Bancroft Bids Farewell to Gittel and “Seesaw” (The Herald Statesman, June 1959)

Yonkers Star Exits Historic Role in Long-Run Broadway Hit Tonight.

The Herald Statesman (Yonkers, New York); 27 June 1959; pg. 6.

Author: Larry Swindell

Tonight’s performance of the splendid, long-running Two for the Seesaw completes a most important chapter in one of modern Broadway’s historic star stories.

Anne Bancroft, the Yonkers girl who originated the spectacular role of Gittel Mosca in William Gibson’s two-character play, gives her final performance, as does co-star Dana Andrews. 

The play will continue indefinitely, but Miss Bancroft, who has taken roughly 600 rides on the Seesaw (excluding numerous pre-Broadway performances), will be challenging new horizons. 

The New Challenge:

In less than two months, she will begin rehearsals for The Miracle Worker, another Gibson drama, and it will bow in Manhattan’s Playhouse Theatre in October. It will be her task to portray Annie Sullivan (later Mrs. Macy), the heroic tutor of Helen Keller, during the first turbulent years of the educational ordeal.

The play is derived from Gibson’s television drama that stands as one of the fine achievements of that medium. It is anticipated as one of Broadway’s major offerings of the 1959-60 season. And it gives Anne Bancroft a rare role that can enable her to answer all those Seesaw admirers who have relished her Gittel Mosca and then asked, “How can she top a part like that?”

If top it she could–and who’s going to bet against it?–Anne Bancroft will inhale the atmosphere of thespian greatness. Already she is regarded as one of the fine young legitimate actresses, and ‘Seesaw’ has given her command of star sovereignty. Gittel is a complex role, full of theatrical flash that demands both comic resourcefulness and emotional depth. Anne’s brilliance resulted in an Antoinette Perry (Tony) award. Indeed, she has become Westchester’s Main Stem Pride.

Anne is the second of three daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Italiano, and the family resides at 48 Clover St. in the Grey Oaks section of Yonkers. Only Anne pursues the dramatic muse, and even her vocational direction just sort of “happened.”

“I finished high school at sixteen. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Does anybody at sixteen? I was open to suggestions, and when the idea of studying at the Academy (New York’s National Academy of Dramatic Art), was presented, it seemed like a pleasant solution. I knew I liked to perform, because I’d been doing it since I was a little child, out on the streets in The Bronx.”

The Magic of Anne:

That’s Anne Italiano speaking. She is responding to a battery of questions that are being supplied by an interviewer who appreciates an opportunity to hear an exciting, throaty voice, and to witness the fireworks display in two beautifully encased, intense eyes.

“My mother liked the idea of Academy training, too, because it kept me closer to home than going away college would have meant.”

She is entirely animated, gesticulating impressively in the manner that has enlivened many a Jack Paar post-theater video session. She investigates one conversational topic, rabbit-hops into other areas, and ultimately appears to be dispensing three or four subjects with a simultaneity that is disarmingly articulate and compelling.

“At the Academy Mrs. Worthington Minor took an interest in my development as an actress, and recommended me to her husband who was then directing Studio One shows. I got a part in Torrents of the Spring and then I got more parts, and one thing led to another and there I was in Hollywood.”

She was Anne Marno in television. As a 20th Century Fox contractee she became Anne Bancroft and established a semi-name in about a dozen films for Fox, Columbia, and other companies. None of her pictures are memorable ones, and her playing evidenced only the promise of ability, and not its fulfillment. We were curious to learn if she would follow the lead of so many talented beings who have been somewhat mishandled on the West Coast, and knock Hollywood. She didn’t.

“I’ve always thought the movies to be an artistically marvelous medium, and I do hope to do more film work later. And I certainly learned much from my Hollywood experience. I was still a teenager when I started in movies, and I really had no idea how much I could have offered them; I have a much greater idea now.”

“I took the whole bit too lightly. I wanted to do Don’t Bother to Knock just because it gave me a chance to sing a song, and I did Nightfall just so I could wear a $800 sequined dress.”

Of one thing she is certain: she never again will sign a term contract with a movie company.

“It isn’t fair to a performer, certainly not to one who knows his course. It has been gratifying to get film offers, since Seesaw, of course, from the really good directors, and to know they want you for something meaningful and specific. And it’s gratifying to have to refuse because of something like The Miracle Worker.”

Two Ways About It:

How does she feel about leaving the smash hit play that has been the electric turning point of her career?

“I have mixed emotions. I am happy for the relief, the change. But I have misgiving because I haven’t solved all the acting problems. At first it was a matter of learning to meet them. During the first year I fell into all the traps; only more recently have I learned that you can’t deny the life process of growth itself. My performances have grown as I’ve learned to solve the same problems in different ways. So, in the same role, I’m still progressing as an actress, but I’m leaving the play when I still am troubled by new problems of characterization.”

What about The Miracle Worker and the exacting task of playing Annie Sullivan. Isn’t it frightening?

“Of course it is, and that’s what makes it so exciting. That’s why I want to do it!”

Eager for More:

Anne was offered The Miracle Worker while Seesaw was still in the rigors of its Philadelphia tryout.

“They asked me, and I leaped at them like a tiger.”

To prepare for her role, she shortly will attend the Perkins Institute in Boston to employ the manual alphabet she’s learned already, then will communicate actively with the people at the Vacation Camp for the Blind, in Spring Valley.

And after The Miracle Worker, what would Anne Bancroft propose to do next?

“A musical. A good, solid Broadway musical comedy. And I’ll be ready for it, too. None of that having talky songs written for me in a limited range; I want to prove that I can carry the whole musical assignment. Right now I can get up on a stage and belt out a big number and make it good, but I can’t express the soft lyrical stuff and still be heard.”

“But it will come. My voice instructor, Ruby Scharr, is a magician. She’s done wonders for me in just a year. And you know, every actor should study singing seriously, just for the health of his own stage voice.”

Now Miss Bancroft, you’re unmarried. Are there any prospects?

“I am a very impulsive person. If anybody had ever asked me to marry them, I might have done it, just like I turned to acting. No prospects.”

Anne’s sisters are married, but the Italianos remain a harmonious and unified family. Mrs. John Perna, the eldest sister, occupies the downstairs apartment in the Italiano home with her husband and their daughter, Julianne, a bright youngster who enjoys a special rapport with Anne. Younger sister Phyllis Wetzel, vacationing from her Washington D.C. home, is a dark beauty in the Italiano tradition, and might have emulated Anne’s theatrical pursuit had not marriage proved the greater attraction.

By the looks of things, Anne will be gathering in fame enough for all of Yonkers’ spirited Italianos.

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