Anne Bancroft Turns Cheek 2,800 Times For Art’s Sake (The Record, July 1961)

She who gets slapped filming screen version of ‘The Miracle Worker.’

The Record (Hackensack, New Jersey); 28 Jul. 1961; pg. 9.

Author: Hal Boyle

NEW YORK–Anne Bancroft has been struck in the face more than 2,800 times in the name of art.

Film audiences gasped years ago when actress Mae Clarke played a role in which Jimmy Cagney pushed a grapefruit in her face.

A grapefruit in the face would be merely cool and refreshing to Miss Bancroft.

Hit Hard:

As Anne Sullivan, teacher of deaf, mute, and blind Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, she was slapped hard–or hit in the face with a plastic doll–four times a performance by her undisciplined young charge whom she gradually brings to love and learning.

Anne played the stage role through 700 performances and won her second Broadway Tony award. The first was for Two for the Seesaw.

She and Patty Duke, who plays Helen Keller as a child, are again co-starred in the screen version of The Miracle Worker, a picture that probably won’t leave a dry eye between here and Timbuktu.

The other day I talked with Miss Bancroft during a luncheon break on the set. She still wore knee pads under her long gown, and her head was ringing.

They had just finished shooting one of the slapping sequences, and Anne had been bopped in the face–and bopped hard to insure realism–some 15 times. 

“It’s all in the business,” she said matter of factly, “but sometimes you hate to do it over and over again–it it isn’t your fault.”

She said she had a headache but Anne, a dedicated actress if there ever was one, declined to take any aspirin. She said it might affect her performance in the scenes to be taken that afternoon. She sighed and stretched gratefully out on the relaxing board in her dressing room. Then she broke out her lunch–three carrots–and began to munch them thoughtfully.

“This is all I have on days when we’re doing the physically rough scenes,” she remarked. “If I ate any more, I get an upset stomach.”

Tries to Forget:

Anne, whose first public performance was an impromptu dance as a child before a captive audience of eight W.P.A. street workers in her native Bronx, was signed early by Hollywood. She appeared in a dozen or more films, all of which now she is willing to forget.

But it was her two starring appearances on Broadway that won her fame and recognition as one of the best current crop of young actresses. She is also one of the best-liked by other performers, who regard her as a real pro who worked hard to develop her natural talent. 

“I have hundreds and hundreds of problems,” she said cheerfully, tossing aside the rubble of the third carrot, “but no real plans ahead.”

“I don’t see how one can plan ahead in this business. I take singing lessons when I’m not busy working. I just want to do good stuff, whether its musicals or dramas.”

“I’m not sure what kind of person I am yet. I don’t believe I have a real philosophy of my own. I enjoy acting when it’s good, and people–even when they’re bad. I’m pretty content right now, but” –she laughed– “I don’t know how I’ll feel tonight.”

She arose from the relaxing board to return to the set. The next scene was one in which Patty Duke was to sock her in the face with a plastic doll. 

“They’ll probably have to shoot it over six or seven times,” Anne said gamely, “but the blows don’t hurt so bad except when Patty misses.”

“But she’s a good shot. She hits nine out of ten.”

The life of a star is a very interesting one.

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