(4 of 9)
Kneepads, shin guards beneath her stockings, and sponge rubber tucked under her garter belt have not been enough to protect Patty from assorted cuts, bruises and a chipped tooth. Similar padding from ankle to bustle have not saved Anne from equally painful accidents. "The impulse during rehearsal," says Director Arthur Penn, "was to set the fight scene, to plan every move and response." But then he saw his stars at work. Once Actress Bancroft had persuaded Patty not to hold back ("Naw! You come on and hit me!"), the scrap quickly developed into impromptu reality, a little different every night. The big fight has run as briefly as 8 minutes 10 seconds; at its best, one night in Philadelphia, it lasted longer than 12 minutes. "It was," says Penn, "one of the greatest things I have seen in the theater. Everyone, including myself, was too moved to do anything rational, let alone punch a stop watch. The audience came out of its seats yelling."
Italian from Galway. What Anne Bancroft nightly brings to Annie Sullivan, besides sheer physical stamina, is an extraordinary talent for observation, an ear and an eye for the small, significant detail that transforms mimicry into understanding. So the coarse, curbside intonations of The Bronx were erased with intuitive skill at the flare of a footlight and the rise of a curtain. Seesaw's Gittel spoke with an inflection that convinced thousands of theatergoers that the actress must be Jewish ("I didn't even know what a Jew was until I was grown up," says Anne Bancroft). As Annie Sullivan, Actress Bancroft erases her Italian heritage so completely that, after seeing Miracle, Novelist Edwin (The Last Hurrah) O'Connor said: "This is the most astonishingly accurate Irish accent I've ever heard. It sounds as if she'd been born in Galway."
To achieve such precise stagecraft, Actress Bancroft worked hard with a variety of teachers, still submits to the rigorous and introspective training of the Actors' Studio. What sets Anne apart from other Method actors is the stubborn perseverance with which she has kept her quick and sensitive emotions unfettered by theory and cant. "I've never liked to read," says she. "But I don't cover up my ignorance ; if I admit it, people will teach me. On the third TV show I ever did, Rod Steiger told me about Stanislavsky. I said, 'Who's he?' Rod gave me Stanislavsky's book about acting. I still have it, but I've never read it." Happily she maintains, if not the innocence, at least the ingenuousness of the grown-up little girl who never stood on a Broadway stage until two years ago. "She'll be a grande dame of the theater by the time she's 40," says Director Penn, "but today she's marvelously uncivilized. Just about the only thing she couldn't do is a comedy of mannersand that's because she doesn't have them."