Knowing the public sides of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, one might never have seen them as an item. But the equally talented couple were a match made in heaven – “soulmate” is how Brooks described her.
The pair first met in February 1961, when the comedian saw her rehearsing for a Perry Como special.
Mel said, “She's wearing a white gown, and she has jet black, shiny hair and the most beautiful eyes, and the most beautiful figure… I'm in love. I know I'm just struck by her.”
Unwilling to miss his chance, he called out: “Anne Bancroft, I love you!”
“Who are you?” was her reply.
When he revealed his name, she not only knew who he was, but had actually purchased the record in which he performed his 2,000 Year Old Man routine with Carl Reiner.
“From that day, until her death, we were glued together,” Brooks said.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Mel made sure they bumped into each other. After their initial meeting, he would purposefully show up wherever Bancroft was, calling the “coincidences” “kismet” – something she saw through but enjoyed anyway.
By 1964, the couple was married.
The pair first appeared together in 1976’s Silent Movie, in which Bancroft had a short scene where she danced and crossed her eyes separately.
“She can really do that! That's why I married her,” Brooks teased. “For years, I've been searching for the right role for Annie. Not The Miracle Worker. Not The Pumpkin Eater. Not Mrs. Robinson. The right role, where she can cross her eyes!”
In 1983, they got the chance to really act together as co-stars in To Be Or Not To Be, a remake of the 1942 film that starred Carole Lombard and Jack Benny.
For the movie, the couple sing “Sweet Georgia Brown” in Polish, something Bancroft knew how to do and taught her husband.
“She drilled me every day until I could actually do it in Polish with her!”
Speaking about working with him, Anne remembered, “I’ve never had so much pleasure being with another human being.”
Brooks felt similar and credited his wife for helping shape the Broadway adaptions of The Producers and Young Frankenstein.
“She's always pushed me," he said. “She's always been an inspiration. She always thought I was talented. She believed in me right from the beginning.”
But the magic that viewers saw on-screen was accompanied by a mutual admiration and respect off-screen. They agreed not to work when the other was, so they could be there for each other in the busy seasons.
Bancroft said, “There's a side to him that you guys never even see. He can make you laugh at times you don't even expect it. Sometimes when you don't even want it, like in the middle of an argument or something. He just has the power to do that. Not only for me, but everybody in the household. Even the dog thinks he's funny.”
Likewise, Brooks praised his wife’s lesser known public qualities, like her ability to tackle anything thrown at her and still be supportive and comforting.
“She was a great gift. She was a gift from God.”