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Anne Bancroft, a Lonelyville Regular, Remembered
Volume 49, Issue 3
By David Crohn

Anne Bancroft was best known for the vivacious, expressive qualities she brought to the seductive Mrs. Robinson and a myriad of other roles on stage and film, but few of her fans know about the private life she led here on Fire Island.

In fact, she and her husband, comedian Mel Brooks, bought a house in Lonelyville more than 30 years ago and used to vacation there whenever they could. She often brought her family out, and even bought a house behind hers for her younger sister Phyllis and her four kids. Her older sister, Joanne, was seen with the group in the summer and spring as well.

Jay Herman, a former longtime resident, lived near Mel and Anne—in multiple residences—for decades. His beachfront house, built in the early 1960s, was across from theirs on No Name Walk, and then in the middle 60s, around the same time that the couple bought a second house, Herman built another behind their first.

Herman recalled one rather frequent occurrence.

Brooks was apparently very frugal, so his and Anne’s house was very old, even a “fixer-upper” in its day, would only be repaired one side, one season at a time. Herman’s home, on the other hand, with its grand glass exterior, was one of the “great beach houses,” a prominent showpiece, especially compared to the small and rather modest home that Anne lived in. So naturally, passersby, knowing the famous couple lived in the area, would stop and gawk—at his house, not the stars’.

But above and beyond their beach homes, Anne’s spirit, and especially her smile were recalled by their former neighbor.

“She had a childlike enthusiasm. She would look at flowers or her garden and get excited,” Herman said, adding, “She was someone who loved the beach.”

Herman recalls Bancroft engaging in a daily ritual during her time at Fire Island, one which never changed over the years.

“What was really striking was at the end of the day they, her and sister, would go in the ocean…they would go and throw themselves on the surf, and frolic, squeal like kids, and they did this at least once a day during the summer,” he said.

Indeed, Bancroft’s love for the beach, and especially Fire Island, is more deeply understood when one considers one milestone event in her life that happened here. As she told the Chicago Sun-Times in 1997, Mel Brooks “practically stalked her before they got together,” and it came to a head when she was in Fire Island for the weekend: “I'm sitting on the stairs to the beach and I see this person off in the distance,” recalled Bancroft. “I'm thinking, ‘It can't be. It is.’ A few moments later, Mel is standing at the bottom of the stairs serenading me in this beautiful tenor voice.”

And in an undated National Public Radio interview, Bancroft expressed a particular joy unique to Fire Island’s locale.

“I'll never forget the time that my youngest sister and I were lying on the beach and our children were off playing somewhere. We knew not where. We didn't have to know where because we knew they would be safe. And it was so wonderful. It must have been about 5:00, you know, just before you had to go upstairs and start dinner, and my sister looked at me and said, `Do you realize we're only an hour and a half from Broadway?' I mean, the peace that we were feeling was impossible to think that it was only an hour and a half from Broadway.”