Anne Bancroft on women in combat, her career and Mel Brooks

NEW YORK (AP) -- Anne Bancroft laughs hysterically when the idea of an ALL-FEMALE military is brought up to her.

She likes it so much that she asks that she be quoted as proposing it and says she'll definitely use the line in her next interview.

Seriously, though, just like her character in her latest film, she doesn't think women should be in combat, adding: "I don't think even men should be in combat."

Bancroft, who plays a Texas senator instrumental in getting the first woman (Demi Moore) admitted to the Navy SEALs in the Ridley Scott film "G.I. Jane," says she's been following the military's gender controversies, including whether women should go into combat.

"I think that everyone has got the right of choice -- up to a certain point. Then after that they don't. And we all pick and choose what point that is for our own selves," says the Oscar, Tony and Emmy winner who turns 66 next month.

"For my own self, I just don't think women belong in combat. For my own self, as I said before, I don't believe that men do, either. But if a war has to be fought, if nobody else can think of any other way to solve a problem, and some war HAS to be fought, physically, with guns and -- I don't even want to talk about," she says, cutting herself off, sounding so frustrated and disgusted with the prospect.

Good thing the ever elegant, slender actress is willing to talk about plenty of other things (beginning with professing a taste for single-malt scotch): the dearth (real or imagined) of good roles for women, the pluses and minuses of her most memorable role, Mrs. Robinson, and her 33-year marriage to Mel Brooks.

For someone who's made almost 60 films, availability of roles wouldn't seem to be a problem. Bancroft won the Academy Award in 1963 playing Annie Sullivan in "The Miracle Worker," a part for which she won the 1960 Tony. She's also received Oscar nominations for her performances in "The Pumpkin Eater" in 1964, "The Graduate" in 1967, "The Turning Point" in 1977 and "Agnes of God" in 1985.

Bancroft concedes there may be a lack of leading roles for women, but she can find even small roles satisfying. The example she gives: Her part in the 1993 movie "Malice," which amounted to a one- or two-day shoot.

"So there are always good parts. They may not pay what you want, and they may not have as many days' work as you want, they may not have the billing that you want, they may not have a lot of things, but (when it comes to) the content of the role itself, I find there are many roles."

When it comes to big-money, leading roles, she says, there aren't that many available for women.

"If there are, let's say, 20 astronauts, there may be two women among those 20 astronauts. If there are 20 FBI guys, there's one woman and the rest are men," she says.

"So when somebody writes a script about life, usually the leading role will be the man, because mostly what women do is at home taking care of the children."

And that's as it should be, she says. "That's the most important job there is on Earth. And why shouldn't women have it since they are the better of the two sexes," she says, laughing.

She says she's gotten flak for that opinion, but anyone who thinks she's saying something derogatory or demeaning is mistaken.

While some critics and fans have seen her characters as being typically daring and feisty, Bancroft doesn't. She thinks they're usually desperate or angry people.

Annie Sullivan had no choice but to take that position as Helen Keller's teacher, Bancroft maintains, noting that Sullivan was half-blind herself and her job opportunities were limited.

"She couldn't see dust, so she couldn't be a maid," she says. "Her eyes grew tired so she couldn't be a secretary or whatever they were allowing women to be in those days. ... Desperate, lonely, longing -- that's how I thought of her."

Similarly: Her latest character is put against the wall when she's threatened with closings of military bases in her state; Emma Jacklin in "The Turning Point" was someone disappointed with her personal life despite her renown as a dancer; even Mrs. Robinson in "The Graduate" feels great rage for getting married young and not testing her own artistic abilities -- so her affair with a younger man "comes out of enormous self-hatred," Bancroft says.

Because Mrs. Robinson endures as such a cultural milestone, it inevitably affects how she's received by people both in and out of show business, she admits.

Part of the upside came once in Italy when she was having a late lunch with her husband and some friends. Some young men sat at a nearby table, and a woman sat alone at another.

"Suddenly, the woman realized who I was. And she said in Italian to the young men, 'Questa senora e Senora Robinson.' And I heard 'Robinson' and the four young men were so bowled over, they got up out of their seats, they took off my shoes, they kissed my feet, they threw me in the air, they danced with me, they wanted their picture taken (with me)," she recalls, laughing. "It was the most glorious celebration I have ever had in my life. So in times like that, on a hot summer day in Avellino, Italy, when these four darling, darling young men just celebrate you like that, it's quite wonderful."

But there are other times when people apparently can think of her as no one else but Mrs. Robinson. "Some men who grew up with Mrs. Robinson in their minds are terribly intimidated by it. You can't get them to feel comfortable with you. So then it's not very nice."

She figures it's had an impact on her career, too. "More than I know. But I don't have it documented," she says.

The other enduring thing in her life isn't a semi-sore point at all: her husband. She's been quoted as saying her "heart flutters" when she hears his key turning in the door. After all these years she still says: "I don't quite jump for joy, but I am awfully glad to see him."

The key to being married so happily for so long? "Just working hard," she offers.

"First of all, you have to marry the right person. If you marry the wrong person for the wrong reasons, then no matter how hard you work, it's never going to work," says Bancroft, who has an adult son with Brooks and was married less than four years in the '50s to her first husband.

"Because then you have to completely change yourself, completely change them, completely -- by that time, you're both dead. So I think you have to marry for the right reasons, and marry the right person."

She says that it's important that Brooks understands her "and that he understands not only with his brain but with his heart. And that might be called love. Not quite sure, but maybe that's the key."

And then she jokes: "Who knows? Maybe I would have been better off without him."

End Adv for Weekend Editions, Aug. 22-24

Copyright 1997 The Shawnee News-Star