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Roger Smith

It's kind of strange, that so little has been written about Ann-Margret in Swedish press compared to other Swedish beauty queens who have made international careers.

On the other hand, it's not strange at all.

Among the so-called sex symbols and pin-ups, she is by far the most talented actress, but she is also really shy and withdrawn, and since more than 25 years married to the same man. Tabloids have nothing to write about.

Of course it also means something that she left Sweden at such an early age and became an American citizen. Her ties to the old country isn't as strong as they used to be, but she still speaks Swedish, and more than gladly takes part in celebrating Sweden when it concerns films. So we Swedes should be more proud of her and of her success!

She was born on April 28, 1941, in Valsjobyn in the county of Jamtland as Ann-Margret Olsson. Her father, Gustav Olsson, had emigrated to the US at an early age. He got an education and then worked as an electrician. 1937 he returned and met Anna Aronsson, 18 years his junior, whom he fell in love with and married. When their daughter was born, he wanted them to emigrate. He had liked Chicago, where he had had a good job. There was a war in Europe and the future seemed insecure.

The mother hesitated, and let the father move ahead. When the war was finally over and the father had given her an ultimatum, she finally left in November 1946 on the "Gripsholm", bound for New York, where the father met them.

To celebrate the reunion he took them on their first night to the famous Radio City Music Hall, where they saw a film about Al Jolson and a real American show. That experience planted a seed in the young daughter, who at a young age, had become interested in song and dance through her mother.

Even though times were tough, the parents encouraged this. Ann-Margret got dance lessons from the age of eight and was placed in various music schools, where they understood to train her voice.

Her debut as a "performer" came already at the tender age of 16, after winning a talent show, she got to perform on Ted Mack's popular TV-show, "Amateur Hour".

This, in turn, led to other vocalist engagements. To begin with during weekends and holidays, but since it consisted of touring, she finally had to make a decision: a college degree or a career. With her parents permission she chose a career. Noone would ever have a reason to regret this.

One of the really big names in show business at this time, was comic and vaudeville artist George Burns, who in November 1960, held an audition for girls who could sing, and maybe paricipate in his Christmas show in Las Vegas.

Ann-Margret decided to try her luck and became not just a back-up singer, she even became Burns' sing and dance partner and got her own number to do. It was a break-through, and a month later, Ann-Margret had a record contract, a film contract and a 14-page article in Life magazine. On top of this, a guest spot on the Jack Benny Show on TV and an invitation to sing on the Academy Awards. Talk about full speed ahead!

Maybe she was lucky to have such a secure background and good relations to her family. She immediatly persuaded her parents to move to Hollywood, where they, during the first years all lived together, and where the on-stage exhibitionist, enticing and gorgeous, but deep down shy, 19-year old could feel safe and secure - also from courting cavaliers.

The film debut came as Bette Davis' daughter in Frank Capra's remake of his own classic, "Lady for a day", now called "A pocketful of miracles". The miracle was Ann-Margret, and the year was 1961.

From there on there was usually two-three films per year, and wisely enough, it was her song and dance skills they concentrated on. The really big break came in George Sidney's "Bye bye Birdie", from 1963, about which Variety wrote encouragingly: "Striking important in Bye Bye Birdie is Ann-Margret. Singer, hoofer and cutie-pie, all wrapped up into one, she has the magnetism of early vintage Judy Garland. (...) Ann-Margret, to repeat, is a wow."

This success immediatly led to her being cast as Elvis Presley's co-star in "Viva Las Vegas" in 1964, about which, Variety wrote: "the sizzling combination of Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret is enough to carry Viva Las Vegas over the top". Vocally she wasn't far behind Elvis, and in the part as swimming teacher (!) she also got to put her other talents on display.

This film also led to a serious, but well kept secret romance with the king of rock'n'roll, and a life long friendship. Ann-Margret often speaks of them as twin souls, with similar backgrounds and the same genuine feel for rhythm and music and Elvis always honored her with floral arrangements in the form of a guitar at premieres of her shows. When Elvis passed away in 1977, it fell natural to have Ann-Margret hosting the two-hour TV-tribute that was broadcasted a few months later.

The success with among other things, this film, got her the "Star of the year"-award from the American cinema owners. Another film, which used both her sex appeal and her sing and dance skills, was George Sidney's "The Swinger", in 1966.

More and more it was dawning on everyone that there was more behind the facade of "open-mouthed Monroe-imitation and the slinki Theda Bara bit" as someone put it. In Ann-Margret you could also find the raw material to a solo entertainer and a serious character actress.

The thought of her own Las Vegas show had gradually grown, and in June 1967 it became reality and a success. Los Angeles Times wrote: the girl with the svelte figure, vibrant youth and boundless energy came up with the aces and joins that select group of performers who can enchant an audience for ninety minutes".

Since then, Ann-Margret has mixed her career with films, night club-acts and TV-specials, usually produced by her husband, former TV-actor Roger Smith, whom she married in 1967, after dating him for several years. He completely abandoned his own career to become her manager, husband and body guard.

This, though, didn't meant that he didn't allow Ann-Margret to be sexy from there on!

The first one to successfully combine this talent along with her serious side, was director Mike Nichols in "Carnal Knowledge", from 1971. Ann-Margret did a touching portrait of a sexploited model, who most of all wants to marry and settle down and have kids. For this part she got her first nomination for an Academy Award.

The second one, was the film version of the British rock-opera "Tommy" in 1975, but between those films, there was a bad accident that nearly cost her her life. During a night club performance in 1972, she fell violently from a high platform. Miraculously, she was back on stage after just 10 weeks, in spite of a cheek fracture and a broken arm.

Along with the serious parts, offers from Europe started coming in. England, as well as Italy and France wanted her and Ann-Margret saw her chance to not being stuck in the more shallow American glamour parts. In "The return of a soldier" from 1982, an English class-drama about the time just after World War I, based on a novel by Rebecka West, Ann-Margret played one of three women who all love the same man. It's a story about jealousy between Julie Christie, as the wife, and Glenda Jackson, as the man's childhood sweetheart, but it's Ann-Margret, as the silent sister-in-law who steals the show. She plays her passive part with a warmth and a feeling that is so different from her sometimes a bit icy aura.

This warmth returns in one of my personal favourites, Bud Yorkin's "Twice in a lifetime", from 1985. Based on the English playwright Colin Welland's play, it's about a 50-year old worker (Gene Hackman), who breaks up from his run-down marriage (to Ellen Burstyn) when he suddenly meets a waitress who wants to give him a second chance in life. A realistic film about a hard decision, but also about all the new possibilities that comes with such a decision. With a less competent actress than Ann-Margret, it could easily have been a banality.

An Americanised version of the divorce theme, came in Alan Alda's "A new life" from 1988. A middle-aged couple decide to break up after a 20-year long marriage, and look for new partners. A sometimes charming comedy with dark undertones.

During her later years, Ann-Margret has also become known as a serious television actress in a string of films, often with John Erman as director. The biggest challenge was of course the part as Blanche in Tennessee Wiliams' "A streetcar named Desire", most of all since the writer himself had suggested she should play the part. The, from the outside, so healthy Ann-Margret, also has a neurotic side, which among other things has helped her to identify with parts such as the one in "Carnal Knowledge". It now came in handy once again.

In 1983, when Ann-Margret at last performed at the China Theatre in Stockholm, Sweden, she announced that she was retiring as a stage artist. Just over 40 years old she felt too old. Three yeears later she participated in a TV-special in honor of her "discoverer" George Burns' 90th birthday. he says to her: "Movies are great. I remember when they were invented. But you're a performer. You gotta get back on stage".

He was right, once again and at the age of 50, Ann-Margret is still going strong and one of the most sought-after perfomers. Since she actually never had appeared at the Radio City Music Hall in New York, she decide to premiere one of her latest shows there, on her father's birthday, October 22, 1991.

Her father was then gone, since 18 years, but her mother was in the audience that night, and in her book Ann-Margret writes: "I hope that somewhere in the audience, maybe somewhere in the back, there might be a little girl, perhaps a little girl from a foreign country, who was getting her first taste of show business. And I hope it was magic for her, too".

The book, "My story" came in 1994. It is a sympathetic, frank and very personal book. Her family plays as big a part, as her career, and she looks sound on both her assets and her limitations. She thinks herself more of a "performer" than a singer, and as an actress, more intuitive and emotional, than analytic and intellectual.

At the same time, shown in cinemas all over the world, is one of her most successful films, box office-wise, the not so remarkable, but entertaining comedy "Grumpy Old Men". It's about two old men in Minnesota - the younger one actually Swedish, as well as his father who is still alive - who both fall in love with a widow who has recently moved into their neighborhood.

The story reminds you a lot about the old folklore-plays of Vilhelm Moberg's (legendary Swedish writer) and the core is the charm of the totally relaxed actors, Burgess Meredith (86), Walter Matthau (74), Jack Lemmon (68) and Ann-Margret (52). Long live old gods!

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From the book "Filmstars" by Bengt Forslund.
A Swedish book about female Swedish international filmstars.

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Other actresses figured in the book include famous stars, such as Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo, Viveca Lindfors, the Bergman-women: Lena Olin, Bibi Andersson, Mai Zetterling, Ingrid Thulin, Harriet Andersson, Gunnel Lindblom and Eva Dahlback.

It also includes the infamous stars, such as Britt Ekland, Inger Stevens, Pia Degermark, May-Britt Wilkens, Anita Ekberg and of course Christina Lindberg.

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