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Roger Smith

The woman simply has no patience for earaches
To Ann-Margret, helping others is what counts

Ann-Margret, star of Bye Bye Birdie, Carnal Knowledge and a much-lauded recent episode of Mad Men, is being presented tonight with a philanthropy award from the Best Buddies charity organization of Canada. A leading lady discovered by George Burns in 1960 in Las Vegas, Ann-Margret would go on to play Bette Davis's daughter in Frank Capra's Pocketful of Miracles, start a lifelong friendship with Elvis after their work in 1964's Viva Las Vegas and, among other things, earn an Oscar nomination for her role in Tommy, the rock opera by The Who. We asked Sweden's most famous export what she gets back from her charitable efforts after nearly five decades in the public eye. What follows are highlights from her lessons.

-"It's in the Bible: People should be helping others. I don't really see anything special in what I do."

-"Oh, George [Burns] was so caring, he loved his wife so much! I remember when we worked on our songs, I did two songs and then I did a song and a dance -- a sand-dance he called it, and he would take real sand out of his pocket, bless his soul. Well, when we'd done enough rehearsing for the day, we had to perform it for Gracie. I went to that house so many times! Bless Gracie's soul. She would come downstairs and sit on the sofa and we'd do the sand-dance for her and, if she approved, then we did it at the Sahara -- but never before Gracie approved."

-"My life really is a movie."

-"Somebody complains and says, 'I have an earache.' Yeah, right. One of our sons is a Big Brother and I've met the young man he spends time with. This young man has the beginnings of cerebral palsy. To take him to movies and football games, going out for a hamburger and just talking to him, it enriches everything. Don't tell me you have an earache. Help someone else."

-"I appeared with George Burns in his Christmas show in Las Vegas at the Sahara. I was there 10 days -- Christmas through New Year's --and there were talent scouts in the audience. I came back to Los Angeles in January and had a screen test for 20th Century Fox, I got a contract with them and then I auditioned for RCA. Everything happened from that."

-"I really am a night person."

-"In 1961, there were probably five big hotels on the strip and, in the audience, men wore suits and the women wore cocktail dresses. Sometimes, when I picture it, I miss those days. How can you not?"
-"Can you believe, here I am playing Bette Davis's daughter having never taken any acting lessons? Mr. Capra gives me this huge chance and Ms. Davis ... I have to tell you a story. I was doing a scene with her and I didn't know anything about medium-shots, close-ups, I was just happy to remember my lines! I was perspiring, my hands were ice cold. And Ms. Davis went up to me and called out to Mr. Capra, 'Stop, stop, stop!' She says, 'Ann-Margret, this is your close-up!' She called out for make-up and hair and, after they attended to me, she said, 'Now we can shoot.' God bless them both. Bless their souls."

-"It's wonderful to see young people doing Best Buddies instead of getting into gangs and the 'me, me, me' thing. It helps everyone -- not just the children, but their big buddies as well."

-"I've been married to the same man for 42 years, bless his heart. Best Buddies certainly helped my husband and I." - Ann-Margret will be presented a lifetime achievement award tonight at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto. For more information on Best Buddies Canada, see bestbuddies.ca.

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By Ben Kaplan

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