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Bob's Take: Ann-Margret still knocks our socks off

The little Olsson girl was just 5 ½ years old when she moved from Sweden to the United States with her mother in 1946 and started taking dance lessons.

I’m talking about Ann-Margret Olsson, who took to the dance lessons right away. She was singing in Chicago nightclubs as a teen, then headed for Nevada with a group called the Suttletones.

There she met Marilyn Monroe, who was on location shooting “The Misfits” with Clark Gable just a year before she died.

George Burns “discovered” her, putting her in his holiday show in which the two did a soft-shoe number together. She’d dropped her last name by then. And the rest, as they say, is showbiz history.

Ann-Margret has since won five Golden Globes and been nominated for five more. (She beat Jane Fonda for most promising newcomer in 1962.) She’s notched five Emmy nominations, two for Grammys.

Twice she was nominated for an Oscar, losing one of those times (“Tommy”) to Louise Fletcher (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) and the other (“Carnal Knowledge”) to Cloris Leachman (“The Last Picture Show”).
Now, just as Leachman is planning a trip to Omaha for a commemorative screening of “Young Frankenstein,” Ann-Margret is appearing in “Lucky,” a movie being filmed in the metro area.

Wonder what those two would say to each other if they happened to cross paths.

I first noticed Ann-Margret in “Bye Bye Birdie,” a goofy 1963 musical in which she’s chosen from among a national fan club to kiss an Elvis-like rock star on live television.

That smooth, breathy voice was so sexy. So was the way she moved when she danced. And she was so pretty!

I’ve been noticing her ever since.

She knocked my socks off 10 years ago in a dramatic turn as the alcoholic mother of pro football team owner Cameron Diaz in Oliver Stone’s “Any Given Sunday.” Didn’t like the movie that much, but Ann-Margret was dynamite. It was a gutsy part, one that got her some Oscar buzz.

One of the things that fascinates me about Ann-Margret is the show-biz history she encompasses.

Her first movie role was as Bette Davis’ daughter in “Pocketful of Miracles,” back in 1961. Frank Capra directed.

Guests on her successful television specials included Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Lucille Ball, Dean Martin — great names from a bygone era of moviemaking.

She had a romance with Elvis after appearing in “Viva Las Vegas” with him.

She sang for JFK at his last private birthday party, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, just one year after that job famously fell to Marilyn Monroe.

She appeared opposite Anthony Hopkins in “Magic,” John Wayne in “The Train Robbers,” with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in “Grumpy Old Men,” with Steve McQueen in “The Cincinnati Kid.” And, of course, with Jack Nicholson in both of her Oscar-nominated roles.

Not long ago she had a small role with Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston in “The Breakup,” a small sign that she’s totally up to date in terms of who’s hot in Hollywood.

Imagine the stories she has to tell, having known and worked with so many great entertainers.

I think she has been consistently underestimated as a serious dramatic actress. Her looks and sex-kitten image were tough to pull away from, though “Carnal Knowledge” was a turning point.

I admired her for touring in Vietnam with the USO, entertaining the troops.

And who can forget the guts she showed when she fell 22 feet from an elevated platform while doing a nightclub act in Lake Tahoe back in 1972? She broke her left arm, her jaw and cheekbone, and had to have her mouth wired shut and go on a liquid diet. But 10 weeks later she returned to the stage.

And 37 years later, here she is, at age 68, making a movie in our midst.
She’s playing the mother of a character played by Colin Hanks, a serial killer who has won the lottery. We’re told Ann-Margret’s role is no cameo, and she has dramatically challenging scenes in “Lucky.” Can’t wait.

In Omaha, everybody from her hairdresser to her personal assistant says she’s a pleasure to be around.

And to think I missed meeting her by two minutes when I visited the set of “Lucky.” (See article from Sept. 19 on Omaha.com.) I’ll be kicking myself over that one for a while.
See you at the movies, Ann-Margret.


By Bob Fischbach


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