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DISCLAIMER: In writing this piece, I will do my best at limiting the use of the words "legend" and "legendary." Wish me luck!
Say the name "Ann-Margret" among a group of people and, in addition to swoons, oohs, aaahs and accolades, you will undoubtedly hear things blurted out like, "Las Vegas", "MAGIC with Anthony Hopkins", "Acid Queen in TOMMY", "BYE, BYE BIRDIE!", "GRUMPY OLD MEN", "Elvis", "WHO WILL LOVE MY CHILDREN?", "Ann-Margrock", "Roger Smith", "Motorcycles", "KITTEN WITH A WHIP", "CARNAL KNOWLEDGE", "Peter Allen" and the list goes on and on.
Saying the name ANN-MARGRET is like an instant Rorschach Test or Word Association game and it's no wonder, as this woman who came to America from another country (Sweden) has surely achieved what is perceived as "The American Dream" with a uniquely unparalleled career.
On Tuesday, October 8th, ROLEX will present BROADWAY & BEYOND! Celebrating Theatre & Dance - Career Transition For Dancers' 28th Anniversary Jubilee at 7pm at New York City Center. (Click here for full information on the event).
The organization is the only nonprofit organization in the United States solely dedicated to helping thousands of dancers take their first steps in discovering rewarding careers when performing is no longer an option.
The award will be presented to Ann-Margret by another living legend, Liza Minnelli, who has been as equally accomplished with stellar film roles, stage work, television specials and continues to work, putting HER unique stamps on great material and creating many legendary moments of her own.
The presentation of the ROLEX DANCE AWARD will be a historic moment to witness, for sure, but the evening will also boast entertainment and musical numbers performed by artists from American Repertory Ballet; Broadway Dance Lab; Cirque du Soleil; New York Song & Dance Company; Parelle Exit; Rosie's Theater Kids; World Cup All Star Cheerleading with Benois de la Danse Laureate; a world premiere from SMASH choreographer Josh Bergasse and the Jubilee Orchestra and more to be announced. The show is produced and directed by Ann Marie DeAngelo .
Ann-Margret (Olsson) was born in Stockholm. Her story could fill many books and if you don't know a lot about her, you should spend as much time as you can spare, reading about her life and career and knocking yourself out on YOUTUBE, where it's possible there are more postings of her work than one could possibly count. Ann-Margret also penned an excellent autobiography called MY STORY. I remember it also came out as one of those "books on tape" (which I used to buy voraciously) and stood out because she simply told her story and it didn't sound as if she was reading her book aloud, but rather talking to you and that's how we started our chat. I told her that I loved it when she talked about the way her father would address her and say her name, "Ann-Margret," with a stunning accent and you could immediately hear her response with the warmth and love of family in her voice.
Ann-Margret's speaking voice is unmistakable, as is her singing voice. That's saying a lot in an era when sometimes you can't distinguish one voice from another, especially in music. She was a major attraction in films, very often being named "Outstanding Box Office Star of the Year" by the Theater Owners of America. She was part of the studio system and worked like crazy, releasing many recordings and performing on television, stages and Las Vegas showrooms. And the work just kept growing and getting better and better and better.
She never had to face the issue of "career transition" because she always did it all and established herself as a star, from the very beginning, since first discovered by George Burns. She had classic beauty, was a really nice girl and worked hard ... which brought its rewards with longevity in the business. She somehow grew and evolved without the effort and pain we witness with talents today, as they try to bridge the gap between teen stardom and becoming an adult, in the public eye. As a matter of fact, in the case of Ann-Margret, she may even have started playing older sooner than she needed to. But, the concept and idea of career "transition" is certainly something she understands. I asked her if there was ever a day when she thought, "I'm not going to dance anymore," and she actually told me she really thought she made that decision for herself in 1971. While touring she said, "Roger, that's it." Well, "that didn't happen," she said, and we both laughed. As a matter of fact, some of the best work of her career was yet to come.
The one that comes to the forefront of my mind, is the staggering story and HER performance in a film called WHO WILL LOVE MY CHILDREN? In it she played a mother of 10 children, who was diagnosed with cancer and, because she feared her husband was not be able to care for the children, she wanted to place each of them in homes, where she knew they would be safe, raised well and have futures. She would not allow herself to die until this task was completed. It was a harrowing and beautiful film, directed by John Erman.
The EMMY that year was bestowed upon Barbara Stanwyck for THE THORN BIRDS, who in her acceptance speech said that she believed that the award belonged to Ann-Margret.
But, of course, there was always singing & dancing Ann-Margret. And the girl who married Roger Smith, the handsome actor, who later added "Manager" to his resume. Having wed in 1967, they remain married and are that elusive successful marriage, envied by many and certainly not the "norm" in Hollywood. This morning, she's up early and when we finish our chat, she's taking him to the dentist to get a tooth pulled.
I jumped around on topics because so much has been written about her and I asked if she was surprised by all the attention and excitement over her coming to New York for this event. She is both surprised and happy, but it will be a quick trip, as from here she heads to South Florida, where she is receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, the following evening.
Ann-Margret still works out 3 days a week and told me she has a mirrored dance room in her home and has a "walking-crew" of friends that spend Saturday mornings together. She never thought about giving up dancing or "moving." I asked if she had any choreographic soul-mates and she told me how much she loved working with choreographers Ron Lewis, Lester Wilson and Walter Painter. Listening to her talk about her career brings a vivacious quality to her voice, yet admits that, not unlike other stars, she never watches her work or listens to her recordings. No Norma Desmond here, that's for sure. Also, when complimented about something, she is genuinely moved and you somehow sense how she became so successful and admired. "Classy" comes to mind, which brought us to her famous figure and designers falling over themselves to dress her. Of course, everyone remembers Ann-Margret dressed in Bob Mackie. She also talks affectionately about Nolan Miller and as a matter of fact, will be dressed by Mark Zunino for the event, and Zunino spent part of his early career working for, and with, Nolan Miller.
One of the things I was curious about was her relationship to Broadway (She starred in a National Tour of THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS in 2001). I asked if she had ever been offered roles in Broadway shows and she said, "Yes," but then, for some reason I didn't want to ask her to tell me which ones, out of respect. But, of course, she rocked the planet with her Kim MacAfee in the film version of BYE, BYE, BIRDIE and in addition to the staggering opening sequence singing the title song, she gave birth to a sequence of steps that became as synonymous to her, as the 'moon walk' came to be associated with Michael Jackson. The number was "Got a Lot o' Livin' to Do." I asked her about the famous "step" which she credited to Onna White. I asked, "What did you call that, a watusi, a frug, ... what?" She said, "You mean ... (and started to sing the beats) ?" OMG! "YES!, I said. She answered, "It was the CHICKEN."
In an era when artists like Shirley MacLaine and Diana Ross were bringing their concert tours to Broadway, Ann-Margret chose to play Radio City Music Hall. I asked if it was a conscious decision and her answer was so simple: When the entire Olsson family were together, here in New York, her father took them to Radio City Music Hall and she thought to herself, "Someday I'm gonna play here." Talk about the law of attraction ... BAM! I was in the audience at Radio City and can honestly tell you when she did "Got a Lot o' Livin' to Do" and went into "the chicken" .... The crowd went wild! True story.
Las Vegas and Ann-Margret are synonymous, of course, due to her on screen appearance with Elvis Presley in VIVA, LAS VEGAS. She appeared there, many times, as a headliner, and her famous fall and injuries are now the stuff of legend, but did not stop her ...from anything that the future held in store. She last played there in 1992 but has been back to the "new" Las Vegas, which is very different, but she enjoys it. That quickly segued into the HBO Film, LIBERACE, Behind The Candelabra. She loved it, which prompted my asking that if there were to be an Ann-Margret biopic, is there anyone she would like to see play her? She sort of stalled and I helped her a little and said, "No, right?!" She demurely said, "No." I said, "Good answer." And, we both laughed.
I also learned from my research that Ann-Margret is the National Chairperson for the Myasthenia Gravis Division of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Thank you, Ann-Margret for your generosity and time. As a special "Thank You" gift, we reached out to Artist / Illustrator Robert W. Richards and he did this drawing, of you, for you, for this special conversation with BroadwayWorld.
New York is waiting for you.
by Richard Jay-Alexander, broadwayworld.com