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Roger Smith

Oh, oh, Olsson! The Ann-Margret Story

One part shyness, one part sex-appeal and one part exceptional talent are combined into a potpourri which is spelled ANN-MARGRET!

The jaded Hollywood audience who had seen everything sat on the edge of their seats, enthralled by the electrifying performance given by the sexy-looking green-eyed redhead on the screen. The lights came up, and a demure-looking brunette in an olive jersey shyly thanked the audience and, most of all, her parents seated in the theatre for all their help and understanding. She blushed and withdrew from the stage, joining them later in the back row of the darkened theatre to see the sexiest star in a decade perform again. BOTH girls were Ann-Margret, a paradox in show business.

Ann-Margret with the provocative half-smile, the lowered eyelids, the writhing, palpitating figure is the very essence of a sexpot. Ann-Margret is also a shy, quiet, homespun girl who loves her folks dearly and likes to be away from the limelight when dating.

How did her shyness finally evolve into the extroverted performer she now is - at least before the cameras, for something comes over her when she is performing, and she is able to release a volatile, overwhelming personality. Anyone seeing her rendition of "Bachelor in Paradise" on last year's Academy Awards saw a show-stopping performance... And I do mean "seeing" her rendition, because it wasn't only her voice which stopped the show and had every producer in town beckoning to her on the following morning - it was this electric visual appeal she had. She literally threw herself into the song, body and all.

The story of Ann-Margret begins in Stockholm, Sweden, where she was born to Anna and Gustav Olsson. When she was only a year old, her family moved to a town with a population of 200 in the northernmost part of Sweden, called Valsjobyn. One Christmas Eve, her Uncle Calle gave a party. The table was laden with smorgasbord, and people danced to music broadcast on the radio from Stockholm. After a while, her uncle started playing the accordion, and little Ann-margret got up to dance, joining the rest of the relatives. They noticed the little girl dancing, and everyone else left the floor, applauding her on. This was the start of her musical background.

By the time she was four, her mother forecast that she would end up being in movies if she kept singing and dancing as much as she did. Although the Olssons were not rich, they encoureged her in her efforts all through her childhood.

Her father had gone to America to become an electrician and to build a new life for them, but Ann-Margret and her mother had to stay behind in Sweden until the end of the war as it wasn't safe to make the voyage earlier. In 1946, she came to America and they settled in Fox Lake, a suburb of Chicago, near her mother's sisters Gerda and Mina and their husbands Roy and Charlie.

Ann-Margret couldn't speak English but sang Swedish songs for her relatives. Dressed in her mother's clothes, as little girls love to do, she would do imitations and perform for the family. She was always very close to her parents - and still is. In order to give Ann-Margret toe-dancing and piano lessons, her mother did cleaning work three times a week, and her father put in lots of overtime. Her parents made sacrifices gladly, for they felt that the child had talent which was worth developing. Her mother would stay up half the night to sew sequins on her recital costumes.

When she was 11, they moved to Wilmette because the Olssons had heard of New Trier High School. Academically, it was the finest high school in Illinois, and it boasted an excellent music department. Dr. Peterman, head of the music department, auditioned Ann-Margret when she was a freshman and turned her down for the part of Ado Annie in "Oklahoma". She was crushed at the time, he said, but she soon recovered from her disappointment and went on to play in many other shows at the high school.

He coached her for 4 years, and she also studied drama. She appeared in high school shows like "Plain and fancy", and he, too, predicted that her career might be in films someday. A year-and-a-half later, she wired him that he was right...

In June 1960, having further polished her talents in campus musicals at Northwestern U., Ann-Margret went West - with her parents and the entire Olsson family rooting for her. She sang with a small band, did a USO tour, and sang with a combo. The band was booked at Newport Beach, then in Elko, Nevada, and finally in reno. When the combo played in Las Vegas, George Burns caught the act and liked what he saw.

Four months after she arrived on the west coast, she auditioned for George Burns who hired her immediately to join his own Vegas act. A movie talent scout arranged a screen test for her in Hollywood, and she landed the film contract, made her national TV debut on the Jack Benny Show and was signed to an exclusive recording contract with RCA Victor.

In rapid succession she made "State Fair", with Pat Boone and "Pocketful of Miracles" with Bette Davis and Glenn Ford. Her meteoric rise continued with the role of Kim McAfee in "Bye Bye Birdie". She's the spokesman for every teenager in America when she belted out the lyrics to "Got a lot of livin' to do".

And, clearly, Ann-Margret has a lot of livin' to do herself. Her first records and two albums achieved best-selling positions on the charts, and she is eager to persue any phase of the entertainment business - movies, TV, recordings, nightclubs, personal appearences. She doesn't want to miss a thing. With this strong ambition, romance must take a back seat, at least for the time being.

After breaking her engagement with Burt Sugarman, Ann-Margret has been playing the field. But she has always been extremely popular with boys. Even in high school and college, she hated to turn everyone down for a date. She always found the good side in people even if they weren't good looking. While other girls refused dates, Ann-Margret would accept them because the boys had a good sense of humour or were polite. Even now, Ann-Margret dates a variety of men... but her career is first and foremost in her mind.

She wants to be able to partly repay her parents for their early sacrifices. It makes her joyous to buy her mother a mink stole, her dad and mum a new home - something they never were able to have before. Today, lack of funds is no problem. Her salary for "Birdie" alone totalled $85,000. The next three films she makes will pay her over $100,000 each. You could see the Olssons fairly bursting with pride as they watched Ann-Margret perform in the film.

No longer does she get compared to Elvis Presley for her gyrations and movements. She has become an entity unto herself, a name, a somebody. No longer do well-meaning reporters misspell her first name. Some still misspell her last, but Ann-Margret made it clear that the Olsson was spelled with two s's.

When not before the cameras or onstage, Ann-Margret rides her red Honda motor bike up and down Benedict Canyon Drive and Sunset Blvd., whizzing down the strip, her long brown hair flying in the wind. She prefers casual clothes like Capris for daytime wear, but dotes on filmy chiffon for the evening.

To make a hit with Ann-Margret, take her to a ball game or to a very small club for a quiet evening, or to a movie. She can't stand cocktail parties. Her food preferences run to Swedish food, and she dines at many of the Scandinavian restaurants in town with her folks, eating the smorgasbord that they preferred in Sweden.

Her music preferences lean toward jazz records, but she also has many Nat King Cole and Eddie Fisher records in her collection. As a hobby, she collects stuffed animals of all kinds and music boxes from all over the world.

She has come a very long way in a short space of time. One of the rarities in Hollywood, she has become firmly entrenched as a star without having to spend endless months and years as a starlet, hoping for parts that never come. She is a success at an early age, and now she can spread ot in all directions and do the things she wants to... make people happy and bring them pleasure through her performances.

Ann-Margret possesses that indefinable star quality producers and directors keep looking for. Her sensual beauty makes men sigh, but she still has that naive innocence that make women like her, too... a quality also possessed by Marilyn Monroe. This dichtomy, a perfect split, half-girl, half-woman, makes up what Ann-Margret is today. If she can maintain this delicate balance and preserve the divided image, her future is assured for many years, for men seek out a woman who has a mystery about her, and women are also fascinated by such a creature.

Her family's backing all through her childhood and their faith in her helped this shy girl to overcome her inhibitions and release her hidden spark. Now, she has the best of both types - the shy, reserved girl offstage who has humility, gentleness, kindness, and the blatant, voluptious dynamo onstage.

Ann-Margret is rocketing to the top, to enthrall audiences for years to come. We wish her a speedy and happy voyage. No one deserves it more.

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by Dolores Diamond

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