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Who would have thought, that I, Ann-Margret who used to help at the small café in Valsjobyn in Jamtland County, would be invited to cocktail-party with President Kennedy - and the president knew who I was!
The temperature crept towards F100°, on the plains outside Las Vegas, where we sat sneezing together in the dry desert-winds, Ann-Margret's parents and I. Elvis' entourage, all nice guys, took turns running for water and lemonade, and once in a while, Ann-Margret's mother and I went into the film-company's air-conditioned limousine to get some air-condition. But not daddy Gus! He had blisters on his lips from the heat, but his big, proud grin was still intact, hour after hour.
"You go, I wanna watch", he said. He didn't want to miss a single moment of what was going on in front of him.
Dressed in minimal shorts, and so made-up she wouldn't get burned from the sun, Ann-Margret and Elvis drove their red motorbikes.
"Shouldn't you use a stunt-double for the hardest parts?" mother Anna asked anxiously director George Sidney. "Don't let her get her every wish to do everything herself".
Ann-Margret would be exchanged for a stunt-driver in the toughest races, Sidney assured her. But this "easy", she definetely wanted to do. She who drives a bike every day in Hollywood!
The camera starts rolling, the the engines rev up. Elvis drives a circle around Ann-Margret. She hits the pedal, smoke rises, and she is within the right distance of the camera. If she's scared, she won't show it, instead she has a confident grin on her face. Suddenly she's standing on the saddle and doing the twist! At this point the tension is as strong as the heat. Only daddy Gus laughs: "Did you see that? I knew she could do it. If she says she can, she can".
When the take is done, Elvis and Ann-Margret drive on. They both love to ride, and today for a change, they can have fun, and that is because of the heat!
They are two popular stars, working in the touristy Las Vegas, and it's not often they can be alone. Wherever Elvis is filming, he is always surrounded by a double police-guard. Today, the police however, sat still and motionless in the shadow of his large bus. No fans had made it here in this heat!
A Star in an Elvis-Film
"Hi, how are you?" It's Ann-Margret's favorite greeting in Swedish. The girl from Valsjobyn has come a long way. This fall she'll climb the last step up the Hollywood-ladder, and becomes our new really big Hollywood-name. After 'Viva Las Vegas' follows the lead against Jack Lemmon in the comedy 'Good Neighbour Sam' ond then - the coronation! 22-year old Ann-Margret will star in the biggest musical MGM have planned for years, 'Say it With Music'.
"Would you believe it, Irving Berlin is writing me numbers at this very moment!"
If you have seen her in the morning with sleepy eyes and tously hair at the diiner-table at home in Beverly Hills, eating her mother's cake and drinking coffee, so natural andsimple in private, it's hard to imagine that the same girl is stunning film-critics all over the U.S. with her unique personality and talent. The breakthrough, which came with 'Bye Bye Birdie', which she stole from her co-starsJanet Leigh, almost went so far as to Leigh suing Columbia for not making her the star.
The part agains Elvis must feel like a pure triumph. For the first time the big star shares the screen.
"Of course I wanted to act with Elvis", says Ann-Margret. "It was very difficult to say no the first five times he wanted me. But it was wise - and my manager is wise. No girl has ever been give room with Elvis before. He has had co-stars, but no 'leading ladies'. I will be his first, and that's a big difference. He also hasn't wanted to sin any duets before, now we do three together!"
Interacting with Elvis means a lot to Ann-Margret, but, one might dare say, it means just as much to the big idol. Rotating Elvis isn't as sensational these days, when even old folks do the Twist. He has tried hard to become a serious actor, and he has some talent, but his career has been looking somewhat uncertain lately. With the Swedish Ann-Margret he has found an equal partner and a fresh injection to his music-films. And there will be more to follow.
""When I signed the contract to the Elvis-film, at the same time I signed for 'Say it With Music', if I wouldn't get the first, I wouldn't take the other".
Elvis remembers Princess Margaretha
Under the scorching Las Vegas sun, Elvis and Ann-Margret compete, who dares the most. That's what this film is all about.
"Elvis is 'Ducky', a well-known racecar driver, who I think is a mechanic. I'm 'Rusty' and runs the swimming-pool at one of the hotels. I try to everything better than he does, drive a bike, a race car, I even shoot a gun. And I hit bull's eye 14 times out of 24 yesterday! Not bad for a beginner, huh?"
Ann-Margret of course, like every other girl on the planet, went through a phase where she admired Elvis from a distance.
"I was curious, but I had never met him before we started filming. The first day at MGM, I was so shy, the only thing I said was 'Hello'. The we did our songs together, and I said goodbye. Now we actually have fun together. He's completely different from what I had expected".
Of course he's different. When you approach an interview with him, you have all kinds of prejudice lined up, and he's nothing like that, he shyly shakes your hand, unbuttons hiscoveralls, and underneath he's wearing trousers and a red sweater in the unbearable heat. He's all smiles and remembers when (Swedish) Princess Margaretha from Stockholm visited Paramount, when he was shooting 'G.I. Blues' And he insists that he also remembers me, though we both know that he's lying. Lying comes with the territory.
And you're absolutely fascinated that this idol of teenagers, lives with his grandmother!
When filming in Hollywood, he lives in a rented house in Bel-Air, but his real home is in Memphis.
"I have bought a typical Southern mansion - it has colonnades in the front and big old trees around it. I was supposed to have it decorated as a romantic southern style too, but I don't know anything about antiques, and further I don't like the old. Now I have had it done quite modern. My grandmother stays with me, and when I'm gone, daddy pops over to see that everything's ok".
He thinks he has 12 cars, and the bus.
"They are dived between Hollywood and Memphis, that's why it sounds like so many".
He drives the Rolls-Royce himself. His entourage, at this point 18 people, drive various Cadillacs. (If he's especially bored, he also brings his band on private trips.) To his entourage belongs a certain big man with a big beer-belly and hands like King Kong, he is always close to Elvis and is supposed to be his bodyguard, though he smiles like a child and you believe Elvis when he says: "That's just nonsense, I don't need a bodyguard".
Mother also travels
The desert sun is too red for filming and at 4 pm today's shooting is over. Elvis and Ann-Margret sneak into the Hotel Sahara the backway, because the hotel is always crammed with fans. Elvis takes the kitchen elevator right up to the 28th floor - he rents the whole floor for him and his entourage.
Ann-Margret stays in a luxury-suite not that high up. She didn't have to pay, because management wanted her in the hotel during shooting. This is where she once started her career a few years ago, performing with George Burns. Ann-Margret's parents live next door to her. They have chosen the first two weeks of shooting for their holiday.
"Yesterday night two little girls sat outside Ann-Margret's door the whole night, but she didn't go out to them. She had taken off all of her make-up and didn't think that she looked good enough - so now she's a little ashamed of herself", Anna says one morning.
To Ann-Margret, fame is so new, that she hasn't grown tired of all her admirers. In private she wants to be left alone, and you seldom see her in nightclubs, but while promoting her films or records, she happily entertain her fans..
"You should have seen daddy in San Francisco", she says. "He went with me for the opening of 'Bye Bye Birdie', and it became a bit chaotic while I was writing autographs in the hotel lobby, that he was so scared that he disappeared up the stairs".
Normally, however, it's the mother who Ann-Margret brings with her, and touring can be tiresome, but these days are done routinewise.
""The last time we were out, we had to change planes 20 times in three days", the mother says. "We went from one small town to the other just so Ann-Margret could say a few words on the radio or TV".
Everything for Ann-Margret
Ann-Margret and her wonderful, friendly Swedish parents is a special story indeed.
"I admire you Ann-Margret because you're so nice to your mum and dad", Elvis said to her one night. "When my mother died my only comfort was that I tried to do everything I could for her".
You remember stories about Elvis being a mama's boy. Psychologists say, that when a twin dies, the living twin follows the mother even more. Elvis , who lost his twin brother was very close to his mother.
"My parents have given up eveyrhing for me", Ann-Margret says. "Mother never wanted anything extra, all money went to my lessons. I remember when we lived in Chicago, my daddy had had an accident, and was in bed for five months, and my mother worked as a cleaning lady to keep us afloat. And for three years she worked at a funeral parlour, because she wanted to make some extra money so she could help me".
"Yes, I guess that's true", her mother says. "A good friend owned the funeral parlour, and I took the job because we got the apartment next door for free. I cleaned in the mornings, then I dressed up and welcomed relatives of deceased who came and honored their loved ones. You got used to it after a while, but over here they dress up their dead, and I almost ran away, when a man came and asked me to put on her favorite earrings on his dead wife".
Ann-Margret has said that she lost her surname, Olsson, so that her parents wouldn't have to be ashamed of her, if she wouldn't have made it. But 'Lillan' (the little one) as she's called at home, has so far done nothing but honored the name.
"Everyone needs their parents, but in my job I need them even more. I try to keep them away from show business as much as possible, so that they can lead a normal life, but at the same time I want them to share and be a part of my success".
Tears were streaming down Anna Olsson's face, at the premiere of 'Bye Bye Birdie' in Hollywood, when her daughter, from the stage, asked her parents to stand up and share the applause.
The Mink-fur became reality
Ann-Margret gets about $100.000 per film, but still, it's a regular simple Swedish family who lives in the 6-room house in the Benedict Canyon. If there's any sign that the daughter of the house is a big movie star, it's the never-ending parade of flower arrangements. Here, it's daddy who runs things, and Anna keeps the place clean and tidy, just as she always has.
All of Ann-Margret's business takes place outside of the home. Her agent does everything from film-offers to plane-tickets and hotel-rooms when she travels. She has a financial advisor who takes care of her money, and decides on what to buy, and what she can't afford.
"You should have seen her when she was allowed to buy a mink fur", Anna laughs. "It was on the closet door for days, just so that she could lie on bed and look at it".
If it wasn't for the mink fur in the closet, you could say that Ann-Margret's room is typical for any young girl. 'Lillan' is very sentimental when it comes to dear old belongings. Her collection of dolls is still in a box on the shelf abouve her bed, stuffed animals are on the bed, and the toys she played with as a child are still in her room.
In the basement, she has her 'play-room', where she collects her awards, and her record-collection is lined along one of the walls. It's a house with lots of space, but after Christmas she will buy a house of her own in Benedict Canyon.
That is for your mother and father of course. Any wedding plans? "No, none at all".
She is surrounded by romantic rumours all the time, as soon as she's seen in public with an admirer. But sh's not in a hurry.
One who has been named as her future husband is Eddie Fisher, but while we're in Las Vegas, news comes that he's about to marry a model, just as soon as Elizabeth taylor agress to a divorce.
"I'm so happy for Eddie's sake", is Ann-Margret's comment. "He's the type of guy who should be married. Myself, I guess all the rumours comes with the job. But I will be very careful. I believe divorce comes like a chain-reaction when it comes to actors and actresses. If they do it once, they do it again... I don't want any of that. I come from a family who respects marriage".
Mother Anna in a Rolls
The right one can, she admits, show up anytime. Might it perhaps be Elvis?
Ann-Margret frowns. But her eyes shine. The rock icon, who normally has a harem of girls, has only been interested in Ann-Margret since they met, and he has said to one of his closest friends, that if he meets the right girl, the time is right for marriage. The have had some nice dinners, just the two of them, in Ann-Margret's suite, and one night they sneaked out to catch the midnight show at the Lido de Paris, because then, all teenage fans had gone to bed.
"Gus and I was on our way up, and suddenly the youngsters are going out in the middle of the night", Anna tells and adds "He's such a nice boy".
"Yes, I'm marrying him on Thursday", Ann-Margret teases. "But only in the film. We do get each other in the end, but before that I'm terribly mean to him. I push him into the swimming pool with his clothes on, I gun him down on a Wild West street, and I put my foot on his chest, like big-game hunters do with lions in Africa".
"Sometimes Gus and I think that it's amazing, that our little girl has come so far", says Anna Olsson. "And we really appreciate everything she does for us. We have never had it so good. She bought me these lovely, expensive shoes, and dresses and coats that I have got, for travelling with her... and now she insists that I have to go to the hairdresser every week as well. That's something I would never do, if it was up to me".
"Remember this", says Gus, "that when I went with the girl to San Francisco, I had a huge limousine with a private chauffeur. He took me everywhere, even to the part where Jack London used to live. What an experience!"
"Your car Gus, was nothing compared to mine in New York. A Rolls-Royce! And the driver wore a uniform, and I believe he thought I was crazy, just sitting in the back seat laughing. Who would have thought, Anna Olsson from Valsjobyn, in a Rolls in New York City!"
And it sure is hard to imagine that our Ann-Margret was invited to a cocktail-party at President Kennedy's, that he would know who she was, and that in November, sh'es invited to London, to be introduced to the Queen. Most of all, however, we are grateful that Ann-Margret is what she is - sensible. She has both her feet firmly on the ground!
By Ingrid Clairmont