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A sizzling mixture of sex appeal plus shyness plus animal spirits plus shrewd management equals
In Hollywood, a wonderland where miracles usually are man-made, the sudden appearance and lightning ascent of Miss-Ann-Margret Olsson are almost considered the work of a higher power. At 22, having emerged from nowhere by way of Sweden and Illinois, Ann-Margret has worked the town's official chroniclers into a froth of admiration. She has been described as "the hottest property in films", by Winchell, "positively sensational", by Hopper, and as "the next authentic star" by Parsons.
Unschooled in acting and untrained of voice, Ann-Margret nevertheless pocketed a neat $85.000 for playing the second lead in "Bye Bye Birdie", the new Columbia movie siphoned from the hit Broadway musical. Her role originally was a rather minor part, calling for a song or two. But by the time shooting ended, Ann-Margret had wound up with six numbers on film.
"We certainly didn't know that we were going to get the greatest potential musical star this business will ever have", says "Birdie" director George Sidney. "We really built up her part. I've been in this business 30 years and seen no one with her fire. When she goes, it's electric".
The public first plugged into that electricity last year when Ann-Margret, a relative unknown, was picked to sing an Oscar-nominee song, "Bachelor in Paradise", on the Academy Award presentations. Walking onstage, she seemed shy and uncertain. But her subsequent performance - a cross between a high-calorie shimmy and a convulsive seizure - catapulted her from a nonentity to a star in just three minutes.
It was this high-voltage quality that first attracted her shrewd comanagers, Pierre Cosette and Bobby Roberts. "Ann-Margret is every little girl who closes a bedroom door, looks into a full-length mirror and becomes someone great", says Cosette. "She is a sort of little animal".
"What she has is a great mysterious quality", adds george Sidney. "She makes you wonder whether to give her a piece of gum or a bracelet".
In her small, whispering voice, Ann-Margret also confesses bewilderment about herself. "There are four mes", she said recently in a rare moment of introspection. "There's one me that's very quiet and shy when I'm meeting people. There's another me when I'm completely wild - laughing and screaming and joking. Then there would be the controlled, professional me when I'm on stage. The fourth me is the one almost nobody knows - a real little girl".
To complicate the Ann-Margret puzzle even further, there's a calculated naivete about Ann-Margret that borders on fatuity. Occasionally, as a sort of punctuation, shu blurts the idiom of the teen-age girl: "Cha, cha, cha... like now... I dig that". She is so superstitious that she will not leave the house without one or more talismans to ward off trouble - a miniature red horse, an ivory Buddha, a smooth beach pebble, a dime-store hula-doll named Jungle Julie. her emotions are those of the eternal high-school sophomore. "I save everything", she says with great solemnity, "and someday I'll have a whole room where I can store my rememberances". Among her current rememberances is a large childhood toy box, handmade for her by a Swedish uncle. It was the only piece of furniture brought West by her parents, and it contains hair ribbons, dance programs and report cards.
Scoobie-do means good-bye
She uses the word "scoobie" almost as frequently as most people use oxygen. her compactsized convertible and red Japanese motorcycle are both named Scoobie. So is her Yorkshire terrier. On a movie set, she is greeted as Scoobie, and as Ann-Margret explains it: "The word 'scoobie' means several things. I can say 'Hi, Scoobie', or I can say, 'Scoobie-do', and that means good-bye. I just picked it up in high school".
And yet, scoobie-do or don't, there is a resolute quality in Ann-Margret's character which seems to suggest her ingenuousness may be a pose. On the one hand, she says, "Everybody talks about money, but I don't really know how much I'm getting. I trust people - they send me a list of money things, I look it over and throw it away". Nevertheless, both she and her once-poor parents, Gus and Anna Olsson, are to put it mildly, cautious about money. They are still making monthly payments on Ann-Margret's car and they are paying a modest rental on their small, sparsely furnished house in a not-very-chic section of Beverly Hills. Gus Olsson, a free-lance electrician, still gets into his overalls every morning to take odd jobs in Hollywood studios.
Ann-Margret and her mother, a strong, sensible woman who still speaks witha Swedish accent and does all the family cooking, have hotly rejected the standard cheesecake routine applied to other blossoming stars. Strangely enough, however, despite Ann-Margret's seeming recalcitrance and an addiction to such casual dress as sweaters and slacks, she confesses an odd longing for the glamour and paternalism of the old Hollywood.
"I wish the days were back when Louis B. Meyer and Harry Cohn and other strong men really controlled the stars", she says. "The industry needs leaders who know how stars feel and what they need. Men who tell you what to do, what to wear, how to fix your hair, where to go. When you've got money invested in a star you ought to have her look her best, whether it's nine in the morning or ten at night. I hear that when Joan Crawford leaves an apartment to get a newspaper on the corner, she's dressed to kill. That's how a star should be".
"And that goes for dating too. I have no objections to a studio telling me who to date. Anyway", she adds, "I could always have someone else on the side".
At the moment, neither Columbia nor Twentieth Century-Fox, nor Frank Sinatra's Essex Productions, all of which have contracts with her, is arranging her amours. As a result, the dusty patio at her home - Mrs Olsson is valiantly trying to grow grass in its crusty soil - is cluttered with an assortment of gentlemen.
Her current and past friends are a mixed bag, even by Hollywood standards. Among them are crooner Eddie Fisher, actor Hugh O'Brian and Burt Sugarman, a Hollywood business man who was once her fiancee and has since been demoted. "I have been very honest with myself", says Ann-Margret, "and I decided I did not want to be engaged to Mr. Sugarman or anyone else. I just don't want to be married. I dig motherhood and love and all that, but I'm not ready".
There were certainly few clues to her magnetic charms during her early years. She was born in Stockholm on April 28, 1941, and was brought to the United States five years later, when the war was over. The family first settled in Fox Lake, Illinois, later moved to nearby Wilmette. Ann-Margret studied dancing for eight years because, as her mother says: "She was so terribly shy. I suffered from that myself, and I didn't want her to have this handicap".
The money spent appears to have been wasted - if boldness was the object - for Ann-Margret is still the introvert. "I try hard to overcome shyness", she said, "but it still bothers me, especially when I have to meet a lot of people, like at a premiere. But in a romance I think it's wonderful to have a little shyness, because women should not be the agressors".
Ann-Margret has vivid recollections of her childhood in Wilmette. She remembers - with a convincing shudder - an incident when a group of neighborhood boys killed a snake and flung it around her neck. She has been afraid of reptiles ever since. She also recalls with appropriate shivers an apartment which was actually part of a funeral parlor. Mrs. Olsson worked there as a receptionist for free rent, and the reception room served as the family living room.
Eventually, Ann-Margret wound up at Northwestern University. There, during her freshman year, she and three young friends - bassist Ring Warner, pianist Scott Smith and drummer David Zhering - formed a jazz combo called The Suttletones. "Because we weren't very subte", she explains now. They drove west, playing odd jobs in Nevada and California.
The Suttletones were broke and unemployed when, having been rejected by several other managers, they popped in on Bobby Roberts and Pierre Cosette. Roberts got them a booking, and later, when the combo broke up, Ann-Margret became a Roberts-Cosette client.
They nursed her career along cautiously, and up to the time of the Academy Awards show she had been seen only in a bit role in the picture "Pocketful of Miracles". her second film, "State Fair", had not been released. For weeks Roberts "screamed and yelled", to use his own words, to get Ann-Margret on the Academy Awards show with its 40.000.000 viewers.
They also agreed to stick with her abbreviated name - Ann-Margret - when they finally landed a spot on the show. "I'm not an Ann", she says, "and I'm not a Margret. I talked it over with Mom and Dad and that was it. Cha-cha-cha".
Her parents and advisors had some queasy moments that important April day, watching their seemingly frozen proteg?e. She moped and trembled and refused to talk and wouldn't eat. She waited in the wings, pale and stricken, until her cue. But when the music began, she swayed and twisted, and mesmerized everyone.
She was backstage, steaming like a geyser, when the star-clustered audience gave out a collective rumble of astonishment. Bob Hope, emceeing the show, said, "I never saw her before". And then in a reference to her gyrations added, "I thought it was a dancing pony".
The next morning her managers had to engage extra girls to handle the show-business offers - they averaged 30 a day for weeks.
Ann-Margret herself has a detached perspective on that evening, and though she has since done "The Andy Williams Show", the "Ed Sullivan Show" and completed "Bye Bye Birdie", she still has not been able to conquer the nervous paralysis that besets her before going on.
"If you'd see me", she says, "you wouldn't be able to take it. I want to be alone. I can't make any conversation. I don't even know where to hide. But it all goes away when I get out on that stage, and I don't really understand it myself".
At the moment, her schedule calls for probable remakes of "Cover Girl" and "Gilda", two pictures in which Rita Hayworth once rattled the cash registers. Her fan mail hovers at 2.ooo letters a week. Roberts and Cosette, carefully charting her future, waited almost a year before accepting a $35.000-a-week deal from the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. They refused huge picture offers from Bob Hope, Elvis Presley and others.
"I don't want her to become overexposed", explains Roberts. "I don't want her to become another Connie Francis where everytime you turn around, there she is - on another show".
Ann-Margret agrees. "I've been singing since I was a little girl", she says, "and I knew long ago I was going to be an entertainer. There was no doubt in my mind at all. I'm in no hurry. There were a lot of good singers five years ago, and now you don't hear about them because they're playing Juarez, Mexico. I plan to be the girl who sustains, year after year".