Films & TV
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A most unusual real-life playlet in one act
Prologue: meet Ann-Margret, the beautiful Swedish-born actress who is Hollywood's new Cinderella, a legend after only 36 months. She astounds critics and fans alike with her handling of roles diverging from song-belting musical comedy to heavy drama, both types shot through with a sex appeal as elemental - and as devastating - as a tornado. One Las Vegas appearence, as an unknown 1n 1960, led to a movie contract, a hit picture in 1961, and a skyrocket to filmdom's top. She was listed among the top 10 boxoffice attractions in 1964, has multiple-studio contracts for 20 pictures, is the busiest and most sought after actress in the industry. Along the way, she has incurred the displeasure of some columnists and fan-magazine writers by what has been called a "Garbo-ish" reluctance to talk about her private life and thoughts, about her opinion of her film roles, about almost everything, in fact, except vital statistics. But here - Cinderella speaks!
Scene 1: A dressing room on Sound Stage #29, set of "The Cincinnati Kid", at the Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer lot in Culver City, Calif. Time: The present, an afternoon in early Spring.
Ann-Margret is seated on a narrow sofa at stage right, one foot pulled up under her in teenager fashion. The tiny on-set dressing room also has a dressing table with chair, two other chairs. It is the sort of room that will, in retrospect, seem almost too small to have contained that amount of furniture.
Ann-Margret is 23 years old, has long, light-brown hair hanging loosely past her shoulders, blue-gray-green eyes, a five-star figure. She is wearing a mumu-type leopard print, cut not full but very fitting, and slit up both sides to a delightful point. Though she is only five-foot-four, 113, it is the sort of garment that will, in retrospect, seem almost too small to have contained that amount of Ann-Margret.
A smoky topaz the size of a hen's egg hangs around her neck, another only a little smaller is mounted on her ring. She swings the chain idly with her finger as she talks.
The reporter is seated in a chair at the stage left. He holds a note-book and pencil, but apparently has forgotten both as he stares in obvious entrancement at the girl. As the curtain rises, she is speaking:
ANN-MARGRET: So I've been here six hours waiting for a call and you color me bored... They're shooting the long poker to start with. Poker players are too tense. (She smiles suddenly. Her smile use her mouth, eyes, entire face, entire body.) Hey, I'm sounding temperamental, hmmm? I'm not, really. I'm not all that bored, either. Sometimes I just chatter...
REPORTER: Do you like your part in this picture?
ANN-MARGRET: I'm glad to have a part in any picture. I want to work. Each kind of picture has its own advantages...
REPORTER: I know you've been quoted as saying you don't like to discuss your preferences as to roles, but...
ANN-MARGRET: (Going on with her thought, disregarding interruption)... Advantages as to role. Like musicals, they are fun. I like to sing, and you can just relax and have fun in them. (Stops suddenly and stares at him.) What was that you just said?
REPORTER: Nothing. Go right ahead.
ANN-MARGRET: Dramatic roles, like in "Once a thief" and "Kitten with a whip", you couldn't call fun... There's an intense emotional strain. I was once eight hours on one scene. However, (seriously) I think the role in which I did my best job was in "Once a thief", a dramatic role. I think Ralph Nelson, the director, got more out of me for thar one than anyone ever has. (She pauses, then continues animatedly.) One of my next ones is going to be a real fun picture, just a fluffy thing, you know. It's called "Made in Paris"... What clothes! Gorgeous! (She hugs herself in glee.) Silky, slinky, all kinds, and I get to keep them - that's part of the deal. What a way to go.
ANN-MARGRET: (Serious again.) But I want to keep doing all kinds of roles. I also want to do television work, make records, do Broadway shows. Everything.
REPORTER: How do you hold up under it?
ANN-MARGRET: After every picture I have to get away for a while, for whatever time I have. I don't smoke or drink, so that's how I relax. I've been to Honolulu, Mexico City, New York, Spain... It works. When I get back, the last picture is all out of my system.
REPORTER: Let's see, Miss - What do I call you since you dropped the family name, Olsson? Miss Margret?
ANN-MARGRET: Miss Margret sounds kind of silly. Why don't we try Ann-Margret?
REPORTER: Okay. Incidentally, was it George Burns, after he introduced you in his Las Vegas show in 1960, who suggested you drop the last name and just go around hyphenated?
ANN-MARGRET: That was my idea, so my family's privacy wouldn't be affected by any publicity I got, or hoped to get. George encoureged the idea; however, he thought it was good. (Pause) You know, I've read a dozen times that that appearence on George's show, my first real break, was my first professional job.
REPORTER: Wasn't it?
ANN-MARGRET: Not actually, although I don't suppose it makes a lot of difference. But my first professional job was when I sang with Danny Ferguson's band at the Hotel Meuhlbach Terrace Grill in Kansas City, Missouri. I was only 17 years old - and scared!
REPORTER: You? With that powerhouse delivery you have on a song?
ANN-MARGRET: I didn't have then. I remember I was wearing a dress loaned to me by a cousin... I was terrified that I was going to forget the lyrics, or that people would laugh at me. Nobody could hear me, I sang so softly. But Danny and the band were kind, and the people were kind... Maybe that's why I kick a song hard now, thinking about that weak little voice...
REPORTER: When did you first realize that you were a star?
ANN-MARGRET: I am NOT a star. I hope to be, but I'm not now. A personality, maybe, but not a star. To be a star you must sustain.
REPORTER: What do you mean by that?
ANN-MARGRET: What it sounds like. You must prove you can deliver all the time, any time, over a period of years, not just when all the breaks are coming your way. Like Bette Davis, now there is an actress who can sustain.
REPORTER: I see.
ANN-MARGRET: Star, that's a big word. I don't think there are more than three, maybe four, actresses today who could be called that. No, I wouldn't name them. It's just my opinion, after all.
REPORTER: You mean two or three besides Miss Davis, then.
ANN-MARGRET: (Laughing.) Maybe I'd better start keeping notes on what I say, too.
REPORTER: Over the last couple of years your name has been linked romantically in print with those of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Roger Smith. Any comment? Anyone special?
ANN-MARGRET: I don't want to name anyone I date, or talk about them for publication. I respect their right to their privacy. Maybe I do have a special one... But the only way a woman can have an honest relationship with a man is to keep that relationship between themselves. It gets all muddled up if you kick it around before the public. The relationship can't survive if you give it treatment like that... I read where I am about to marry this one or that one, all pretty silly. I can tell you I'm not thinking of marrying anyone right now. When I do get to thinking about it, I am going to keep on trying to keep our relationship to ourselves.
REPORTER: What are the qualities that you admire most in a man?
ANN-MARGRET: The most essential qualities, the qualities that he must have, are honesty, kindness and understanding. The more men I go out with, the more I realize this: he must have those. Oh, he can be selfish about me, and my time. I'm very possessive myself, where people are concerned, being an only child, you know. But he must be kind, not only to me but to everyone... Basically kind.
REPORTER: Fair enough.
ANN-MARGRET: (She shrugs off serious mood.) So. Ask me about what I like, what I dig and don't dig, like I dig gooey desserts.
REPORTER: Okay. What else do you dig? And where did you pick up on this hipster jargon you lay down?
ANN-MARGRET: (Laughing.) Oh, being around musicians, you know, all that scoobie-doo... I dig clothes, but wild. Love cats. Like to walk, ski, swim; love racing bikes and motor-cycles. I really dig jewelry. (She points to the huge topaz, shakes her shoulders vigorously to make it swing.)
REPORTER: I said you're even more beautiful than you are in your pictures... even more dynamic... more everything...
ANN-MARGRET: (Cooly.) You've dropped your pencil.
REPORTER: Oh yes. (Picks up pencil from floor.) Thanks... Well, let's run briefly over the biography... Born in Stockholm or near there, came here to Illinois Chicago area, at age 5...
ANN-MARGRET: Yes. We didn't have much money, but Mom managed, no matter what sacrifices it took, to keep giving me dancing, singing and piano lessons. I was determined on a show business career after I started entering amateur contests and doing all right.
REPORTER: Came to Hollywood after your first year in Northwestern University, with two male classmates as a trio...
ANN-MARGRET: And ran right into nothing at all. We couldn't get any agents, or anyone else, to even listen to us... We were down to our last few dollars when we finally wheedled Bobby Roberts, of Cossette and Roberts, into hearing us... He booked us into a hotel in Reno, and to our surprise, we went over. (Laughs.) I found out later that Bobby, who is still my personal manager, mainly just thought we were nice kids and wanted to have us earn some spending money to take back to college... He was as surprised as we were when we got the nice audience reception.
ANN-MARGRET: The two boys went back to college, but I was determined to stay... Bobby talked George Burns into introducing me on his Las Vegas how. The I got a screen test and a contract with 20th Century Fox, played in "Pocketful of miracles", had a starring role in "State Fair" with Pat Boone and Bobby Darin; signed a recording contract with RCA Victor, sang on the Academy Award show in 1961, then made "Bye Bye Birdie" for Columbia Studios.
REPORTER: A smash hit, called one of the leading money grossers of the last decade...
ANN-MARGRET: Then "Viva Las Vegas" with Elvis Presley and "Once a thief" with Alain Delon for MGM, "Kitten with a whip" and "Bus Riley's back in Town" for Universal, and "The Pleasure Seekers" for 20th Century Fox...
REPORTER: ... And now have multiple-studio commitments with Universal, MGM, Columbioa, 20th Century, and Frank Sinatra Enterprises for about 15 pictures.
ANN-MARGRET: About 20, right at this point.
REPORTER: Doesn't all that work ahead scare you sometimes?
ANN-MARGRET: No, nothing scares me. I'm just glad to have the work, although I could use more time to spend on my new hose - (Suddenly charged with super-enthusiasm.) Say, I forgot to tell you about this house I leased - It's going to be swinging! (She rummages around in a pile of magazines by the sofa, comes up with a wallpaper sample.) Get this.
REPORTER: Red on red?
ANN-MARGRET: It's called flocked paper... Crazy! One wall of my bedroom and the dressing room will be in this. My bed is a big round one, pink, with frilly beads hanging down, you know? The main bathroom in pink... the living room and dining room in Kelly green...
REPORTER: Just a homemaker at heart - apron in the kitchen and all that?
ANN-MARGRET: Hold on, you can forget that kitchen jazz. I don't cook and I'm not about to cook. Chicken Delight is fine with me, or a sandwich anywhere... Look, I don't even care if a house even has a kitchen or not. I dig bedrooms, bathrooms and dressing rooms... But this house! I must have looked at 40 to lease or buy before I found it... isolated, way up on a private road in Benedict Canyon... two bedrooms and all... Me, rattling around alone in all that!
REPORTER: Doesn't that worry you, being alone in an isolated area like that?
ANN-MARGRET: Like I told you before, nothing scares me. Maybe that sounds like big talk, but it's true. Or has been so far.
REPORTER: You like your house - excuse me, I mean, dig your house. Anything else you dig that you forgot to mention before?
ANN-MARGRET: I like being able to see something in a store, want it, and be able to go in and buy it without a second thought. Sometimes I still can't believe it... I bought a motorcycle, I bought a car. I buy jewelry, clothes.
REPORTER: What particularly don't you dig?
ANN-MARGRET: You mean, what bugs me... (Grinning.) Kitchens, like I said. People drinking just because they're afraid to do anything else. And not being able to ride my 'cycle (she pronounces it "Sickle") like all motorcycle addicts do.) any more. That really bugs me.
REPORTER: How come you can't ride it?
ANN-MARGRET: The studio put its foot down... They never did like me scooting around on it, I rode it to work and everywhere. They finally insisted I give it up.
REPORTER: How do you get to work, now you can't ride your sickle.
ANN-MARGRET: (With the impish grin.) Oh, I just have to drive that darned pink Caddy convertible. Sometimes I get so upset I just have to eat a couple of desserts... I told you I like desserts, didn't I? Gooey, rich ones?
REPORTER: Yes. What about that causing a weight problem?
ANN-MARGRET: I don't have to fight it too much. I stay about 113, 114. Sometimes I gain a couple of pounds, but a feew days discipline put me back in shape (She smooths the Mumu over her stomach, throws back her shoulders.)
ANN-MARGRET: You dropped your pencil again.
REPORTER: Thank you (Retrieves it.) How about some of the accusations that you have been uncooperative with the press?
ANN-MARGRET: I don't think I've ever been deliberately rude to any columnist or feature writer... There are few - not many, I'm glad - if you don't say anythig at all... they aren't listening unless you make the answers they've decide on... As I said, I don't like to bring my dates or my family into print; I sincerely regret it if this has caused anyone to think of me as uncooperative.
REPORTER: Do you think you have changed since your fantastic success?
ANN-MARGRET: Yes, I've changed.
ANN-MARGRET: (Vehemently.) I want people to be honest with me! Why can't people say what they mean? Why can't people just tell you the truth? Success seems to mean that people tell you the plain truth, are absolutely honest with you, less and less all the time... (She breaks off, stares at the floor. There is a silence.)
REPORTER: Remember. Nothing scares you.
ANN-MARGRET: Right. Thanks. (She jumps up, humming a tune, snapping her fingers and swinging her shoulders. Then she stops and laughs at the reporter.) Pick up your pencil.
REPORTER: (Retrieves pencil, rises.) I can't take up any more of your time, it was wonderful of you to give me as much of it as you have.
ANN-MARGRET: Busy day still ahead for you?
REPORTER: Yes. I've got to rush out and buy a couple of double shots, the go and join every Ann-Margret fan club I can find. Then start studying up on honesty, kindness and understanding (moving towards exit.) I love you.
ANN-MARGRET: (Laughing, as reporter exits.) You get one good mark already, for kindness... Watch out for that step down out there, it - (There is a crash, then a dull thud followed by a groan, from offstage.)
ANN-MARGRET: (Calling.) You loused up your exit line. And pick up that pencil.