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Roger Smith

Making it
The rough, slow passage of Ann-Margret

'Starlet' is one of those bad, two-edged words like 'promising', and if an actress in Hollywood is still being called a starlet after three years then she may as well go on the stage, TV or home. Ann-Margret was called a starlet for ten years, and slogged on through a succession of films that ranged from hohum to awful, but now she has finally made it with the portrayal of Bobbie Templeton in Mike Nichols' new film, "Carnal Knowledge". This proves that, if a girl has a real acting talent and a personality to match, dogged persistence tells, even in Hollywood.

Many of us, of course, looking back over the years and the wrecks of bad films, said we knew all all along that Ann-Margret had great star potential. But because she could sing (still can) they put her in those jazzy co-ed musicals that were still strong back m the late fifties, opposite the likes of Pat Boone and Elvis Presley. Now those guys were stars and the size of their names on the cinema marquees and time the cameras were focused on them never let you forget it. Most of the starlets who thought they were getting their great chance in being their romantic leads have slipped quietly into oblivion.

Ann-Margret fought the process every inch of the way, trying twentyeight different hair colours en route. She probably had a bad agent, for she was offered the Jane Fonda role in "Cat Ballou" and the Faye Dunaway part in "Bonnie & Clyde", and turned both of them down. These were two films that might have done what "Carnal Knowledge", several years later, is doing for her now.

Some! will say that the part of Bobbie Templeton is type-casting for Bobbie is a thirty-ish actress-model, going over the hill into failure, fatness and dissatisfaction with life. (Ann-Margret had to eat twice as much as usual and take the Pill to gaiIn the necessary pounds, with such success that one critic hinted that her bosom bad been artificlally pumped up for the role). Although she is a person who has been profoundly hurt by years of abuse at the hands of unsympathetic studios, bad managers and often malicious critics, Ann-Margret shows no signs of going over that same hill... not now, for certain, after "Carnal Knowledge". Director Nichols and author Jules Pfeiffer, were shrewed enough to see that here was a potentially brilliant actress who had experienced enough of Bobbie's setbacks in her own life to give her insight into the role. For the first time in her career, Ann-Margret found the right film at the right time.

She is managed today by her husband, Roger Smith, who is hardly ever away from her side, and he is lining up her next film, which he will produce. It is to be called "Radioland" and, in key with the new cinematic trend of turning the clock back a nostalgic twenty years, it is set in the 1950's. In the meantime, Ann-Margret has been into "Dames at Sea", a TV spectacular which went even further back, to the musicals oif the Thirties. With true star status in these romps, and not just a pretty face and body to set off against some male isol, Ann-Margret could be doing the right thing. There is no doubt about her singing and dancing ability (as a TV revival of "Bye Bye Birdie" some months ago proved) and it is certain she must not play another Bobbie role for some time to come.

Las vegas has also taken her into its gambler-weary arms, since her "Carnal Knowledge" triumph, but then Las vegas always likes a winner. It is unlikely that she would have got a bokking, let alone applause, following her 1966 bomb, "The Swinger", although she was singing and dancing just as well then.

These things have hurt and even, perhaps, soured Ann-Margret. She lacks self-confidence, as a result of years of wanting success so desperately, earning it, and yet being denied it. Mike Nichols saw this doubt and hurt and was able to give the actress the confidence she lacked, the confidence to project these very qualities into her performance. Ann-Margret, who is not talking very much tese days, has been very vocal in her gratitude to him.

Born Ann-Margret Olsson in Sweden in 1941, brought to America at the age of five, the actress who still prefers to be called an "entertainer" now lives in a ranch house near Hollywood, likes to take a motor cycle out in the desert and light out across country, for the pure fun and escape of it, although she has no desire to be built up as a female Steve McQueen. She would like children, but in the meantime makes do with mothering batches of kittens that are housed at her canyon rerteat. As do many of the new generation of Hollywood actresses ’Äì Ali Mac Graw, Joanna Shimkus, Candice Bergen, Katharine Ross ’Äì she hates parties, and calls them a big put on.

With the guidance of husband Roger Smith, and, hopefully, the continued encouragement of directors of Mike Nichols' calibre, Ann-Margret seems to have avoided the doom of Bobbie Templeton ’Äì but by what small margin perhaps only she herself knows.

She has a close rapport with the memory of Marilyn Monroe, although she was not a close friend of the dead actress. In films she uses Marilyn's old stand-in, and owns a mirror that belonged to her. "She was terribly abused, for no reason", she says of Monroe, "people picked on her and, though she was pphysically and mentally well when she came to Hollywood, she became sick. When she died they gave her acclaim".

All of that might have been the sad story of Ann-Margret. Every day, now, she is making certain that this remains a "might".

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