Films & TV
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By late afternoon, the construction trucks have lumbered down the hillside, and the once-bautiful house and grounds are in shambles. Roger Smith stands amid the disorder, clad in dusty work jeans, holding a conference with the foremen. Roger's 15-year-old-son, Jordan, wields an enormous broom, cleaning up what is to be a magnificent living room with bay windows jutting out over the hillside. Jordan has spent the entire month clearing away the debris, and it is now possible to appreciate the dramatic view of hillside and tree-lined road below. A new little cottage - for Roger's daughter, Tracy - has taken shape on the hill behind the house, beside the tennis court. The tennis court is being rebuilt above a brand-new, five-car garage; and the old garage has been converted into an air-conditioned doll-sized house for their housekeeper, with a combination movie theatre/ballet practice hall for Ann-Margret.
As we stumble through the construction debris of the house, Ann-Margret, in black tights and black boots, just in from a dancing lesson, laughs calmly amid the chaos, and explains: "We love our home, otherwise we wouldn't be going through this. I mean, we're not masochists, it just looks as if we are. But we have three children now (A-M and Roger recently gained custody of his childrren from a previous marriage). Each one, because of different ages, and identities, has to have a room of his own. I went out looking for a larger house and couldn't find anything that had the wonderful privacy and trees and all that this one has. So, for five months, we've been going through this. Now we're at the maximum point of disorder and dust. Sometimes I walk around and say, 'Will it never end?'
"The kids have been wonderful. They're each looking forward to new quarters. Tracy is going to be 16 in a few days; we feel it's very important for her to have a degree of indipendance, so she's going to have the little cottage with a bedroom, a sitting room, a bath, and an alcove for a burner and refrigerator. When her friends come over, they can play their records as loud as they want. She's thrilled about that. Meanwhile, she has Jordan's room, and Jordan has camped out. Did you see the green tent back by the tennis court? That's Jordan's. He has a color TV out there, a little refrig, and he's camping out. He's been working eight or nine hours a day with Roger. Monday he goes back to school - we kid him and say he's tired of that nine-hour working day. I wouldn't blame him. He's been a very good sport. And Tracy's been like a little secretary to Roger. She runs around with a pad and pencil taking notes because, especially in the evening, Roger'äs always remembering dozens of details for the construction men.
"Oh, and in-between everything, we got Tracy's driving permit today. She's passed the written test and is she ever excited. She's taken driving lessons; now she just has to brush up a bit and pass the actual driving test. Then she'll probably find some part-time job as a salesgirl because she wants money of her own to buy clothes and things. And one thing she wants very much - and I'm so excited about this because she'd never mentioned it before - she wants to go to college when she's finished high school. I think the college experience terribly important. You learn so much and can grow with it."
Tracy and Ann-Margret are very close and there is never a day that the new mom doesn't try to instill in her new daughter (and sons too) principles of living about which she feels very strongly. Just a few months ago, Tracy faced a crisis. The first boy she'd ever steady dated, a handsome 16-year-old boy, a football player, was killed in a car crash, up near Ojai. "It was horrible", Ann-Margret says, her eyes soft with feeling. "Everyone loved him. Tracy was very, very distraught - and still, you know, tears come to her eyes when we speak of him. Now she is dating again, but she'll never forget this boy, and I know that in her own driving she's going to be super-careful because of this accident."
Ann-Margret has been close to Roger's children since they were very young. She and Roger have been married six years, were engaged for three years before that. Tracy, Jordan, and 11-year-old Dallas were always part of their life. "We have grown together", A-M explains. "I've seen them through all their phases". The children have been taken on location trips, one at a time, when their vacation schedules worked with the locations. They've spent weekends and summers with Ann-Margret and Roger. But before they were part of the family for real, Ann-Margret was their friend, not their disciplinarian.
"During those days, it was not my place", she says simply, "but now, yes. And they understand that. We never needed to spill it out. There are so many things unsaid because these young people really understand so much. If they don't understand, they ask".
But, now, Ann-Margrret has become the disciplinarian. "I'm strict, oh yes, you have to be", she says. "You know the way my mother brought me up. I was the only child, and she really watched me. But it was always discipline. You can't have all love. There has to be both, and they have to be directed. Roger is more lenient. But when something comes up, and I say no, I explain why the no. Usually the children know in advance what the answer is going to be. Pot or drinking, for example, I just won't allow in this house. We've discussed it, a long involved discussion. As with any major issue, Roger and I discussed it first. Then the whole family got together, and a lot of questions were asked, but finally the children understood. You know, many people feel that it's better to have kids drink or smoke in their own home rather than behind your back. I can certainly see the logic of that. But I have taken into consideration each member of this family and I feel that for this family it wouldn't be right. Outside the house, the kids will have to use their own judgement, but I have seen so much happen with drugs and alcohol...
"Through the years the children have told me about kids pushing pills at school. Kids this big, I swear! They are selling little containers, a row of pills for one dollar. Uppers. This really brings the danger right home, doesn't it? Kids have such erratic behaviour on pills. They do things they would never otherwise do. And pills are addictive. Young bodies and minds can be completely destroyed. I know of cases where youngsters ended up in sanatoriums - one child like a vegatable from what started as a lark. Uppers. Kids take them and get a great feeling; they feel fantastic, they can play hard, study hard, do it all. And then they get so up that they have to relax, and they start on downers. Then they can't sleep and start with sleeping pills. There are people pushing all these pills at grade schools!
"We've been very choosy about schools for our children. Dallas (who suffers from asthma) is at school in Arizona because the dry climate. It's a very strict school. The other two schools are both at Ojai, and we visited both campuses and decided which school was right for Jordan and which school was right for Tracy. I notice that both the older children have certain teachers with whom they have a wonderful rapport.
"It's very important that kids know that teachers care. That parents care too. Our children know that they can come to us with any question. We don't sit down and lecture them - about sex for example - but we answer all the questions. Roger talks with the boys and is wonderful with them. I talk with Tracy, and, actually, her attitude is so healthy and normal - so is Jordan's - that we've never thought of sex as a problem at all. When I was a girl and wanted answers, I went to my mother. There was no such thing as the pill then and I saw young lives ruined, at least drastically changed, when a girl had an unwanted child. I can tell you that if a child of mine ever asked me, I would say the Pill is a must. I know that many would disagree with me on religious grounds, but God forbid a girl should get pregnant without wanting to. It isn't fair to the girl, to the boy, or to the baby.
"Children need to be wanted, loved. Luckily, for us, no problem. Ours are thoughtful, happy kids. This is the first time they've been together as a family in a long time, being away at schools, etcetera; they are really enjoying each other."
Roger, who has been listening quietly, adds, "I really admire Ann-Margret for her strictness. I never had any guidelines for being a father. I'm like the typical father in an old-fashioned movie. I'm inclined to give them whatever they want - like the time Dallas was about seven and Jordan ten and they asked me if they could smoke a cigar. I thought a cigar would make them sick, so I gave it to them. I don't smoke or drink, but I figured this would make them sick. It didn't. They came right back and wanted another."
Ann-Margret shakes her head. "I don't think children should have that kind of freedom. They aren't prepared to handle it."
"Right", agrees Roger. "I don't know whether it's because I was away from them so much when they were little, but I had this terrible guilt feeling, so I'd give them anything they wanted. Now I just say, 'Ask Ann-Margret.' She can say no and they don't get madf at her. I say no and they think me an old grouch. Ann-Margrtet won't correct me in front of the children - but when we're alone... like the night we were at a restaurant and they wanted to taste the wine. I let them, and later she told me she didn't like that. There was time when they were older.
"She was right, of course, and I admire her stand. I really admired her one time when someone was smoking pot at our house. We don't have any close friends who use marijuana, but one day I was having a meeting about the nightclub act, and we had all kinds of people up at the house; Musicians and scenery, lighting, and production people. I always let the kids in on meetings if they want to be there - I like them to know what we do. Well, one of the people at this meeting lit up a marijuana cigarette. Ann-Margret walked in the room, smelled it, and immediately asked the person to step outside with her. She did it very neatly. 'Could you come outside for just a moment?' she said, and when she got him outside, she just told him, 'Please, I don't anyone doing that in front of my children.' The fellow was perfectly understanding. No problem. But I admired her for that."
And he gives her a beautiful look. They are very strong together, these two. You feel there isn't a problem in the world they couldn't handle. Except, maybe, the lack of time for relaxing together.
"Rogher gets very involved with all the work that is going on", Ann-Margret smiles, "so he tells me to remind him when to stop because he gets so engrossed. So I say, 'Honeeeeey... it's time we go for a walk or something'".
This lack of time is one of the reasons Ann-Margret has taken six months off from work. "This has been quite a year", Ann-Margret says softly. "I really felt it especially after daddy died. Since I started 13 years ago, I really haven't had much time off. I felt like this last year, in July: I suddenly remembered we hadn't had a honeymoon or a vacation since we've been together, and I said: 'Honeeeey', and off we went. Tahiti, Morra, and Bora Bora, in five days! And then this year, there was our friend Guss Randall's long illness and death, my dad's long illness, my accident."
Suddenly, you relize that her beautiful face, which was left with a deep dent in the left cheek, is absolutely smooth and just as it was before the fall! Additional plastic surgery had been advised, but Ann-Margret held out against any further surgery. She was so sure the tissue would rebuild itself, and it has.
What concerned Annie was not her face (I don't believe she knows she's beautiful), but her terrible tiredness. She had gone back to work two months after the fall. Up to the last two days before she opened at Vegas, her jaws had still ben too rigid to open after the long weeks of wiring. Opening at Las Vegas was a tremendous emotional drain; opening right after that in Florida at the Fountableau was another emotional experience. Dallas developed an asthma attack there and she was up with him night after night. And then her father died. Suddenly, strong girl that she is, she found that she was crying and crying. Roger had been apprehensive, so had her mother, but it was Ann-Margret herself who suddenly made the decision. That's it folks - six months.
"I've always loved working, loved entertaining, and I want to come back to it with renewed energy and enthusiasm. It's a great responsbility to get out there every show and make it an opening night for those people in the audience who have never seen me before. I want to give them my very best. To do that I needed a change of pace."
So, with Richard Burton seeking her for a film, 'Under The Vulcano', with NBC holding a fall special for her, with Toshiro Mifune trying to lure her to Japan for a million-dollar hoisery commercail... and with a September starting date at the Sahara Tahoe... - Ann-Margret is spending her six months doing things she's always wanted to do - studying Spanish; bicycling (all the way from Bevery Hills to her friend Kathleen Littl's place in Santa Monica, where she plays tennis and goes to the beach); dancing (so she'll be ready when rehearsal time rolls around); spending time with Roger ("Honeeeey!");... and building a very real family with these three kids who are now under the Smith's roof.
By Jane Ardmore