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I figured at best she'd look and act the part of a Gino's Pizza princess or maybe a Jack-In-The-Box belle. After aIl, who could honestly take Ann-Margret seriously past her Mallomar image - the frost glossed lips, the marbelized mane of orange sherbet and always seated spread-eagle on a "Hog" with a sunburst formation of male dancers at her feet?
Then again she did astound us all with her acting ability in "Carnal Knowledge" (the rumored reason being she wasn't really acting at all and that the role of Nicholson's vulnerable sex bomb bimbo was, in fact, the REAL LIFE Ann-Margret). And only last year she zapped us again with her fatal Vegas fall which left her with half a face and half a year in and out of plastic surgery (all those marvelous hospital tales of her never being able to chew and having to sip liquified lasagna through a straw???).
Then there was her second comeback - this time as a T. V. superstar "Live from Las Vegas." It was a pricey-produced sexarama ranging from Ann-Margret in floor length pink chiffon and ostrich flooze crying how she "had the right to sing the blues;" to a tight two step in a princess dress with a hint of pussycat tease; to a black satin side slit 'n strip "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" ballet; to the deafening uproar finale of her as the Hells Angels Honey accompanied by eight roaring Harley Davidsons. The latter always a guaranteed crowd thriller with her lounging on top a chopper in denim hotpants, matching jacket and rhinestone jersey top. All the while she's pulsating with lots of head jerks, exploding hair strands and mocca pancake dribbling down the sides of her face.
Ask anyone in "THE BIZ" (and I don't mean her favorite "founding fathers" star sidekicks - Jack Benny and Bob Hope) and they all say the same thing. "Ann-Margret is not what you think." She's not a bitch on wheels like Raquel but she's a tough trouper." A "damn hardworker." A "powerhouse of pro with a heart of Abilene cream." Yes, but beyond that. . . what or who the hell is Ann-Margret, besides being one of the few stars known the world over by two first names? Never call her "Ann" and god forbid "Ms." Smith.
l arrived at photographer Klaus Lucka's studio purposely 35 minutes late (10:15 A.M.) thinking there' d be no way Ann-Margret would make the shooting at the designated 9:30 A.M. time slot. Surprise. . . she had already been mascaraed and varnished by Terry Shanks of Elizabeth Arden and was in the midst of getting Carmen-curled by Marc Sinclaire. I cowardly slipped i.nto the shoebox room and immediately she hit me with a quick stool swirl and a hand thrusted "Thrill to meet ya." I was shocked to see how tiny she was (barely five feet) "I photograph big cause I'm long of leg." She remained remarkably talkative throughout the make-up and astounded us all with her openess and incredible enthusiasm to please.
Rarely did she glance at her own reflection except to do a sneak check. Obviously, Ann-margret already knows how Ann-Margret looks so she was here to make friends. Her close buddy and traveling companion Marsha Gottlieh (wife of the Smiths' lawyer) signaled all of us out of the room once Ann-Margret decided on the first Fernando Sanchez diaphonous cream silk slip.
We waited anxiously in Lucka's lobby. It was a first time experience for everyone. Sanchez had never heard of Ann-Margret before; I had never attended an actual ("Blow-Up") photo session before. Later we learned that Ann-Margret had never done this kind of fashion/personality shooting before. ("Oh i sure, I've done publicity photos and album covers but nothing quite like this.")
By the end of five hours we were exhausted but exhilerated. Especially Ann-Margret who left waving gracious "good-byes" and handshakes to us with her hair in dishwasher disarray ("Sometimes my hair looks like my mind") the emerald cream shadow still in a three-inch layer on the lids, and a "shorty sable" robe-wrapped around her long green Ban-Lon smock.
We all learned a lot about Ann-Margret's that day. Designer Sanchez left finally knowing who she was and loving "the life she gives my clothes. Everything that comes close to that woman ignites. " Sinclaire was surprised that her hair was so supple and not as strawberry cheesecake in color. Shanks was enamored of her acceptability to his deep "Fire Engine" lips. (She still prefers the au naturel" of "frosty peach melba.") Lucka's assistant - overwhelmed by Ann-Margret's ruby spatulas for fingernails. And everyone was taken with Ann-Margret's, mind boggling modesty. In front of the camera she was all tigress and tyrant but back in the dressing room she was childlike (similar to Marilyn Monroe's rumored helplessness but minus the sick signs of psychosis). Constantly asking us and actually taking our advice on "What outfit looks best"? "Do I have to take off my pantyhose"? (Us telling Ann-Margret to change her underwear?) "I hope I don't disappoint you all." Her magnificent obsession to please.
No one was allowed to watch the actual shooting. But I peeped through the door's crack and observed a teenage fantasy in action. All during high school I would often recharge myself with a crazy afternoon session in front of my bathroom mirror. Stretching my crewneck sweater over my "arthichoked" head and leaving the arms dangling down my back I would perform a great Ann-Margret . I would trash my head back and forth. Quick cracks side to side and strike an open-mouthed pose complete with half-hung eyelids. It was tough convincing myself of my sexability considering the reality of my 12-inch nose, a mouth filled with braced hardware and rubberbands, and a complexion that was a cross between the far side of the moon and a potatoe latka (pancake).
Anyway that day in the studio I watched "the pro" perform those lusty moves in front of the camers with all the high-voltage she could muster. She knew exactly how to moisten her lips, how long to hold her head in a come-hither halt; when to innocently nibble Lolita-like on her index finger. She even knew how to balance tiptoed in her satin mules and matching satin shorts with a wink over the shoulder and looking very much The Vegas Vargas.
She instinctively knew when to lean in for more shoulder, when to throw her arms overhead, when to open her mouth wide for a soundless scream, how low to 10 for more cut in the cleavage. Her only command or demand of the day was that we keep the volume.tuned up high on the "Love Unlimited" album.
In the limo on the way back to the St. Regis we exchanged shyster names of plastic surgeons and I admitted to Ann-Margret all my preconceived reservations about her overplayed sex image. She inhaled a deep sigh and tightly winced her eyes to the point of disintegration. "I know, I know. Everybody thinks that. It's the old story. There's a lot to me than just sex. I'm actually tough at heart. Afterall, I'm a Taurus and a Swede and I've been earning my own living since I've been 13. I can be impossible to handle at times. Then again everyone thinks Roger, my husband, rules and exploits me and that's the biggest drag. That man has taken so much bum abuse. He's so misunderstood.
"First of all, it's true that he produces, writes and often directs me in everything, but it's because I WANT HIM to. I want and need him to do that. No one can ever force me to do anything I don't want to do. (Meanwhile "hubby Roger" was left in "El Lay" to attend to Ann-Margret's direction and production of her up-and-coming Tropicana Hotel Act).
"I'm actually all for the woman's cause today. Like I said I earned my own way and have been liberated for a long time. But my kind of liberated livelihood happens to need the male entity. You see, I'm lousy on decisions and I need the firm hand of a man to help me. God knows, I was the bi"est Daddy's girl the" was. Dad did everything for me. Now, there's Roger.
"But what of the sex image? Doesn't it ever get in the way? "What's wrong with being sexy? I think when a man tells me I'm sexy it's the biggest compliment he can possibly pay me. Likewise if you tell a man of his sensuality. He feels thrilled. It's so uptight and such a sign of insecurity for people nowadays to put down a person's sexuality."
Did you ever think of your act as only appealing to men and not to women? How do you feel towards the female members of the Vegas audience? "I never thought of my act as strictly appealing to men. I mean, kids love it as much and you know I do dedicate a song for the ladies called "Stand By Your Man," which I feel is probably one of the heaviest highlights of my show.
"I realise women go through torments of male rejection. God, I did. People never think that I too experienced a lot of 'male grief.' I dated a lot but was always afraid to get involved cause I was always looking for that strong guy in the sky. Believe me, I know what it's like to be lonely like everybody else. Even on the road. If Roger isn't with me I make sure I'm always surrounded with friends. . . you know, loneliness always makes me think of Janis Joplin. I was terribly upset over her death. I mean I felt soooo much for her. You can't imagine".
We reached the hotel and quickly dashed through the people stuffed lobby. Very few heads turned in Ann-Margret's direction. I'm sure it was because of her height and her fox-like speed she took for the elevator. Back in the room I told her of my teenage mirrored imitations of her and she stared at me in wide-eyed disbelief. Whenever I asked her any questions about her beauty she seemed t duck the answer as if she had no idea how to understand or discuss her own visual. I looked closely for any sign of a stiched tuck or irregularity around the cheek and chin line. The pieces seemed to have been put back in Michelangelo perfection. "Although a lot of the times I really can spot my sunken side in a bad photo. I used to have my friends stick their hands down my mouth to feel how wired I was from my neck to my gums."
Once in the suite Marsha disappeared into the bedroom to pack Ann-Margret's 10 pieces of jumbo luggage (for a five-day stopover) and the results of her buying spree in New York. "I'm a regular Betty Boutique. It's awful I'm such a shopping freak. . . just can't keep my fingers out of those rack's. I love soft senuous things like feathers. And I just bought a fabulous cashmere Halston. I love cashmere and Iove the colors pastel pink and green. But I don't have any favorite designer. I never use any particular ones for my act either. Roger and I kind of work out my visual together.
"As for slopping around the house. One day I'll wear Levis and the next day I may be feeling glamourous and go all white suede. I rarely get my hair done except for the color and I really can't tell you what the col or is since it changes every time I do it. I do know it's original color was dark, dark brown almost black. When I'm home Ilike to give my hair and skin a rest.
"But in Vegas or Tahoe I travel with hair stylist George Masters. . . and 13 pieces of luggage, eight male dancers, four male singers, a female secretary and a stage manager. I just took a six month vacation from that two show-a-night-five-nights-a week routine. I mean last year was really grueling for me with my accident and the death of my father. Roger recently got custody of his three kids and we've been expanding our house. I really needed the time to think. Now I'm thrilled to be back at work. I really can't stand to be idle too long. Maybe two months out of the year is enough."
Did she ever think of quitting if she ever had a child of her own? "I want a kid more than anything and we've been working on it for a while. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. However, I do know that as long as I continue loving what I do... And I do... I don't think I'll ever get out. But as soon as I've made that decision - and I'LL BE THE ONE to have made THAT decision-no one eta believes me I'll quit so fast you won't know what happened.
"What about being a new mother to Roger's kids? "It's funny I'm really strict. No grass or pills in the house when they are home. All of them are away at boarding school. I just have this stronl stand on drugs. It's destructive and I won't have it. I mean I know it exists in my own business but I don't want it in my house."
And why is Ann-Margret in "THE BIZ"? Is it the money or the art or what? "Would you believe the love? I really dig performing for a live audience. No kidding, I mean I love those people. I love the feedback of a Vegas or a Tahoe group. I end my show with "When You're Smiling" and wow I mean it. I want everyone to leave my show smiling. I insist on it and work my butt off tilll Jet everyone there. It's the biggest charge for me.
"What ever happened to that promising movie career? "Find me a script. You know a "Carnal Knowledge" doesn't come around every year and most of the stuff I've been offered has been rotten. Although I'm planning to do "Tommy" but I really can't talk about it at this time. Actually, I really like live performing better anyway. Cause I need that direct rapport. Call it ego massage, I just dig it.
"Would she ever perform a la Bette Midler in New York City at the Palace? "I've not seen Bette Midler by the way. Although I was at the Continental Baths once and I know I couldn't perform there. My act is huge, you know. It's not very mobile and we need a lot of space. It's really a Vegas production. I mean 12 Harleys and all those special effects it would be tough. But it's not out of the question to do a month's gig here if we found the right spot. Hey, maybe Radio City?"
Is she really a motorcycle freak? "You bet. Roger and I have nine bikes. I just got a Harley 100. I've been riding it for 11 years My first one was a mini bike and given to me by a boyfriend. Then I just got hooked. There's something sensual and daring about the machine and the motor. I guess that's my attraction for the thing."
Is she friendly with any of the Hell's Angels or bike gangs? "I have a lot of strange friends. (hesitation and curious sneaky smile crosses her lips). All different kinds. Sure I know a few but I'd rather not say."
What things depress Ann-Margret now? "I really have to hang in there a lot (her eyes haze over and she falls silent and distant). You have no idea how sensitive I am to everything. I'm completely an emotional person. . . just one big raw nerve ending. And this is where Roger fits in. He supports me totally. He buffers the ills for me. Sometimes in my heart I feel like I can hardly get through the day. Just cause I feel so much for everybody around me. If a repair man tells me of his problems I'm depressed for a week."
Did she ever notice how she and Roger look alike? Like the Jaggers? "I never really noticed the Jaggers but I know that Roger and I do. That just happened. I mean I just noticed the resemblance in a recent picture and it knocked me out. We both wear the same tinted aviators glasses. I got mine in pink then he got his in taupe. But they say couples begin to look like each other when they are old not when they are in their thirties and forties. Weird, huh? Could it mean we are really into one another?"
What about her two diamond rings? "Oh, this one (fingering a small bouquet of baggets on her left hand)? Roger designed it himself and gave it to me eight years as an engagement ring in Central Park. This one (an eliptical shaped chunk stretching from knuckle to base of finger) he gave me last year as a get-well token 'when I was hospitalized."
Does she have any phobias or flashback fears of the accident? "Not really. l'm a pretty courageous girl. I'm a Jot more cautious now though. But I don't have any flashes of floors coming up in my face or anything like that. I do kind of tune out when I get into my act. I mean when I'm dancing I get so carried away a lot of the time r forget where I'm at."
She ushers me into her bedroom asking me in girly interest of my. age. "Twenty-six? Hey I was exactly that when I married Roger. I mean we lived together when I was 24. It's good you're waiting so late in life." (Late in life?) I did and I'm glad." She starts to prepare herself for the six hour flight and the reunion with Roger.
"Isn't it tough to look good after you've flown?" My skin always turns green and my hair oils within fifteen minutes of flight time, I told tier. She giggles and adds "Oh, I know, I know by the time I arrive I always look like I've Shangrilaed into the .age of 100." At last, Ann-Margret and I share a mutual beauty problem. The sage of jet lag skin sag!
Before I depart she clasps my hands between her two huge rocks, (rings, that is) and says "one more thing." In kitted-coated tones, "I just bought this Halston cashmere and I want to surprise Roger at the airport but I can't make up my mind. What do you think..." I could only think of one thing... would my father (who is the world's biggest Ann-Margret groupie and declares her TV specials nights of holy attonement) actually believe me when I tell him how I helped Ann-margret get dressed? (P.S. No signs of silicone).
By Blair Sabol