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Roger Smith


Why Ann-Margret is A Fighter

Today, the Swedish-born Ann-Margret looks very fit and healthy, full of energy and very attractive. Her face shows no visible scars from her terrible accident nearly two years ago when she fell 22 feet from a stage platform and was almost killed.

The lovely, luscious Ann-Margret let out a squeal of delight, rose from her chair and began to move to an imaginary beat.

I had just mentioned rock'n'roll.

"Did you see 'American Graffiti?' she asked. "Wasn't that tremendous. I sat there in seventh heaven! I was so happy when another rock and roll thing came on. The whole place was jumping!"

Ann-Margret is over here starring in Ken Russell's new film 'Tommy', a version of the rock-opera by Peter Townshend and The Who. She co-stars with Oliver Reed and plays the mother of the hero, a blind, mute pinball wizard.

"The music's great", she says. "My step-children are singing all the songs around the house. They know it even better than I do."

Was it the music that attracted her to the film? "It was one of the reasons, of course. It's great, brilliant. I love it. But the main reason was that I've always wanted to work with Ken. He's invigorating, challenging, exciting!"

Today, the Swedish-born Ann-Margret looks very fit and healthy, full of energy and very attractive. Her face shows no visible scars from her terrible accident nearly two years ago when she fell 22 feet from a stage platform and was almost killed. At a mention of that fatal day in Lake Tahoe in November 1972, she seems to disappear back into the past, in a kind of traumatic trance.

"It changed my life", she said quietly. "I had concussion and many other things (the other things included a face that was fractured in five places, a broken jaw and a fractured left arm). I was really in bad shape. I was out for four days. When I woke up no-one would let me look in a mirror."

Ann-Margret clenched her teeth and spoke loudly with the teeth still clenched. "I couldn't move because they had put wires through my gums. And I had braces because I had a broken jaw. They had done a two-and-a-half hour operation".

She pointed to her left cheek. "When I fell this was the first thing to hit".

She clenched her teeth again. "The first thing I said to Roger (her husband, ex-actor Roger Smith, now her business manager) when I woke up was 'Am I going to be o.k.?' When he said yes I never was in any doubt".

Ten weeks later she was back on the stage at the Las Vegas Hilton receiving a standing ovation from a capacity audience of nearly 2.000 screaming fans. That seemed remarkably early after such multiple injuries.

"I'm Taurus the Bull", she says defiantly. "Also, my father and mother both had great stamina, will-power and determination. My father always taught me, and my mother too, that if I fell off a bike or something to always get up immediately and get back on. Don't let it defeat you. And I knew that if I didn't get back on that stage I'd never go on again.

"Once you start having these taboos they start adding up. Then one day you don't go outside the door because you're afraid that a cloud is going to fall down and kill you. I don't want that many fears surrounding me. I just refuse it."

I brought her back to the zodiac sign Taurus the Bull. She'd mentioned it very emphatically. Did that mean she believed in astrology, took notice of it? She shook her head and smiled. "No, not really. I enjoy looking at the papers and magazines when it says Taurus and other signs, just to read them. But I don't believe in the ones that tell you what's going to happen in the future."

She paused for a moment, her thoughts briefly returning to Lake Tahoe. "If someone was to have told me that I was going to have my accident I would have stayed in my room. I'm much more cautious now. I'm more cautious about going out the door because there's a step going down. But I don't worry about it because that's ridiculous. If I were that worried about it I wouldn't get on the bike (she still owns a motor bike, a Harley Davidson 1000cc, but tries not to ride it during the shooting of a picture). If you're that shaky going on it you shouldn't be on it, because that's when you make mistakes, when you're scared."

Ann-Margret's movie tally is already 20 plus. She made her film debut as Bette davis' daughter in Frank Capra's 'Pocketful of Miracles'. Since then there have been Westerns, thrillers and, of course, musicals (one with Elvis, 'Viva Las Vegas), most of which have given her the opportunity to display her considerable physical attributes as a sexy dancer. There have also been more dramatic films, like 'Once a Thief', in which she played a mother whose child is kidnapped, 'The Cincinnatti Kid' and 'Carnal Knowledge', the film in which she played the tragic model, Bobby Templeton and the film in which she appeared nude.

"I was completely surprised when I got the part. I was in Los Angeles and I got a call that Mike Nichols wanted to interview me. I said for what? And the agent said for a thing called 'Carnal Knowledge'. I had no idea what it was about, but they sent me the script and as I read it I got more and more nervous because it was very emotional."

For her performance as Bobby Templeton, Ann-Margret received an Academy Award nomination.

"Bobby was, and will always be, a very tragic character", says Ann. "There are many ladies around like Bobby Templeton and it's so sad to see.

"Mike Nichols was wonderful, so patient. He let me do whatever I felt and would watch it very carefully." She paused, then pulled a wry face and laughed. "He's marvellous because he makes you think it was your idea. You know what I mean?"

I began to talk about the Western, 'The Train Robbers', she made with John Wayne. She broke in enthusiastically.

"Three months of happiness, delirious happiness. It was the first time I had ever ridden a horse. I took three lessons from this stunt man who had been with Duke for 23 years then when I got down to Durango I rode with him every day. I had a terrific time."

And Wayne?

"I thought he was a tremendous man and I was not disappointed. He's very gentle, very kind. A man's man. He stands up for what he believes is right. You don't have to egree with him, but he stands up for what he believes."

After 'Tommy' what comes next? "Well I'm going to do a TV special over here and I've been thinking about doing a Broadway show. Over the years I've been offered many different musicals for Broadway, but I've always said no because it's at least 18 months out of your life. And it's in New York and most of my friends and relatives are in California. I still don't think I'm quite ready to do it.

"What I am going to do is rest. Last year I took six months off because I'd had 13 years with only a week's break here and there. I came back with renewed energy, with strength, with enthusiasm, everything. I made a vow then and there that I must always do that, not six months, because one can't always take that long, but at least some break.

"I've no idea what I did in those six months, but it went by like twenty minutes. I took French lessons, I took tennis lessons. I saw all the friends that I hadn't seen for years. I went to Hawaii, I went to New York, I went to Mexico. I drove back and forth to Palm Springs ight or nine times. I went jogging on the beach. I took dance classes. I was just here, there and everywhere. And I loved it!"

And if anyone deserved a break from work it was Ann-Margret. Everyone loves a fighter, someone who grits her teeth and says: "I'm going to make it, no matter what." And that's what Ann-Margret has done, made it right back to the top. 'Carnal Knowledge' brought out in her a new dimension as an actress. It is quite likely that Ken Russell's 'Tommy' will do the same.

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By Roy Pickard

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