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"I DON'T COOK. I don't sew. I don't have babies. I entertain. I'm an entertainer, and it really makes me feel like I'm doing something worthwhile."
From the length of the line that began forming at the Las Vegas Hilton International at 5:00 for the eight o'clock show, Ann-Margret is really some entertainer! The Sex Kitten of the sixties has come a long way in the entertainment world: and she attributes some of her success to the near fatal accident she suffered two years ago in Las Vegas.
"Seven years ago I had my first live performance at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. I was terrified, and in the entire hour and a half, I said four words, 'thank you very much.' "I was afraid of my audiences, I was afraid to look at them and talk to them."
Despite Ann-Margret's modest words, her act has always been one of the most exciting, crowded shows in Vegas. Yet there is a difference today.
"When I fell 22 feet onto the stage during my act two years ago, my whole attitude about performing changed," she explains. "I think anybody who has come close to being wiped out will understand me when I say that. I was so happy, so ecstatic when I woke up from the concussion and found out I was still here!"
She was so happy, in fact, that she rehearsed with a broken jaw and was back on stage only 10 weeks later. Of course, part of her speedy recovery was for the benefit of her father, who was dying of cancer
"I had to show my Dad I was all right" Ann-Margret says softly, "I didn't want him to worry. Ann-Margret Olsson was raised by parents that believed in closeness and love, and losing her father was a tremendous blow to her. But she's also a true optimist, living each day at a time, to its fullest.
"I try with everything I've got the live for the moment, which is probably a result of the accident. But sometimes It's hard to do. So after all my bad luck in 1972, I took six months off. I was beginning to shake inside, and I knew it was time to stop what I was doing. I hadn't realIy taken any long period of time off during the last 13 years. So I went on small trips to Hawaii, New York, Palm Springs, and saw friends of mine that I hadn't seen in years.
"I took Spanish lessons, I jogged on the beach... things that are so normal to other people, but thy were such treats for me! After six months, I was really excited about coming back.
And come back she did. . . with the most popular act in Las Vegas (the film version of "Tommy" (to bo released this Spring), and a new television special. Ann-Margret likes working with varying entertainment forms because each demands something different.
"The communication in movies is really with your director and your costars, and that's very exciting. In television specials and performing live, I'm ME.
"The television special that I just finished in London was lots of fun... I did terrific characters in that. I pay a special tribute to Rita, Esther, Bette, and Marilyn.
"And for the first time, I'm using my own name, Ann-Margret 0lsson. O, L, S, S, 0, N," she spells it out. "And there are even pictures of me of growing up with my two front teeth apart and my dark brown hair."
Right now, her lovely auburn hair is freshly washed and shining, and her hairdresser, George Masters, will arrive shortly to fix it for her performance. She tucks her feet under her on the sofa and smiles with confidence.
Roger Smith, Ann-Margret's husband for the last ten years, plays a big part in that confidence. Efficient and a terrific businessman, he handles her career carefully and cleverly, and has slowly been working Ann-Margret towards an act that involves tremendous interaction with the audience,
"At first she was very shy," he explains. "She is very easily hurt, very vulnerable. So I had her just say a few things on stage the first time, things she could learn beforehand, Now, she carries on a great conversation with the audience. . . she even gets off the stage and dances with them!"
A combination of recovering from her accident and the guidance of Roger Smith, Ann-Margret is totally involved with the crowds watching her. "Now I feel the electricity the moment I go on stage. It's coming directly from the people right to me. I get chills and goose-bumps just thinking about it! When I'm on stage I am very excited inside, and it isn't terror. I look into the eyes of the ladies and gentlemen, and I communicate with them. I always like to come back to the live performance because. . . there's just nothing like it!"
Her performances have something for everyone, and range from her now-famous motorcycle number complete with roaring bikes and leather jacket to a lovely Swedish song accompanied by a film shot in Ann-Margret's own native village ("population: 150, counting cows and horses").
On stage she's a dynamo, putting every inch of her small frame into her show. When she leaves stage to dance with lucky members of the audience, the crowd really joins in . . . clapping, laughing, reaching out to touch her. In a slinky sequined gown, she can play her Sex Kitten image to the hilt, or be demure in a soft, flowing white dress.
"I was raised in a European manner," she says in 'her breathless voice. "My father was always the dominant figure in the household and my mother always wanted it that way. And I want it that way. When someone says to me, 'I think you're sexy,' I find that extremely flattering, and I always have. I think any lady who is honest with herself would say the same thing whether she's a nurse, or a secretary or a vice president of a corporation." She glances shyly at her husband Roger, who prepares a cup of coffee for her and delivers it with a smile.
"You know," he says later, "Ann-Margret always gets everything she wants. . . she always has. She's a master at getting her way without making it obvious." After 1O years of marriage, the Roger Smiths still spend most of their time together. But when Ann-Margret fell during her performance two years' ago, Roger was away, getting his daughter settled in a new school. He'll never miss another performance.
Now he checks everything before the show, and he sees that Ann-Margret is well-taken care of. "He even got me an ultrasonic nebulizer," she says proudly, "and I sleep with vaporizers in my room when I'm I singing in Las Vegas because of the dryness here."
The ultra-sonic nebulizer is a device that looks like an oxygen mask, emitting steam. Ann-Margret breathes into it for fifteen minutes in her dressing room, then does her warm up vocal exercises before going on stage.
After putting her all into the eight o'clock show, she begins to get ready to do it all over again wlth just as much enthusiasm for the late show. How does she do it?
"I'm like an athlete in training," she laughs. "When I'm here in Vegas I usually finish my last show about two in the morning, and I'm usually very up, so we'll have some people over and either show a movie or do something like the boys' poker game last night.
"I sleep until about two in the afternoon, then try to revive myself, wash my hair, get something to eat . . . like an omelette. Then I go back to bed until about six o'clock," she laughs apologetically. "But I always want each show I give to have the same enthusiasm, the same energy that I give on opening night, so I have to keep myself in shape,"
Her discipline starts long before she arrives in Las Vegas, or on a film's location, however. The training period is usually a month long, everyday, for 10 hours each day. She takes voice lessons several times a week, works out with her dancers, swims, and often diets.
"I have the worst problem with my weight. I just can't tell you! I love to eat. I go on binges. I have a sweet tooth - my father had a sweet tooth and I took it from him. They make great chocolate malteds here," she whispers conspiratorily. "I'm mad about all the wrong things. But what I'll finally do when I'm backed up against the wall and I know I'm opening somewhere in a week or so, is just eat grapefruit for three days. It really works, but you must be in perfect health to do this. It's really drastic."
Her enticing figure attests to the fact that it works, as do the sighs of admiration from the audience when she appears on stage in a revealing gown.
"But beauty is in the eye of the beholder," Ann-Margret says quickly. "It was a big deal to me when I hit thirty, but once I passed it, I found I still feel great. Those who like me . . . those who love me. . . will think I'm terrific no matter what I look like. And I love them. It realIy doesn't matter what age a person is.
"Speaking of aging, in the film version of the rock opera "Tommy," Ann-Margret starts out as a 20-year old girl, and ends up murdered at 45. "I have a nervous breakdown and get pregnant in between," she adds. "It's really going to be a bizarre film- there's not a word of spoken dialogue, and working with Jack Nicholson and Elton John was great.
Roger Smith gently reminds herthat it's time to prepare for the show, and she smiles back at him sweetly.When he's out of earshot she whispers, "We were the first to say it wouldn't last, right after the ceremony. But it's been ten years now, and it's still just wonderful. We never take anything for granted. . . , I think that's the key. Roger and I both feel we must always try to be nice to each other every day. And if, God forbid, either one of us ever started being not nice, that would be the end.
"I think it's horrible when two people take each other for granted. We only have one life, and it's so darned short. You've just got to live each day at a time, live each day to the fullest. There are so many i great, wonderful, kind people out there who will be nice to you, that if there is a person in your life who is not being nice to you, you shouldn't stand for it! "The same thing applies to my performances. If people like me, if people love me, if people think that I have some talent, I never, ever take that for granted. I'm very thankful."
By Charlotte McClure