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Roger Smith

How Ann-Margret Coped
With Her Latest Emotional Role

"This was the hardest thing I've ever tackled", said Ann-Margret talking about her latest role in 'Who Will Love My Children?' The film is inspired by the true story of a remarkable mother who, for the sake of love, gave away her ten children when she discovered she was terminally ill. Ann-Margret chose to do the drama because of the beauty and strength she found in the character of Lucile Fray, the Iowa housewife on whose story the film is based.

"I read the story one summer and loved it", said the actress. "However, it was not a finished script and the producers were probably not even aware that I had seen it. I thanked the person who gave it to me and wished everyone well. Then, to my surprise, it came back as a finished script and there was an offer for me to star in it.

"My husband, Roger Smith, read the script and had me read it again that night. It was wonderful, beautiful, but I felt wrong for the part. A woman with ten children who made her own clothes and who cooked - this was like science-fiction to me! I've never had children and my mother has been trying to teach me to cook Swedish meatballs since I was six."

The credit for Ann-Margret's sensational casting in the role goes to director John Erman, who was impressed by her performance in 'Return of a Soldier' in which he felt she had shown traits comparable to those of Lucile Fray. With producers Paula Levenback and Wendy Riche also urging Ann-Margret to take the part, she finally put aside her reservations and accepted the role. It wasn't long before she became deeply involved with her character.

"Lucile had cancer and I spoke to several doctors about it", she says. "I also talked to some women I know who had mastectomies. I also watched some documentaries about death. Because she had had a mastectomy my undergarments were fixed so that one of my shoulders drooped down."

During the production of the film Ann-Margret says she found it harder and harder to leave work behind at the end of a day's shooting, and admits that even after the film was completed Lucile Fray stayed on her mind.

"This woman really took over my thoughts. This story is not all grim and the selfless nature of this woman was with us every day on the set. I hope I conveyed the love that this woman had, and her incredible strength.

"When she found she was dying, she knew that her husband would not be able to take care of the children, so she advertised for new parents for them. She did it all alone. It must have been terrible for her to see each of them go, but she succeeded in finding homes for all of them before she died. Her husband was an alcoholic and would go off on a binge every time a child would leave."

Shortly after filming was completeted last Christmas, Ann-Margret was presented with an opportunity to meet the real Fray family of which there are nine surviving children (one had died at the age of 26). When the family had met at a reunion attended by the actress, they joined in a tearful but joyful rendering of their favorite song, 'San Antonio Rose' - a tune which the screen Fray family sang in the film.

"It was a great thrill for me to meet them all", said Ann-Margret afterwards. "They have a wonderful attitude towards what life gives them, which I think comes from their mother's courage, and I hope more than anything that this film will do this amazing woman justice. I know that I will never forget her".

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By Lisa Dewson

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