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Roger Smith

A Fine Madness

Ann-Margret tackles her toughest role yet
in a TV remake of 'A Streetcar Named Desire'

It had long been in the back of Tennessee Williams's mind that Ann-Margret should someday play Blanche DuBois on television. Blanche, of course, is the bedraggled magnolia of his 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, A Streetcar Named Desire. But until 1983 the playwright turned down all requests for a TV version. That year producer Keith Barish came up with an unrefusable offer: $750,000 for the rights and Ann-Margret in the lead.

Recalls the actress, "I agreed to do the movie on Thursday, and on Friday Tennessee died. It was eerie."

For Ann-Margret, 42, the ordeal of capturing Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh won an Oscar for the 1951 film) became even eerier. During filming of the $4 million production-which will air March 4 on ABC-Ann-Margret found that as her character's grip on reality began to fail, so did her own.

"One morning, I started crumbling," she says. "I had to call my doctor. 'The walls are closing in on Blanche,' I told her, 'and I'm Blanche.'"

Says director John Erman: "Her emotional investment was overwhelming."

At no point was the line between acting and reality more difficult than when Blanche is raped by her brother-in-law Stanley, played by Treat Williams. Only the director and camera crew were present during the scene. Other staff members sat out of sight, wincing at the screams and crashes.

"It was devastating," says Ann-Margret. "I don't ever want to do that kind of scene again. It was too real."

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