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Roger Smith

Ann-Margret Not Afraid To Play Her Own Age

For those of a certain age, it may be hard to imagine Ann-Margret playing a dowdy grandmother. Well, those people need to brace themselves.

The 1960s movie sex kitten is playing her own age - 58 - as Lorraine Petrovich, who watches too much TV, lives with an abusive 38-year-old man and winds up convicted as an accessory to the murders for which the boyfriend takes the rap.

"Happy Face Murders," which appears on Showtime on Sunday at 8 p.m. EDT, is based on a real-life case involving an Oregon woman, Laverne Pavlinac. Despite the title, there's nothing lighthearted about the movie; "Happy Face" refers to the symbols used by the murderer.

Dowdy, aged or evil, Ann-Margret isn't afraid to take roles that are counter to her attractive image. Like Bette Davis, Ann-Margret believes it's the role that counts, not how she looksLorraine's cluttered bungalow in the film looks nothing like the home that Ann-Margret shares with her husband and personal manager, former actor Roger Smith. It was once the home of Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and their two children. (The isolation suited Bogart, but his wife forced a move because the children had no neighbors with whom to play.)

The house, approached by a winding road, sits on a plateau above Beverly Hills. The gardens are ablaze with summer blossoms, and the living room is equally colorful: a huge painting of flowers over the hand-carved wooden fireplace; impressionist-style landscapes on other walls; palms, ficus trees,
lilies and violets; a large bay with grand piano and crystal chandelier, and outside the windows, jacaranda trees in full purple blossom.

Adjacent to the living room is an office with floor to ceiling photogrpahs of Ann-Margret in film roles and on magazine covers. Smith was working at the computer, for which he had the keyboard adjusted to produce a clacking noise.

"Roger worked so long on a typewriter that he missed its sound," she explains.

For many years he has been afflicted with myasthenia gravis, a nerve disease characterized by weakness and quick fatigue of muscles, especially of the face and neck. Smith has good days and bad days; this is one of his good days.

He shows little sign of the disease, looking as handsome as when he starred on TV in "Mr. Roberts" and "77 Sunset Strip." He gave up acting after marrying Ann-Margret in 1967, and he is credited with shrewd handling of her long career. She is ever vigilant of his condition; if there's a string of bad days, she will decline work to be with him.

Sitting in her tasteful home, Ann-Margret looks wildly removed from the gray-haired grandmother of her TV movie. Appearing svelte and glamorous, she was dressed in black, low-cut lounging pajamas with a silk coat in a bright floral print that seemed to match the decor of her living room.

She recently had her debut as a lecturer, touring Calgary and Edmonton, Canada. She shows clips from her movies and reminisces about her life in the studios. Of course, everyone wants to know what it was like working with Elvis.

"I had never done anything like that," she said of the lecturing. "For the first 20 minutes, my voice was shaking. When the response came, I started relaxing. In the last 15 minutes, when I sat down with a moderator, I said, 'You guys! I'm so relaxed I'm ready to do a somersault."'

But she doesn't plan to put her musical act together and take it on the road anymore. Her last tour was almost five years ago.

"It was too hard," she said. "We had like 35 people. We brought carpenters -
the world with us. Every night in a different place - and just putting up the sound took a few hours.

"I remember playing one night in Indiana, then arriving at 3 in the afternoon in Buffalo, where it was already dark and snowing like mad. I don't know how we got the sound together, but at 8 o'clock we were ready and had a great time."

Ann-Margret has had a remarkably varied career. Born Ann-Margret Olsson in Sweden, she arrived in Illinois at 5 and at 15 had scored a hit on TV's "Ted Mack's Amateur Hour." She quit Northwestern University after a year to sing with traveling bands. In 1961, she made her film debut as Bette Davis' daughter in "Pocketful of Miracles," Frank Capra's last feature.

After a successful run in movies as a sex symbol and musical star, she surprised everyone with her dramatic role in Mike Nichols' 1971 film "Carnal Knowledge," for which she received an Academy Award nomination. She also was an Oscar nominee for the 1975 rock opera "Tommy."

She has continued a busy career, both in TV movies and theatrical features. This fall, she'll be seen in "The Last Producer" with Burt Reynolds and Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday," in which she co-stars with Al Pacino.

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By BOB THOMAS

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