|Born:||April 28, 1941|
Valsjöbyn, Jämtlands Iän, Sweden
Ann-Margret was born in Stockholm, the daughter of Anna (née Aronsson) and Gustav Olsson, a native of Örnsköldsvik. While young she moved with her parents to Valsjöbyn, Jämtlands län, which she later described as a small town "of lumberjacks and farmers high up near the Arctic Circle". Her father worked in the United States during his youth and moved there again in 1942, working with the Johnson Electrical Company, while his wife and daughter stayed behind.
Ann-Margret and her mother moved to the United States in November 1946, and her father took her to Radio City Music Hall on the day they arrived. They settled just outside of Chicago in Wilmette, Illinois. She became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1949 and took her first dance lessons at the Marjorie Young School of Dance, showing natural ability from the start, easily mimicking all the steps. Her parents were supportive and her mother handmade all her costumes. Ann-Margret's mother worked as a funeral parlour receptionist after her husband suffered a severe injury on his job. While a teenager, Ann-Margret appeared on the Morris B. Sachs Amateur Hour, Don McNeill's Breakfast Club and Ted Mack's Amateur Hour.
Through high school, she continued to star in theatricals and she attended Northwestern University, where she was a member of the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta but did not graduate. As part of a group known as the "Suttletones," they performed at the Mist, a Chicago nightclub, and went to Las Vegas for a promised club date which fell through after they arrived. They plugged ahead to Los Angeles and, through agent Georgia Lund, secured club dates in Newport Beach and Reno, where Ann-Margret had a chance encounter with Marilyn Monroe, who was on location for The Misfits. Monroe noticed the striking girl in a crowd of onlookers, then chatted privately with her, offering her encouragement.
The group finally arrived at The Dunes in Las Vegas, which also headlined Tony Bennett and Al Hirt at that time. George Burns heard of her performance and she auditioned for his annual holiday show, in which she and Burns did a soft-shoe routine. Variety proclaimed, "George Burns has a gold mine in Ann-Margret...she has a definite style of her own, which can easily guide her to star status".
Ann-Margret began recording for RCA in 1961. Her first RCA recording was "Lost Love" from her debut album And Here She Is: Ann-Margret, produced in Nashville with Chet Atkins on guitar, the Jordanaires (Elvis Presley's backup singers), and the Anita Kerr Singers, with liner notes by mentor George Burns. She had a sexy throaty singing voice and RCA attempted to capitalize on the 'female Elvis' comparison by having her record a version of "Heartbreak Hotel" and other songs stylistically similar to Presley's. She scored the minor hit "I Just Don't Understand" (from her second LP) which entered the Billboard Top 40 in the third week of August 1961 and stayed six weeks, peaking at 17. The song was later covered in live performances by The Beatles, who never officially recorded any version of the song. Her only charting album was The Beauty and the Beard (1964) on which she was accompanied by trumpeter Al Hirt. She also sang at the Academy Awards presentation in 1962, singing the Oscar-nominated song "Bachelor in Paradise". Her contract with RCA ended in 1966. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she had hits on the dance charts, the most successful being 1979's "Love Rush" which peaked at number eight on the disco/dance charts.
In 1961, at nineteen, she filmed a screen test at 20th Century Fox and was signed to a seven-year contract. Ann-Margret made her film début in a loan out to United Artists in Pocketful of Miracles, with Bette Davis. It was a remake of the 1933 movie Lady for a Day. Both versions were directed by Frank Capra.
Then came a 1962 remake of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical State Fair playing the "bad girl" role of Emily opposite Bobby Darin and Pat Boone. She had tested for the part of Margy, the "good girl," but she seemed too seductive to the studio bosses who decided on the switch. The two roles mimicked her real-life personality — shy and reserved off stage but wildly exuberant and sensuous on stage. As she summed up in her autobiography, she would easily transform herself from "Little Miss Lollipop to Sexpot-Banshee" once she stepped on stage and the music began.
Her next starring role, as the all-American teenager Kim from Sweet Apple, Ohio, in Bye Bye Birdie (1963) made her a major star. The premiere at Radio City Music Hall, 16 years after her first visit to the famed theater, was a smash hit—the highest first-week grossing film to date at that theater. Life magazine put her on the cover for the second time and announced that the "torrid dancing almost replaces the central heating in the theater". She was asked to sing "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home" at President John F. Kennedy's private birthday party at the Waldorf-Astoria, one year after Marilyn Monroe's famous "Happy Birthday".
Ann-Margret met Elvis Presley on the MGM soundstage when the two filmed Viva Las Vegas (1964). ‘Ann-Margrock’ in The Flintstones.
In 1963, Ann-Margret guest-starred in a popular episode of the animated TV series The Flintstones, voicing Ann-Margrock, an animated version of herself. She sang the ballad "The Littlest Lamb" as a lullaby and the (literally) rock-ing song, "Ain't Gonna Be A Fool". Decades later, she recorded the theme song, a modified version of the Viva Las Vegas theme, to the live-action film The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas in character as Ann-Margrock.
While working on the film Once a Thief (1965), she met Roger Smith, who after his successful run on the private-eye television series 77 Sunset Strip was performing a live club show at the Hungry i on a bill with Bill Cosby and Don Adams. That meeting began their courtship, which met with resistance from her parents.
Ann-Margret starred in The Cincinnati Kid in 1965 opposite Steve McQueen. She also co-starred along with friend Dean Martin in the spy spoof Murderers' Row (1966).
Her redhead hair color (she is a "natural brunette") was the idea of Sydney Guilaroff, a hairdresser who changed the hair color of other famous actresses such as Lucille Ball.
She was offered the title role in Cat Ballou (1965) which would go to Jane Fonda, but her manager turned it down without telling her. In March 1966, Ann-Margret and entertainers Chuck Day and Mickey Jones teamed up for a USO tour to entertain U.S. servicemen in remote parts of Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia. She still has great affection for the veterans and refers to them as "my gentlemen." Ann-Margret, Day and Jones reunited in November 2005 for an encore of this tour for veterans and troops at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
During a lull in her film career in the late 1960s, she performed live in Las Vegas, with her husband Smith (whom she had married in 1967) taking over as her manager after that engagement. Elvis and his entourage came to see her during the show's five-week run and to celebrate backstage. She followed up with a television special on December 1, 1968, starring Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Danny Thomas and Carol Burnett. Then she went back to Saigon as part of Hope's Christmas show. A second television special followed with Dean Martin and Lucille Ball. In 1970, she returned to films with R.P.M. and C.C. and Company.
1970s and 1980s
In 1971, she starred in Mike Nichols's Carnal Knowledge, playing the over-loving girlfriend of a viciously abusive Jack Nicholson and garnering a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
On September 9, 1972, while performing at Lake Tahoe, Nevada, she fell 22 feet from an elevated platform to the stage and suffered injuries including a broken left arm, cheekbone and jawbone. Smith flew a stolen plane from Burbank, California to Lake Tahoe and back to get his wife to surgeons at UCLA for treatment, which included meticulous facial reconstructive surgery that required wiring her mouth shut and putting her on a liquid diet. Unable to work for ten weeks, she ultimately returned to the stage almost back to normal.
Throughout the 1970s, Ann-Margret balanced her live musical performances with a string of dramatic film roles that played against her glamorous image. In 1973 she starred with John Wayne in The Train Robbers. Then came the musical Tommy in 1975, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. In addition, she has been nominated for ten Golden Globe Awards and has won five times, including her Best Actress for Tommy. She also did a string of successful TV specials, starting with The Ann-Margret Show for NBC in 1968.
In 1978, she co-starred with Anthony Hopkins in the horror/suspense thriller Magic.
In 1989, an illustration was done of Oprah Winfrey that graced the cover of TV Guide, and although the head was Oprah's, the body was referenced from a 1979 publicity shot of Ann-Margret. The illustration was rendered so tightly in color pencil by freelance artist Chris Notarile that most people thought it was a composite photograph.
1990s and 2000s
In 1993, she starred in the comedy Grumpy Old Men with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Her character returned for Grumpier Old Men (1995), the sequel.
Ann-Margret published an autobiography in 1994 titled Ann-Margret: My Story (ISBN 0-399-13891-9), in which she publicly acknowledged her recovery from alcoholism. In 1995, she was chosen by Empire magazine as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history; she ranked 10th.
Ann-Margret had a supporting role in The Limey. Although her acting was considered superb, her entire performance was cut from the movie.
In an episode of the TV series Popular she played God.
In 2001, she made her first appearance in a stage musical, playing the character of brothel owner Mona Stangley in a new touring production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
She also filmed Any Given Sunday (1999) for director Oliver Stone, portraying the mother of football team owner Cameron Diaz. In Memory (2006), she starred with Billy Zane and Dennis Hopper. Also in 2006, Ann-Margret had a small role in The Break Up starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn.
Ann-Margret was raised Lutheran. She has been married to Roger Smith since May 8, 1967. He was an actor who later became her manager; Smith is now semi-retired due to myasthenia gravis.
She rode a 500cc Triumph T100C Tiger motorcycle in The Swinger (1966) and the same model fitted with a non-standard electric starter in her stage show. A keen motorcyclist, she was featured in Triumph Motorcycles' official advertisements in the '60s. She suffered three broken ribs and a fractured shoulder when she was thrown off a motorcycle she was driving in rural Minnesota in 2000.