In 1964 Elvis was already a legend – and 23-year-old Ann-Margret was well on the way to becoming one. In a career spanning more than six decades, she has gone from ’60s sex symbol to Hollywood grand dame.
Correspondent Tracy Smith asked, “What do you think it’s like to be able to work non-stop for more than five decades?”
“I think I just have a lot of energy,” Ann-Margret replied.
Ann Margret and Elvis Presley in “Viva Las Vegas”:
Apparently she always was: Swedish-born Ann-Margret got her first break in 1960 when legendary comedian George Burns hired her for his Vegas gig. But she soon moved to Hollywood.
Even then, she knew showbiz was a tough game, so she dropped her last name (Olsson) and just became Ann-Margret to protect her family from unwanted publicity.
“I really wanted to protect her from bad news about me, especially bad news that was said,” she said. “And I think I did for a lot of it. I guess so. Maybe not. But I tried.”
It turned out they had a lot to be proud of. In 1961, she was nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist for her album And Here She Is…Ann-Margret.
And she broke out to top box office with 1963’s “Bye Bye Birdie”:
That same year, she was immortalized as “Ann-Margrock” in the primetime hit animated series The Flintstones. And the hits just kept coming.
Smith asked, “You’re done with ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ and they’re like, ‘Okay, we want you to do Viva Las Vegas.’ And your costar will…?”
“And I had never met him.”
“Do you remember that first meeting?”
“Oh yes,” said Ann-Margret. “It was kind of awkward – ‘Hi!’ – but it was great.”
They made sparks off-screen, too, but that’s still something she’ll only talk about to a point.
Smith asked, “What would you say is your fondest memory of him?”
“Oh my God. Oh. Oh, I don’t want to get into that because it’s so personal. It’s just so personal.”
“Does it make you sad? Or is it just…”
“I do not like sharing. Because that was between him and me.”
At the end of “Viva Las Vegas” Ann-Margret marries Elvis. In real life, she married actor Roger Smith in 1967. The marriage lasted 50 years until his death in 2017.
Another thing close to Ann-Margret’s heart is that she made several trips to Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War to help keep morale up on land and sea in her own unique way.
Smith asked, “What was it like going to Vietnam and performing for the troops?”
“Ooooohhhh!” replied Ann-Margret. “I was there in 1966 and 1968. Boy you talkin’ about my heartbeat woo! ow!”
But back home, she was tired of being typecast as a singing sex kitten and wanted to prove she could hold her own in a dramatic role. Her chance came in 1971 when director Mike Nichols cast her as his tragic lover opposite Jack Nicholson in Carnal Knowledge.
“How did ‘Carnal Knowledge’ change how people saw you?”
“Oh my god, they thought I could trade!”
And so did Academy voters: She earned her first Oscar nod for a film her own parents couldn’t take.
Ann-Margret said: “Daddy never saw it. He knew what it was about. And he didn’t want to see it because of obvious things. And I got it. Of course I understood.”
“But how was it for you to have people say, ‘Oh, she’s a serious actress’?”
“Oh, I was thrilled. I never planned anything like that.”
In a 60 year career there are some things that haven’t changed like her love for motorcycles.
What is it about motorcycles? “Speed,” she laughed. “Being out there in the wind and rain and whatever. It’s just exciting.”
This purple Harley is her latest. She says she still drives occasionally… and she’s seeing someone.
“And what’s it like to find love?” asked Smith.
“It’s a nice feeling. He’s not a stranger, no.”
Ann-Margret is still making the rounds at various Hollywood events, and she has a new movie set due for release later this year.
The woman who rose to fame by singing “bye bye” isn’t ready to say goodbye just yet.
Smith asked, “Even if you tell the story now, does it seem a little surreal?”
“Oh yeah. All my life,” said Ann-Margret. “How can this happen? I’m so thankful for everything. And I am very thankful that I have one more day. Yes.”
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Story produced by John D’Amelio. Publisher: Steven Tyler.