An Ann-Margret Retrospective

Happy Birthday, Ann-Margret!

My favorite redhead was born on April 28 in 1941 and yesterday she celebrated her 66th birthday. To celebrate I thought I’d post an overview of some of the best films Ann-Margret made during the sixties and seventies as well as share some thoughts about her life and her work.

Ann-Margret got her start in showbiz when she was 19-years-old after being discovered by the legendary George Burns while auditioning for his annual holiday show in Las Vegas. Following her success in Vegas, Ann-Margret’s career took off and within a few months, she had signed a record deal with RCA and a movie contract with 20th Century Fox.

Ann-Margret was a real triple threat when she began her career in the sixties. She could sing, she could dance and she could act. She was also incredibly beautiful, funny and smart. Unfortunately, I’ve always thought that movie studios in the sixties and seventies never really knew what to do with Ann-Margret. She ended up in a lot of lackluster films and had a hard time being taken seriously as an actress. If she had been born 20 years earlier she would have probably had an amazing career in musicals, but musicals were becoming unpopular with film audiences and critics just as Ann-Margret was starting her movie career.


Ann-Margaret’s first movie role was in the Oscar-nominated Frank Capra film Pocketful of Miracles (1961), where she played the daughter of Bette Davis. Following that she made State Fair (1962) with Pat Boone and Bobby Darin. She then got her real breakthrough role as the beautiful and spunky Kim McAfee in George Sidney’s musical comedy Bye Bye Birdie (1963).

Following her terrific performance in Bye Bye Birdie she made a memorable appearance as an animated character named Ann-Margrock in the fourth season of The Flintstones (1963) cartoon series before starring alongside Elvis Presley in Viva Las Vegas (1964).

Viva Las Vegas is one of Elvis’ best movies from the sixties and Ann-Margret was arguably his best female co-star. The two had an incredible on-screen chemistry that’s plain electric and fun to watch. The musical numbers are great and the movie gave both stars a chance to really show off their comedic skills along with their dance moves.

The meeting between Ann-Margret and Elvis on the set of Viva Las Vegas was the start of a great friendship between the two talented stars. It would also mark the beginning of what might be one of Hollywood’s most tragic and unfulfilled love stories. When the pair met in 1963 they began a passionate affair. At the time that Elvis met the gorgeous redhead, he was already in a relationship with Priscilla Beaulieu (a.k.a. Priscilla Presley) and was committed to marrying her. After information about their affair made the celebrity gossip magazines many people think Elvis was encouraged to end his relationship with Ann-Margret by his manager Colonel Tom Parker, as well as Priscilla’s parents who were threatening to take legal action against Elvis if he didn’t marry their daughter due to their age differences (Priscilla was just 14-years-old when she began her relationship with Elvis). At the time, Elvis’ career had also hit some speed bumps following his time away from the public’s eye during his stint in the army so any bad publicity along with a court trial could have derailed his career.

Elvis and Ann-Margret’s romantic affair came to an end but the two remained close until Elvis’ untimely death. Elvis’ lifelong nickname for Ann-Margret was “Rusty”, which was the name of her character in Viva Las Vegas and up until the day he died he would send a bouquet of flowers to her every time she performed live. Lots of people who were close to Elvis and knew about his complicated relationship with Ann-Margret have said that she was the real “love of his life” and she has called Elvis her “soulmate.” It’s hard not to wonder how Elvis’ life may have been different if he and Ann-Margret had followed their hearts in 1964. In Ann-Margret’s own words she had this to say about their relationship:

“His wish was that we could stay together. But of course, we both knew that was impossible, and that’s what was so very difficult about our relationship. Elvis and I knew he had commitments, promises to keep, and he vowed to keep his word. Both of us knew that no matter how much we loved each other, no matter how strong our bond, we weren’t going to last.” – From Ann Margret: My Story.

After Viva Las Vegas Ann-Margret played a sassy bad girl in the entertaining thriller Kitten with a Whip (1964). Kitten with a Whip is one of my favorite exploitation movies about rebellious teens made in the early sixties and Ann-Margret is terrific as a naughty juvenile delinquent named Jody. The role solidified her reputation as a cinema sex kitten but like most of Ann-Margret’s movies, critics were not very impressed with it.

Jean Negulesco’s The Pleasure Seekers (1964) was her next cinematic outing and it’s an enjoyable film. Ann-Margret plays Fran Hobson in this updated remake of the director’s earlier picture Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), which itself was a remake of his film How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). The musical numbers and fashions are the best part of this cute comedy which has a somewhat outdated approach to romance for its time but Ann-Margret and André Lawrence (who plays her love interest in the film) seem to have worked well together and it’s fun watching them drive around Spain on a scooter.

In 1965 Ann-Margret made Once a Thief with the talented French actor Alain Delon. She arguably does her first really good dramatic acting in Once a Thief but she’s predictably over the top as Delon’s troubled wife and her emotional performance stands out in stark contrast to Delon’s understated style of acting. Even though the two seem like an odd pair they’re both incredibly beautiful and generate a lot of heat when they’re on screen together. Once a Thief is an interesting crime thriller with a great cast that film noir fans should appreciate.

After Once a Thief, Ann-Margret got the opportunity to work with another sixties icon in Norman Jewison’s film The Cincinnati Kid (1965). The Cincinnati Kid stars Steve McQueen as a young poker player and Ann-Margret plays the sexually vivacious and unhappy wife of Karl Malden. She wrestles with Tuesday Weld for McQueen’s affection and does some of her best acting in the film. Ann-Margret and Steve McQueen clearly have on-screen chemistry together so you can’t help but wonder why his character in the film ends up with the cute, sensitive and thoughtful, but much less interesting character Tuesday Weld is playing. According to Ann-Margret, she developed a close friendship with McQueen on the set since they both shared an interest in sports cars and motorcycles.

In 1966 Ann-Margret teamed up with director George Sidney again for the campy sex comedy The Swinger. In The Swinger, she plays a journalist named Kelly who poses as a “swinger” to impress the editor of a men’s magazine. The editor is played by Tony Franciosa who she also worked with in The Pleasure Seekers. The Swinger is an entertaining comedy that takes a humorous look at the swinging sixties and Ann-Margret gets to perform some great songs in the film. She also gets to ride a Triumph motorcycle and after making the movie she was featured in Triumph Motorcycle’s official advertisements.

Following The Swinger, she appeared in the entertaining Matt Helm spy spoof Murderers Row (1966) with her pal Dean Martin. This Matt Helm film features Dean Martin as the hard-drinking, womanizing and often bumbling spy. As usual, Ann-Margret’s performance and numerous colorful costume changes are one of the most entertaining things about the film and Murderer’s Row is one of the best movies in the Matt Helm series. As usual, Ann-Margret seems to be having a good time with her Vegas costar and the Matt Helm films are well worth a look if you enjoy stylish sixties spy farces.

Ann-Margret spent the next few years making movies in Italy including Dino Risi’s Il Tigre (a.k.a. The Tiger & The Pussycat, 1967) and Il Profeta (a.k.a. Prophet, 1968). These sexy comedies with co-star Vittorio Gassman were popular in Europe but they didn’t have much success in the US. In the late sixties, film critics were starting to dismiss Ann-Margaret and her talents, which is a shame. She worked well with Vittorio Gassman and I think the two low-budget movies they made together are enjoyable films and make great use of their scenic locations.

During this period Ann-Margret married the handsome actor Roger Smith who’s best known for his role as Jeff Spencer in the popular television series 77 Sunset Strip. Coincidentally, the two were married exactly a week after Elvis Presley married Priscilla. Roger Smith had been trying to convince Ann-Margret to marry him for awhile but she finally accepted his proposal on May 8, 1967 and afterward they were married in a quick ceremony in Vegas. It’s worth noting that Elvis Presley married Priscilla on May 1st just a few days earlier. It’s impossible to know if these events were in any way connected but Ann-Margret’s marriage fell apart right after she exchanged vows with Roger Smith. She left him after their first night together and went home to her parents but they eventually managed to work things out. During the course of their 40-year marriage, the couple has been through a lot but they’ve managed to stick together through it all.

In 1969 Ann-Margret joined forces with another one of my favorite actors, Laurence Harvey, to make the interesting crime thriller Rebus. Unfortunately, the film was not warmly welcomed by the critics but I think it’s an entertaining romp and Ann-Margret performs some nice musical numbers in it that were written for her by the great composer Luis Enríquez Bacalov. Laurence Harvey and Ann-Margret are both over the top performers with a similar acting style who often “play to the back row” so I thought they worked well together in Rebus. They also both look amazing and manage to keep the film watchable even during the script’s rough spots.


Following Rebus Ann-Margret made the biker movie C.C. and Company (1970), which was written and produced by her husband Roger Smith. The movie is mainly worth watching for Ann-Margret’s campy performance and she looks terrific on a motorcycle. Unfortunately, her co-star and love interest in the movie is the dreadfully dull football player, Joe Namath. The rest of the cast is pretty good and biker movie regular William Smith just about steals the show. With another actor in Namath’s role, I think the film could have been a much more entertaining affair.

Much to everyone’s surprise (particularly film critics) Ann-Margret managed to land a role in Mike Nichols’ critically acclaimed adult drama Carnal Knowledge (1971) next. The film offered her the best dramatic role of her career as the beautiful and troubled Bobbie who becomes the target of Jack Nicholson’s rage. The emotional scenes between the two in Carnal Knowledge feature some of the decade’s most powerful and raw acting. For the first time in a long time, Ann-Margret got rave reviews for her performance and received her first Oscar nomination for her role as the boozy and brooding Bobbie.

Following Carnal Knowledge she began shooting The Train Robbers with John Wayne. Ann-Margret has said that she enjoyed working with Wayne and I think you can see that during their on-screen exchanges. The Train Robbers was not released until 1973 and received mixed reviews. At a time when directors like Sergio Leone and Sam Pekinpah were exploring new directions with western films, The Train Robbers seems rather outdated and old fashioned but the movie does have it’s charm and I think it’s one of the more interesting and unique films that Wayne made late in his life.

Unfortunately just as Ann-Margret’s film career seemed to be blossoming a horrible accident in 1972 derailed her. While performing live at the Sahara Hotel in Lake Tahoe she suffered a terrible fall from the stage, which literally destroyed her face and sent her into a coma. The accident was so severe that her face reportedly collapsed due to massive bone breakage. Her arm was also broken in the fall and one of her knees was seriously damaged. She lingered between life and death for days and her family and friends wondered if she would survive much less ever be able to perform again. With the help of a team of doctors that included a neurosurgeon, a plastic surgeon and an orthopedic surgeon, Ann-Margret managed to recover and after just ten weeks she was back in Vegas performing again.

After her near-death experience, Ann-Margret returned to acting in Ken Russell’s ambitious rock opera Tommy (1975). Russell’s frenzied directing style meshes perfectly with Ann-Margret’s over the top acting in the film and the combination makes Tommy one of the most entertaining musicals of the seventies. Ann-Margret was only a few years older than The Who’s Roger Daltry at the time that Tommy was made but the accident had matured her and she does a wonderful job as Tommy’s glamorous mom. Her frantic performance in Tommy, which peaks with her infamous “nervous breakdown” scene involving lots of gooey foods, is reminiscent of her colorful paint scene from the 1966 film The Swinger. Her performance managed to snag her a second Oscar nomination.

Ann-Margret made a few more films in the seventies including Richard Attenborough’s excellent creepy thriller Magic (1978) where she starred opposite Anthony Hopkins, which is well worth seeking out if you’re a horror fan. But many of the best films Ann-Margret made during the sixties and seventies are not easily available on VHS or DVD. Thankfully Ann-Margret fans can look forward to a new DVD release of her one and only western, The Train Robbers, on May 22.

Final Thoughts

Ann-Margret has had an impressive career in cinema that was often met with a critical backlash but I think she’s one of Hollywood’s most interesting and beautiful actresses. Her filmography features some of the best musicals made in the past 40 years. She’s a stunning woman and her vivacious personality seems to ignite when she’s on screen.

Living in the California Bay Area and working as a music journalist for a brief time has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of celebrities. It’s not uncommon to bump into George Lucas or Sean Penn when I’m out shopping, so I’ve become rather jaded but meeting Ann-Margret was one of the few times in my life where I was truly starstruck.

I got the chance to pay my respects to the actress in 1994 after her biography Ann Margret: My Story was released. The actress & singer was on a book signing tour and she kindly signed a copy of her book for me. She was very nice and easy to talk to but I became totally tongue-tied around her. She was still incredibly beautiful at age 53 and while I was shaking her hand I couldn’t help thinking to myself that I was touching a hand that had touched so many of my favorite performers including Alain Delon, Steve McQueen, Laurence Harvey, Oliver Reed and Elvis.

Needless to say, I was a little overwhelmed and could barely get out a word in her presence. Thankfully I managed to pull myself together enough to tell her how much I had enjoyed her movies and she seemed genuinely touched by my nervous compliments. I still own my copy of her book and its’ one of my most treasured items simply because  it reminds me of the time I got to meet one of my favorite actresses and on-screen personalities. Happy birthday, Ann-Margret!

Ann-Margret’s Official Website

30 thoughts on “An Ann-Margret Retrospective

  1. Kimberly,
    This has officially made my week. What a lovely tribute to one of my all time favorite actresses. I discovered Ann-Margret when I was really young through my love for Elvis and “Viva Las Vegas” is still a personal favorite. An incredibly underrated sequence is the one shot take of Ann doing “My Rival”. I didn’t realize how good this shot actually was until I saw this in a theater a couple of years ago in Memphis.
    I fell in love with her hard in my early teens through “Once A Thief”, “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Kitten With A Whip” and I still think she was one of the most breathtakingly beautiful women who ever lived.
    She is also, as you point out, a terribly underrated actress as anyone who has seen “Carnal Knowledge” can attest to.
    I’m envious you got to meet her. I did see her live in concert a few years back and it was really great. I couldn’t believe I was actually in the same room with her.
    Thanks so much for this post, really good stuff.

  2. Thanks so much for the nice words Jeremy! I’m really happy to hear you enjoyed my tribute to Ann-Margret. I had fun putting it together, but it was tough to choose what pictures to include. That woman is incredibly photogenic.

    I’m envious that you got to see her in concert! I’d love to catch her doing a Vegas show someday. In recent years she seems to be doing a lot of acting and stopped touring, but it’s nice seeing her pop up in movies again and I look forward to seeing her in The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond. Also of note, that great film 52 Pick-Up that she made with John Frankenheimer in 1986 is coming to DVD soon and I’m looking forward to that!

  3. She was great live, I saw her in a casino of all places just across the river from Louisville, Ky in Feb of 04. The show opened up with a fantastic film montage of her career along with a remixed version of a “Bye Bye Birdie” song. She still radiated some amazing heat and a highlight was her performance of Elvis’ “A Little Less Conversation”.

    Re-reading your post, I noted that I have never seen “Rebus” so I will have to search that down and I must admit to liking Joe Namath (I think the Brady Bunch episode he was in made a big impression on me as a child) so I like the crazy “C.C’ and Company” perhaps even more than you do.
    I didn’t realize that “52 Pickup” was coming out, I will have to check that out. Of her later work, I like a film she made with Gene Hackman called “Twice In A Lifetime” and get a big kick out of watching her with Jack Lemmon in the “Grumpy Old Men” films.

    Anyway, once again, awesome post….

  4. Rebus is really worth a look if you get a chance to see it, especially if you like Laurence Harvey too (he’s one of my favorite actors!). I caught it on TV one night but it hasn’t been offically released on DVD or VHS yet as far as I know.

    I’m afraid I’m not a Namath fan, but I can sort of understand his appeal. I thought William Smith (a great movie heavy!) was really good in C.C. and Company and wished he and Ann would have gotten together in the movie instead. Even better yet, it would have been really fun if someone like Steve McQueen starred in the movie with her. 😉

    I’ve never seen Twice in a Lifetime so I should give that a look. Thanks again Jeremy!

  5. This was an awesome post. I love Ann-Margret. She’s my favorite actress of the Sixties era. She is so gorgeous. I’ve loved her in everything from Viva Las Vegas, The Swinger, The Pleasure Seekers, and especially Murderer’s Row with Dino. Besides being beautiful and a talented actress, she had a lovely singing voice. I adore her version of “Slowly” among other songs. Thanks for posting such a great article about Ann-Margret.

  6. Thanks a lot for the nice comment Keith. I’m glad you enjoyed my post about Ann-Margret. Slowly is a great song and she sings it really well. I think Someday Soon or Thirteen Men might be my favorite Ann-Margret song, but she recorded a lot of great music. Thanks again!

  7. Hey Kim:

    For later A-M, 52 Pick-Up is a good film. I’m also writing as a fan of Elmore Leonard on that point. I also liked A-M in the Oliver Stone football film.

    Of the films you covered, certainly Viva Las Vegas demonstrated that Elvis was best when he had a co-star who would force him to work harder.

  8. I really like 52-Pick-Up and I’m looking forwrad to the upcoming DVD release!

    I’ve never seen the football movie you’re talking about Peter, but I’m not much of a sports fan so ‘m afraid that I tend to avoid sports movies.

  9. Wow. This post rocks!! I love Ann Margret and saw her in concert when she came to SF some years back; it was–in fact–at the time way ahead of the pack with the use of laser lights and all that.

    Then I saw her some years later in Best Little Whorehouse In Texas where she seemed just plain tuckered out.

  10. Hey Kimberly,

    Those are great songs you mentioned. I love them as well. You are right that Ann-Margret recorded a lot of great tunes. Not sure if you are on MySpace or not, but I am. I’ve just recently gotten up there. I started doing a blog. In one entry so far I talk about Murderer’s Row and put a clip of Dino and Ann together up there. I’ve also got a blog tribute video I found.

  11. Maya – Glad you enjoyed the Ann-Matgret post! It must have been fun to see her in concert. I bet she puts on a great show.

    Keith – I did create a myspace page but I haven’t used it really. I’ll come by and check out your blog there. Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Hey Kimberly,

    Nice tribute and great pics. I’d also like to mention a much underrated album that she cut with Lee Hazlewood in 1969 called The Lady and the Cowboy. Her tracks are fantastic.

  13. I love your A-M tribute. I first saw her in Tommy when I was 11 and I was hooked on her. I still love the beans 7 chocolate scene. Please post some pics of that if you have them. I never got to meet her but hopefully one day.

  14. Martin – Thank you! I like the Ann-Margret/Lee Hazelwood record a lot too. It has some great songs on it.

    Matt – Thanks! I’m afraid I don’t own the Tommy DVD, otherwise I’d share some screen caps with you. Do a search on Google and you might find some. Good luck!

  15. what ba great tribute–let me add i have been a fan since i was 6–in 3 weeks i turn 50– i have every allbum and video on ann-margret– i had been starstruck since bye bye birdie and the early musicals were great–being a huge fgan some of her pictures were painful to watch– carnal knowledge was a great film.. her television movies were awesome–the two mrs grnvilles and life of the party as well as my favority who will love my children–i have seen ann-margret in 84 in atlantic city in a excennt las vegas live show and again in 1991 in the once only radio city music hall ehen she was 50.. ann-margret al;so had done dome disco in the late 70;s with 2 top ten disco singles as well as in 1981 my nfavorite–everybody needs somebody sometimes–which iu had seen her perform live –i have 30 years of autograph 8z10 pics from fan clubs and have collected ann-margrets movie posters from every motion picure–so when i say rhank you fro your post i mean it sincerely–she is an icon extradinaire and the best is yest to come as ann-margret matures and takes on the roles that do not depend on her beauty of her younger day—her raw talent becomes obvious and also one last note ann-margret s gospel cd and xmas collection were also well worth listening to as well as the best little whorehouse cd..favorite oldie that never charted but should have—–someday soon and he is my man both clearcut sixties genre and both written by sloan barri– great job guy!!!!!!


  17. Hello.
    Love your overview of one of my favorte ladies in film and life, Ann Margaret.
    I styled her hair for her when she attended her premiere for Bye Bye Birdie in London, England in the early 60’s. I was a kid then working as a stylist for Vidal Sassoon in London. I went to the Grosvenor House Hotel to her suite and did her hair for her premiere attendance. She loved her hair and I loved her!
    What a wonderful, warm and beautiful lady she was then and I’m sure still is today.
    I wish I was clever enough to have captured some pictures of her with me durng that era. My hope one day is still to meet her again.


    Tony Beckerman

  18. Many thanks for sharing your terrific story about Ann-Margret with me Tony! It must have been an exciting time to work of Vidal Sassoon in the ’60s. Her hair always looked amazing so it’s nice to know one of the names associated with making her look so fabulous. Thanks again!!

  19. Hi. Thoroughly enjoyed the well done writeup on Ann Margaret. Thank you.
    My query is, does anyone have a reasonably decent copy of REBUS? I have one which is literally unwatchable… which is a pity because it’s quite interesting, and I am a Laurence Harvey fan too. As was said above, they work very well together. Hope to hear from someone, my thanks.

  20. Thanks! I’m afraid I don’t, but I really wish REBUS would get released on DVD since I think it’s very good and often overlooked.

  21. What a wonderful story about such a classy lady. I have watched her through the years and she has always seemed so classy and so very beautiful inside and out.

    I too often wonder if things had been different with her and Elvis how different things may have turned out.

    I watched an interview she did in 1994 and some years later and it is obvious she held a very special place in her heart for him. And she will never betray the trust the two had for each other. That is rare in todays world but yet so honorable.

    My husband being ten years my senior has always admired her through the years and had an opportunity to see her in person many years ago.

    He stated of all the “stars” he has met or seen she is at the top of the list.

    It is hard to believe she is almost 67 years old. She is a rare jewel that continues to shine.

  22. What a lovely article, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts on the fabulous A-M. Being an English man I naturally think Ann-Margret’s best work was the films she made in England – The Last Remake Of Beau Geste, Joseph Andrews, The Return Of The Soldier and Tommy. I feel she was given the opportunity to spread her acting and comedic wings in these films.

    I was fortunate to catch her show at Radio City Music Hall in 1991, I must say she lived up to all my expectations. She must be one of the best live performers I have seen in concert, and I’ve seen a lot! It’s nice to see the kittens still working in films and performing live today. Like Elvis, Ann-Margret’s a national treasure!

  23. Aw geez, Kimberly, I can’t believe that you got flustered when meeting Ann-Margrock. When talking to celebrities, you’ve just got to remember that they are human beings like the rest of us; people who put their pants on one leg….oh, who am I kidding?!?!?! This was a living legend that you were talking to; a human goddess incarnate; Kim from “Bye Bye Birdie,” for crying out loud! Had it been me, I would have probably hugged the woman’s knees, started to blubber “Hommina hommina hommina,” and melted right there into a puddle of goo. You are to be commended for doing as well as you did!

  24. If Ann Margret and Elvis Presley were married I am certain that Elvis Presley would be still living.
    I love Ann Margret as much as I love Elvis Presley.

  25. A atriz Ann Margret era muito linda na década de 1970. Uma das minhas favoritas, sobretudo aquela do fantástico filme musical “Tommy”, de 1975, de Ken Russell. Tem classe, postura dramática e muito bom gosto – coisa que falta às mulheres bonitas do início do Século XXI… Suas curvas sensuais e seu desempenho em filmes são excelentes. Fica na minha memória, a gostosíssima Ann-Margret, daquela ópera-rock “Tommy”, com a cobertura sonora do incrível “The Who”, de Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon! Helinho, de Madureira/RJ-Brazil.2009

  26. I must say that when I met Anne Margaret here in Richmond, Va – she was in the play “The Best little Whorehouse in Texas” – she was magical. We actually got to go to her dressing room and speak with her because she is married to my Mother’s cousin – ROGER SMITH!! She was just as real as could be, and just as Beautiful as ever. I must admit that I was star-struck, and tongue tied!! Most of my life, I was told that I “resembled her” – had to be the red hair!! With her as beautful as she is – I was HONORED to have people tell me I resembled her! But, nobody really believes that she is in the family!! That’s ok, I know and she and Roger knows too!! I hope one day that I will get to see them again.

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