Ann-Margaret Olsson in Stockholm, Sweden, 28 April 1941; spent her first
five years in Valsjobyn; became U.S. citizen 1949.
Attended New Trier High School, Winnetka, Illinois; Northwestern
University, Evanston, Illinois.
Married the actor Roger Smith, 1967, now also her manager.
1946—at age five, emigrated to the United States;
Ted Mack's Amateur Hour
on television; 1960—made first appearance on the Las Vegas
nightclub circuit; 1961—made film debut as ingenue in
Pocketful of Miracles
with Bette Davis, and in subsequent roles established persona as a sex
The Ann-Margret Show
, the first of many prime-time specials in the sixties and seventies,
created a sensation on American network television, and Ann-Margret
established career as major Las Vegas headliner; 1971—breakthrough
inaugurated critical reevaluation of her dramatic abilities and garnered
Academy award nomination; 1972—suffered near-fatal fall during
nightclub performance and recovered, with much publicized plastic surgery;
1983—took lead role in
Who Will Love My Children?
, an acclaimed TV movie, beginning a series of TV films with serious
subjects and a collaboration with director John Erman; 1987—in TV
The Two Mrs. Grenvilles
Alex Haley's Queen
, 1993, and
Golden Globe Award for Supporting Actress, for
, 1971; Golden Globe Award, for
Pocketful of Miracles (Frank Capra) (as Louise)
State Fair (José Ferrer) (as Emily Porter)
Bye-Bye Birdie (Sidney) (as Kim McAfee)
Viva Las Vegas (Sidney) (as Rusty Martin); Kitten with a Whip (Heyes) (as Jody Dvorak); The Pleasure Seekers (Negulesco) (as Fran Hobson)
Bus Riley's Back in Town (Harvey Hart) (as Laurel); Once a Thief (Ralph Nelson) (as Kristine Pedak); The Cincinnati Kid (Jewison) (as Melba)
Made in Paris (Sagal) (as Maggie Scott); Stagecoach (Gordon Douglas) (as Dallas); The Swinger (Sidney) (as Kelly Olsson); Murderers' Row (Henry Levin) (as Suzie Solaris)
The Criminal Affair ; Rebus (Zanchin); Il Tigre ( The Tiger and the Pussycat ) (Dino Risi) (as Carolina); Il Profeta ( The Prophet ; Mr. Kinky ) (Dino Risi)
Sette uomini e un Cervello ( Criminal Symphony ; Seven Men and One Brain ) (Edward Ross)
C.C. and Company ( Chrome Hearts ) (Robbie) (as Ann McCalley); R.P.M. (Stanley Kramer) (as Rhoda)
Carnal Knowledge (Mike Nichols) (as Bobbie); Dames at Sea (for TV)
The Train Robbers (Burt Kennedy) (as Mrs. Lowe); Un Homme est Mort ( The Outside Man ; Funerale a Los Angeles ) (Deray) (as Nancy Robson)
Tommy (Ken Russell) (as Nora Walker Hobbs)
Folies bourgeoises ( The Twist ) (Chabrol) (as Charlie Minerva)
Joseph Andrews (Tony Richardson) (as Lady Booby); The Last Remake of Beau Geste (Marty Feldman) (as Lady Flavia Geste)
The Cheap Detective (Robert Moore) (as Jezebel Dezire); Magic (Attenborough) (as Peggy Ann Snow)
The Villain (Needham) (as Charming Jones)
Middle Age Crazy (John Trent) (as Sue Ann)
The Return of the Soldier (Alan Bridges) (as Jennie Baldry); I Ought to Be in Pictures (Herbert Ross) (as Stephanie); Lookin' to Get Out (Ashby) (as Patti Warner)
Who Will Love My Children? (Erman—for TV) (as Lucile Fray)
A Streetcar Named Desire (Erman—for TV) (as Blanche DuBois)
Twice in a Lifetime (Yorkin) (as Audrey Minelli)
52 Pick-Up (Frankenheimer) (as Barbara Mitchell)
A Tiger's Tale (Peter Douglas) (as Rose Butts); A New Life (Alda) (as Jackie Giardino)
Our Sons (Erman—for TV) (as Luanne Barnes)
Newsies (Ortega) (as Medda Larkson)
Grumpy Old Men (Donald Petrie) (as Ariel Truax)
Following Your Heart (Lee Grant—for TV); Nobody's Children (Wheatley—for TV) (as Carol Stevens)
Grumpier Old Men (Deutch) (as Ariel Truax Gustafson) Seduced by Madness: The Diane Borchardt Story (John Patterson—for TV) (title role); Blue Rodeo (Peter Werner III—for TV) (as Maggie Yearwood)
Life of the Party: The Pamela Harriman Story (Hussein—for TV) (as Pamela Harriman); Four Corners (as Amanda Wyatt—for TV)
Happy Face Murders (Trenchard-Smith—for TV) (as Lorraine Petrovich); Any Given Sunday (Stone) (as Margaret Pagniacci)
Blonde (Carol Oates—for TV); Perfect Murder, Perfect Town (Schiller—for TV) (Patsy's Mother); The Last Producer ; The 10th Kingdom (David Carson/Herbert Wise—for TV)
Ann-Margret: My Story , with Todd Gold, New York, 1994.
"A Weep in the Deep," interview with Arthur Bell, in Village Voice (New York), 31 March 1975.
"Pro-Ann-Margret," interview, in Films Illustrated , July 1975.
"Ann-Margret," interview with R. Hartford, in Ciné Revue (Paris), 7 August 1975.
"Something to Offer: Ann-Margret," interview with Gordon Gow, in Films and Filming (London), January 1976.
Interview with Merrill Shindler, in Los Angeles Magazine , July 1988.
"Ann-Margret a Go-Go," interview with Paul Rosenfield, in Vanity Fair (New York), October 1991.
Peters, Neal, Ann-Margret: A Photo Extravaganza and Memoir , New York, 1981.
Current Biography 1975 , New York, 1975.
"La vedette de la semaine: Ann-Margret," in Ciné Review (Paris), 11 August 1977.
Sarris, Andrew, "Films in Focus: Magic and Ann-Margret: The Alter-Ego Meets the Icon," in Village Voice (New York), 13 November 1978.
Veljkovic, M., "Dancebiz: Las Vegas Seen," in Dance Magazine , June 1983.
Bulnes, J., "Les immortels du cinema: Ann-Margret," in Ciné Revue (Paris), 8 December 1983.
Farber, Stephan, "TV Is Polishing Ann-Margret's Image," in New York Times , 17 July 1984.
Canby, Vincent, "Film View: Ann-Margret Produces Yet Another Surprise," in New York Times , 17 February 1985.
Robinson, Jeffrey, "Shy and Silent Superstar Ann-Margret," in McCall's , October 1988.
Clark, John, "Ann-Margret," in Premiere (New York), September 1989.
Oney, Steve, "A Vegas Valkyrie Alights at Radio City," in New York Times , 20 October 1991.
"Optimism," in New Yorker , 3 February 1992.
"Ann-Margret," in Stars (Mariembourg), June 1992.
Hampton, Howard, "Elvis Dorado: The True Romance of Viva Las Vegas ," in Film Comment (New York), July 1994.
* * *
The Swedish-born Ann-Margret began her film career as the ingenue in the Frank Capra film Pocketful of Miracles , holding her own opposite luminaries Bette Davis and Glenn Ford, an omen, certainly, of her considerable presence and ability. A more important personal success was achieved with the musical Bye, Bye, Birdie , in which Ann-Margret exhibited her abundant skills as a singer and dancer, energizing the film with her powerful sexuality as well as with her innocence and fresh charm.
In Viva Las Vegas , one of the most underrated musicals of the American cinema, Ann-Margret played opposite Elvis Presley—providing Presley one of his few memorable co-stars. Indeed, in Viva Las Vegas , Ann-Margret exuded an undulating sexuality and unbridled energy so overwhelming that her musical scenes with Presley reflect the Zeitgeist of the sexual revolution of the sixties.
Ann-Margret followed Viva Las Vegas with a series of films that cemented—rather unfortunately for her—her reputation as a sex kitten. Films such as Kitten with a Whip and Bus Riley's Back in Town created a rather tawdry image which critics of the time found necessary to ridicule. Not surprisingly, her often sensitive performances—as, for instance, the vulnerable wife in Once a Thief , opposite Alain Delon—were ignored. The critical nadir to her career occurred at the end of the sixties, when, after a series of foreign films disrespected by Hollywood, she returned to the United States to star opposite the rather wooden football player, Joe Namath, in a motorcycle melodrama, C.C. and Company , produced by her husband Roger Smith; and in Stanley Kramer's R.P.M. , an unconvincing Vietnamera drama about student protest on a college campus. Rather unfairly, Ann-Margret had become a joke.
Her critical comeback occurred in 1971, when Mike Nichols cast her opposite Jack Nicholson in Carnal Knowledge . As Nicholson's mistress, Bobbie, Ann-Margret played a woman whose very essence had been defined by her large breasts and sexuality. Nichols's film, based on the script by Jules Feiffer, showed persuasively how that simplistic definition was forced upon Bobbie by a sexist, male-dominated culture which refused to acknowledge or value other possibilities for a woman. That there was a certain autobiographical resonance to the role could not but help Ann-Margret to deliver what has been considered her greatest, most subtle, performance: vulnerable, hard-edged, pathetic, direct, emotional, brutally honest—a breakthrough Academy award-nominated performance which has prevented critics since from denigrating Ann-Margret's talents or seeing her only in terms of her considerable sensuousness.
In fact, so rehabilitated was her reputation that Ann-Margret could afford to take the music and sex-oriented role of Tommy's mother in Ken Russell's version of the rock opera Tommy —in which a key scene had a sensuously clad Ann-Margret writhing in perhaps tons of baked beans. Her knockout performance was again nominated for an Academy Award.
Ann-Margret's career since has alternated between her high-powered live Las Vegas shows spotlighting her singing and dancing with film and television roles generally requiring her to provide more subdued characterizations in serious drama. Her much-lauded performance in Who Will Love My Children? as a dying Iowa farm woman attempting to find homes for her ten children was heartbreakingly expressive—and indeed, was publicly praised by Barbara Stanwyk at an Emmy Awards ceremony as one of the best performances ever in the American cinema, as Stanwyck disparaged her own award for a competing performance. And as Blanche du Bois in a television version of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire , Ann-Margret again received critical accolades, holding her own against the sacred memory of Vivien Leigh. Moving and honest performances can be found as well in The Return of the Soldier (playing an old maid opposite acting heavyweights Glenda Jackson and Julie Christie and comparing well), Twice in a Lifetime , The Two Mrs. Grenvilles , and the AIDS drama Our Sons .
Indeed, Ann-Margret's confluence of sexuality with innocence and vulnerability is even more appealing as she moves through her mature middle-age. Yet if other performers who have drawn upon sexual personas or aggressive femininity have tended to display a coyness or self-consciousness (if they have not self-destructed, like Marilyn Monroe), Ann-Margret must be seen as always projecting a natural grace and intelligence, coupled with a sincerity and honesty so straightforward and unapologetic as to be almost unnerving.
Certainly, one must note that only a remarkably unselfconscious performer could take on so many roles which so shamelessly commented upon or exploited her own image—her comic turn in The Swinger , for instance, in which she plays a character with her own real last name (Olsson), who only pretends to be promiscuous to garner success; or roles that lampoon her own physical attributes—such as Lady Booby in Joseph Andrews , or Charming Jones in The Villain (which crosses Road Runner cartoons with Al Capp caricatures). Other elements also present in her trouper image—which have undoubtedly helped Ann-Margret sustain her popularity over the decades—are a certain coarseness; a connection to the blue-collar world; a populist appeal to women as well as men, straights as well as gays; and a lack of taste sometimes so outrageous as to itself become classy, if not camp.