Ann-Margret: The Swedish Swinger

Today is the birthday of the phenomenon of nature known as Ann-Margret (Ann-Margret Olsson, b. 1941).

I had the thrill of seeing her perform live once at Radio City Music Hall in the early ’90s. Even then, when she was about 50 years old, she was how we think of her in her early film roles: which is to say so kinetic, giving off so much of everything that there were times when it was TOO much, that you just couldn’t look. “Taste” is of course out the window; taste is about self-restraint.  Open throttle Ann-Margaret is appalling, mortifying, embarrassing, catchy, sexy and cool all at the same time. That’s how she tends to be in musicals, at any rate. I find that in dramatic parts, she never found a way to project that same fire, she sort of meekly disappears without musical numbers as a platform to explode from.

Swedish born Ann-Margret moved to the U.S. with her parents when she was five years old. Raised in Illinois, she took dance lessons as a kid, then began competing in television amateur contests, including Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour. She performed with a singing group called the Suttletones which played nightclubs in Chicago and Las Vegas. Her big break came when she as hired to do a soft shoe with George Burns in his annual holiday show.

In 1961, she got both a recording contract and a movie contract. Her very first film was Frank Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles (1961). Then came the 1962 remake of State Fair and the film version of the recent Broadway hit Bye Bye Birdie (1963), which cemented her stardom. That year she achieved immortality by playing Ann-Margrock on The Flintstones.

Then came Viva Las Vegas (1964) with Elvis Presley, possibly his best movie, and certainly the only one where he was rivaled in animal magnetism by his co-star. Their magnetism apparently worked on each other; they were briefly an item. The Colonel put an end to that!

Other notable pictures included Kitten with a Whip (1964), The Cincinnati Kid (1965), a remake of Stagecoach (1966), The Swinger (1966), C.C. and Company (1970), Carnal Knowledge (1971), The Train Robbers (1973), Tommy (1975), The Last Remake of Beau Geste (1977), Neil Simon’s The Cheap Detective (1978), Magic (1978), Middle Age Crazy (1980), I Ought to Be in Pictures (1982), Newsies (1992), Grumpy Old Men (1993), Grumpier Old Men (1995), Any Given Sunday (1999), and the recent remake of Going in Style (2017). And dozens more besides these. All the while, also cutting records, giving live performances and the occasional tv variety show. This pic is from a show she did in 1970:

And here she is helping out a distinctly cool-challenged Desi Arnaz Jr on Here’s Lucy in the early ’70s.

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