Who Is Ann-Margret?
Born in Sweden, Ann-Margret came to the United States with her parents after World War II and moved to the West Coast with her singing group around 1959. George Burns helped launch her singing career, and she soon went on to acting, starring alongside big names such as with Elvis Presley, Jack Nicholson and John Wayne, earning an Oscar nomination for Carnal Knowledge.
Ann-Margret Olsson was born on April 28, 1941, in Valsjobyn, Sweden. Ann-Margret was born into a tightly knit family in a small fishing village near the Arctic Circle. Her parents, Gustav and Anna, migrated to America after World War II, and settled in the Chicago suburb of Fox Lake. The Olsson’s eventually relocated to Wilmette, Illinois, where they lived in the funeral parlor that employed Anna.
Ann-Margret was an introverted child, who found it difficult adjusting to American culture. In her early years, she used her love for song and dance as a means of expressing herself. She began to sing at weddings, private parties and church socials. By the time she was 14, she had appeared in a number of school revues and drama productions, and was a frequent winner at local talent contests.
After graduating high school in 1959, Ann-Margret enrolled at Northwestern University as a speech major. Within her first few months at college, she teamed up with three male students to form a jazz combo — The Suttletones. After her freshman year, she withdrew from school, and headed for the West Coast with her newly formed band. They spent most of their time performing at various cabaret clubs in Reno, Las Vegas, and Southern California.
While performing in the lounge of the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas, Ann-Margret was given the opportunity to audition for Hollywood veteran George Burns. Immediately after, he invited her to perform for a 10-night engagement at the Sahara Hotel, where the 18-year-old earned rave reviews. A succession of offers followed, including a record contract from RCA, and a seven-year film contract from 20th Century Fox.
In the early 1960s, Ann-Margret's burgeoning career was chronicled in Life magazine, who classified her as Hollywood's next young starlet. She made her film debut as Bette Davis' daughter in Frank Capra's Pocketful of Miracles (1961), and released her first album And Here She Is , Ann-Margret. In 1963, she co-starred in the film adaptation of the Broadway play Bye Bye Birdie, alongside Dick Van Dyke. By the end of year, she had also established herself as a recording star with two albums, and five additional hit singles that appeared on the Bye Bye Birdie soundtrack. In addition, she was invited to serenade President John F. Kennedy at his 46th birthday party.
In 1964’s Viva Las Vegas, Ann-Margret was noted for her performance as Presley's love interest, a role that she was rumored to play on and offscreen. She continued to make a series of mildly successful films, including Kitten with a Whip and The Pleasure Seekers (both 1964). Although big box-office draws, Ann-Margret's early roles merely exploited her sex appeal, including her portrayal as Karl Malden's promiscuous wife who makes a seductive play for Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid (1965).
In 1964, she began dating the former star of 77 Sunset Strip, Roger Smith, whom she had first met in 1961. The couple married in May 1967. Her new husband doubled as her personal manager. In 1968, Ann-Margret was contracted by CBS to host a number of television specials, which featured Lucille Ball, Danny Thomas and Jack Benny. During her time with CBS, she continued to regularly perform in Vegas, where she was often referred to as "The Queen of Vegas."
Under Smith's influence, she attempted to shed her sex-kitten image by taking on more serious roles. She succeeded when Mike Nichols cast her as the tragic Bobbie Templeton in 1971's Carnal Knowledge, which starred Nicholson. Ann-Margret’s supporting role was considered a breakthrough dramatic performance, establishing her as a credible actress, as well as earning her an Oscar nomination.
Accident and Comeback
On November 1972, while appearing in a Lake Tahoe Casino, Ann-Margret had a devastating brush with death. While performing an extravagant opening sequence, she plummeted from a 22-foot platform, landing face down. After a dramatic and life-saving rescue, she fell into a coma for three days suffering broken bones in her face. She was taken back to Los Angeles to recover. Shortly after, the actress lost her beloved father to cancer. Ann-Margret's accident, coupled with the death of her beloved father, led to a growing dependency on alcohol. Her addiction took its toll, and before long, she spiraled into a severe depression. However, with the support of her husband, she worked to rebuild her life and career.
Ann-Margret elicited favorable reviews for her part in the 1973 Western The Train Robbers, opposite John Wayne. She earned another Oscar nomination for her role in the film version of the rock opera Tommy (1975), and gave a notable performance alongside Anthony Hopkins in Magic (1978). As the decade progressed, she was featured in a few forgettable films, including The Cheap Detective (1978); The Villain (1979), which costarred Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Kirk Douglas; and Middle Age Crazy (1980).
During the 1980s, Ann-Margret enjoyed a succession of Emmy Award nominations for her performances in some of the decade’s most acclaimed TV movies. She shed her glamorous image to give a convincing performance as a sickly Iowa farm wife in Who Will Love My Children? (1983). The following year, she played Blanche Dubois in the ABC remake of A Streetcar Named Desire (1984), and in 1987, she was cast in her first television miniseries, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles.
In the '90s, Ann-Margret alternated between TV and films. She was introduced to a new generation with her role in the 1993 comedy hit Grumpy Old Men, and it's equally popular 1995 sequel Grumpier Old Men. She continued her television success, receiving her fourth Emmy nomination for the miniseries Queen (1993), in which she portrays a woman who ages 60 years over the course of the series.
In 1998, Ann-Margret earned her fifth Emmy nod for her impersonation of Pamela Harriman in the Lifetime biopic Life of the Party: The Pamela Harriman Story. The following year, she returned to features with a supporting role as Cameron Diaz's mother in Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday. She returned to the stage and is scheduled to appear as Miss Mona in a national tour of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which ran in 2001.
During her career, Ann-Margret has been romantically linked to Eddie Fisher, Hugh O'Brien, Frankie Avalon, Vince Edwards and Hollywood businessman Burt Sugarman, to whom she was briefly engaged in 1962. She was married Roger Smith 1967 until his death in 2017. The couple raised three children, from Smith's previous marriage.
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