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In 1961, she filmed a screen test at 20th Century Fox and was signed to a seven-year contract. Ann-Margret made her film debut in a loan-out to United Artists in Pocketful of Miracles, with Bette Davis. It was a remake of the 1933 movie Lady for a Day. Both versions were directed by Frank Capra.
Then came a 1962 remake of Rodgers and Hammersteins musical State Fair, playing the bad girl role of Emily opposite Bobby Darin and Pat Boone. She had tested for the part of Margy, the good girl, but she seemed too seductive to the studio bosses, who decided on the switch. The two roles mimicked her real-life personality ” shy and reserved offstage, but wildly exuberant and sensuous onstage. As she summed up in her autobiography, she would easily transform herself from Little Miss Lollipop to Sexpot-Banshee once she stepped on stage and the music began.
Her next starring role, as the all-American teenager Kim from Sweet Apple, Ohio, in Bye Bye Birdie (1963), made her a major star. The premiere at Radio City Music Hall, 16 years after her first visit to the famed theater, was a smash hit: the highest first-week grossing film to date at that venue. Life magazine put her on the cover for the second time and announced that the torrid dancing almost replaces the central heating in the theater. She was asked to sing Baby, Wont You Please Come Home at President John F. Kennedys private birthday party at the Waldorf-Astoria, one year after Marilyn Monroes famous Happy Birthday.
Ann-Margret met Elvis Presley on the MGM soundstage when the two filmed Viva Las Vegas (1964). Ann-Margret introduced Presley to David Winters, whom she recommended as a choreographer for their film. Viva Las Vegas was Winters first feature film choreography job and was his first of four movies with Presley and his first of five films, including Kitten with a Whip (1964), Bus Rileys Back in Town (1965), Made in Paris (1966) and The Swinger (1966), and two TV Specials with Ann-Margret. Ann-Margret was Winters dance student at the time and Winters credits Ann-Margret as being that special person who changes your life. Winters was nominated for the 1970 Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography for his CBS Television Special: Ann-Margret: From Hollywood with Love (1969)
In 1963, Ann-Margret guest-starred in a popular episode of the animated TV series The Flintstones, voicing Ann-Margrock, an animated version of herself. She sang the ballad The Littlest Lamb as a lullaby and the (literally) rock-ing song, Aint Gonna Be a Fool. Decades later, she recorded the theme song, a modified version of the Viva Las Vegas theme, to the live-action film The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas in character as Ann-Margrock.
While working on the film Once a Thief (1965), she met future husband Roger Smith, who, after his successful run on the private-eye television series 77 Sunset Strip, was performing a live club show at the Hungry i on a bill with Bill Cosby and Don Adams. That meeting began their courtship, which met with resistance from her parents.
Ann-Margret starred in The Cincinnati Kid in 1965 opposite Steve McQueen. She also co-starred along with friend Dean Martin in the spy spoof Murderers Row (1966). Finally she starred as the lead in Swingers in 1966 with Tony Francioso.
Her redhead hair color (she is a natural brunette) was the idea of Sydney Guilaroff, a hairdresser who changed the hair color of other famous actresses such as Lucille Ball.
She was offered the title role in Cat Ballou (1965), but her manager turned it down without telling her. In March 1966, Ann-Margret and entertainers Chuck Day and Mickey Jones teamed up for a USO tour to entertain U.S. servicemen in remote parts of Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia. She still has great affection for the veterans and refers to them as my gentlemen. Ann-Margret, Day and Jones reunited in November 2005 for an encore of this tour for veterans and troops at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
During a lull in her film career in July 1967, Ann-Margret gave her first live performance in Las Vegas, with her husband Roger Smith (whom she had married in 1967) taking over as her manager after that engagement. Elvis Presley and his entourage came to see her during the shows five-week run and to celebrate backstage. From thereon until his death, Presley sent her a guitar-shaped floral arrangement for each of her Vegas openings. After the first Vegas run ended, she followed up with a CBS television special The Ann-Margret Show, produced and directed by David Winters on December 1, 1968, with guest-stars Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Danny Thomas, and Carol Burnett. Then she went back to Saigon as part of Hopes Christmas show. A second Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) television special followed, directed and choreographed by David Winters and produced and distributed by Winters company Winters-Rosen with Dean Martin and Lucille Ball. In 1970, she returned to films with R.P.M. and C.C. and Company. David Winters and the show were nominated for a Primetime Emmy in Outstanding Choreography.
In 1971, she starred in Mike Nichols Carnal Knowledge, playing the over-loving girlfriend of a viciously abusive Jack Nicholson and garnering a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
On the set of The Train Robbers in Durango, Mexico, in June 1972, she told Nancy Anderson of Copley News Service that she had been on the grapefruit diet and had lost almost twenty pounds (134 to 115) eating unsweetened citrus.
On Sunday, September 10, 1972, while performing at Lake Tahoe, Nevada, she fell 22 feet from an elevated platform to the stage and suffered injuries including a broken left arm, cheekbone and jawbone. Husband Roger Smith flew a stolen plane from Burbank, California, to Lake Tahoe in order to get his wife to the surgeons at the medical center at UCLA for treatment. She required meticulous facial reconstructive surgery that required wiring her mouth shut and putting her on a liquid diet. Unable to work for ten weeks, she ultimately returned to the stage almost (some would say miraculously) back to normal.
Throughout the 1970s, Ann-Margret balanced her live musical performances with a string of dramatic film roles that played against her glamorous image. In 1973 she starred with John Wayne in The Train Robbers. Then came the musical Tommy in 1975, for which she was nominated the Academy Award for Best Actress. In addition, she has been nominated for 10 Golden Globe Awards and has won five, including her Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for Tommy. She also did a string of successful TV specials, starting with The Ann-Margret Show for NBC CBS in 1968.
On August 17, 1977, Ann-Margret and Roger Smith traveled to Memphis to attend Elvis Presleys funeral. Three months later, she hosted Memories Of Elvis featuring abridged versions of the Elvis 1968 TV and Aloha from Hawaii specials.
In 1978, she co-stared with Anthony Hopkins in the horrorsuspense thriller Magic.
In 1982, Ann-Margret co-starred with Walter Matthau and Dinah Manoff in the film version of Neil Simons play I Ought to Be in Pictures. That same year, she appeared with a six-year-old Angelina Jolie in Lookin to Get Out, playing Jolies mother. To round out 1982, she appeared alongside Alan Bates, Glenda Jackson, and Julie Christie in the film adaptation of The Return of the Soldier. She also starred in the TV movies Who Will Love My Children? (1983) and a remake of A Streetcar Named Desire (1984). These performances collectively won her two Golden Globe Awards and two Emmy nominations. She appeared as the wife of Roy Scheiders character in the 1986 crime thriller 52 Pick-Up.
In 1989, an illustration was done of Oprah Winfrey that was on the cover of TV Guide, and although the head was Oprahs, the body was referenced from a 1979 publicity shot of Ann-Margret. The illustration was rendered so tightly in color pencil by freelance artist Chris Notarile that most people thought it was a composite photograph.
In 1992 she co-starred with Robert Duvall and Christian Bale in the Disney musical, Newsies. In 1993, Ann-Margret starred in the hit comedy Grumpy Old Men reuniting with Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Her character returned for Grumpier Old Men (1995), the equally successful sequel which this time co-starred Sophia Loren.
Ann-Margret published an autobiography in 1994 titled Ann-Margret: My Story, in which she publicly acknowledged her battle with and ongoing recovery from alcoholism. In 1995, she was chosen by Empire magazine as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history; she ranked 10th.
She also filmed Any Given Sunday (1999) for director Oliver Stone, portraying the mother of football team owner Cameron Diaz. She filmed a cameo appearance for The Limey but her entire performance was cut from the movie.
Ann-Margret also starred in several TV movies, including Queen: The Story of an American Family (1993) and Life of the Party (1999), the latter of which she received nominations for an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
She made guest appearances on the television shows Touched by an Angel in 2000 and three episodes of Third Watch in 2003. In 2001, she made her first appearance in a stage musical, playing the character of brothel owner Mona Stangley in a new touring production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. She played Jimmy Fallons mother in the 2004 comedy Taxi, co-starring Queen Latifah. In 2001, Ann-Margret worked with Art Greenhaw on the album God Is Love: The Gospel Sessions. The critically acclaimed project resulted in her first Grammy Award nomination and first Dove Award nomination for Best Album of the Year in a Gospel category. They teamed up again in 2004 for the album Ann-Margrets Christmas Carol Collection. She performed material from the album at two auditorium church services at Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, and broadcast worldwide on the program Hour of Power.
In 2006, Ann-Margret had supporting roles in the box-office hits The Break-Up with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause with Tim Allen. She also starred in several independent films, such as Memory (2006) with Billy Zane and Dennis Hopper. In 2009, she appeared in the comedy Old Dogs with John Travolta and Robin Williams.
Ann-Margret guest-starred in an episode of Law & Order: SVU, Bedtime, which first aired on March 31, 2010. She received her sixth Emmy nomination for her performance. She also appeared in the Lifetime series, Army Wives, in the episode Guns and Roses (Season 4, Episode 5), which originally aired May 9, 2010. On August 29, 2010, she won an Emmy Award for Guest Performance by an Actress for her SVU performance. It was the first Emmy win of her career, and she received a standing ovation from the Emmy venue audience as she approached the stage to receive her award.
On October 14, 2010, Ann-Margret appeared on CBS CSI.
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