Accidental Heroes of the 20th Century 27: Ann-Margret, Actor

IT ISN'T every actress who can survive a movie that requires her to writhe around under the overcooked direction of Ken Russell. For Glenda Jackson the shame was clearly so great she became an MP. But Ann-Margret, who - for no immediately apparent reason - is made to disport herself in a bath-tub of baked beans in Russell's ineffable version of The Who's Tommy in 1975, came through the experience with her customary serenity.

It may have helped that Ann-Margret was not without a bit of previous in the writhing department. In 1966, she made a comedy called The Swinger, in which she played the author of a racy autobiography. Because the Hollywood version of the Swinging Sixties - created by balding paunchy movie producers who were not particularly swinging but often sixty - usually involved the casual humiliation of women, Ann-Margaret became a human paintbrush, at one point covering herself in paint and wriggling around on a blank canvas.

At the age of 25, Ann-Margret's career was believed to be in terminal decline. Yet a few years earlier Ann-Margret Olsson, who came to America from her native Sweden as a child, was America's teen sweetheart. The Theatre Owners of America voted her Star of the Year in 1964 after her success in Viva Las Vegas opposite Elvis, the most provocative partner Presley ever had and the only one with whom you could believe he actually slept.

He may very well have done in fact. They certainly had a romance, but her biography, Ann-Margret: My Story, is full of tasteful fades leaving us no closer to knowing how far she and the King went. A similarly discreet veil is pulled over her relationships with other early Sixties heavy hitters, including John F Kennedy and Frank Sinatra.

Kennedy certainly saw her as a replacement for Marilyn Monroe. In 1963, the year after Marilyn's famously breathy Happy Birthday Mr President, JFK chose Ann-Margret to pay him a similar tribute. There were also other parallels between the two actresses; unsuitable men, alcohol, and prescription drugs.

With her career reduced by the late Sixties to Italian potboilers, barely exhibited in America, you would not have staked much on Ann-Margret's future.

But Ann-Margret re-wrote the script. She refused to be used and abused by men in the way that Marilyn was. An article in an early Sixties fan- mag hints at the steel behind the pout. "Ann-Margret sweeps men off their feet," the writer gushes. "She goes on breaking hearts and making men miserable. Many a big game hunter has had better luck with lions than with this tantalizing tigress."

On screen she returned triumphantly in Carnal Knowledge in 1971, the first really serious movie she had ever done, with a moving display of vulnerability as Jack Nicholson's ill-used mistress.

She married Roger Smith, an actor from the television show 77 Sunset Strip, a marriage that has endured more than 30 years, with Smith acting as her agent and looking out for her like a mother hen.

She has never wanted for work. Superior TV movies are what she does mostly these days, including a biography of Pamela Harriman, former wife of Randolph Churchill and so-called "courtesan of the century", who triumphed as her own woman after her last husband died, and was appointed American ambassador to France.

The story is not a million miles away from Ann-Margret's, a triumph not so much over adversity as over tacky bad taste, and the bad judgement of men in the face of a pair of breasts and a sweet smile. Like Harriman, Ann-Margret thought of Girl Power long before the Spice Girls.

Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star