"WE THINK you're a little drunk, ma'am."
"So, what are you -- the sobriety police?"
That's how it went between
This is not Ann-Margret's first Emmy nomination, of course. She has been up for the award six times -- for her striking performances in TV films such as "A Streetcar Named Desire," "The Two Mrs. Grenvilles," "Life of the Party: The Pamela Harriman Story," and "Who Will Love My Children?" Ann-Margret admits winning an Emmy would be "lovely." (She has also been nominated twice for an Oscar for "Carnal Knowledge" and "Tommy.")
But she would be the first to tell you that much, much better than winning an Emmy, was the tribute paid to her from the podium by
I SAT with Ann-Margret for about 15 minutes in the green room backstage at
First of all -- because I know you want to know -- she looks amazing. Still a beauty and still unmistakably recognizable as Ann-Margret. If she has ever had "work" (aside from her face being reconstructed after that horrific fall in
As always, she is remarkably affectionate, considerate and so soft-spoken, that even sitting next to her on a small couch one must lean in close. So close, I get a whiff of a delicious fragrance and compliment her. "Oh," she says wistfully, "it was my mother's favorite perfume. It's called..." but she speaks so quietly, all I get is an indistinct sound -- it sounds like "Adjdere." (Perhaps it is Eau Du Sud by
SO WHAT was it like working with
She also says, "When the producers approached me about doing the show, they said, 'We read this, and we knew it was for you!' So I took it and read it, and I loved it, but then I thought, 'Hey wait a minute, they knew it was 'for me?' A blousy, beat up, drug-addicted alcoholic? Hmm....!"
I ASK her, how it is that so little is known about her? She smiles slyly. "Because that's the way I want it. That's the way I've always been. Maybe I'm a little bit of a loner, but it is my work that has been important to me, not" -- and she waves her hand above her head -- "all that. And I'm not putting down anybody who derives some pleasure and satisfaction from it, it's just never been for me."
But, I ask, not even when she was a very young star, and everything was burning hot -- "Bye Bye, Birdie," "Viva Las Vegas," "The Pleasure Seekers?" She shakes her head. "I always knew what I wanted. And that was to entertain, to act. I knew what came with it. But I always knew it was my choice to accept that other part into my life." I am tempted to mention Elvis, her "Viva Las Vegas" co-star -- and the media furor around that friendship -- but this is a sensitive subject. The last time I was with her, in
We speak of her image, and that I am always astonished at the difference between the woman I know and the stage and screen vixen. "Oh, that's all an act. I'm just play-acting. I'm always play-acting."
I assume this is true, and perhaps even when she is in character as "Ann-Margret private person confronting the press." Not that I don't believe she is as soft and sensitive as she appears. But nobody lasts as long as Ann-Margret without a tough core. She has depended on
I ASK her something I have always wanted to -- about the fantastic opening and closing scenes of "Bye Bye Birdie" with Ann-Margret running toward the camera, her red hair and her peach dress flying in the wind?
She laughs, "Oh, well, you know the studio didn't want to do that at all. That was the idea of the director Mr.
"He wouldn't let go of the idea. But the studio hated it. So, he just went ahead and paid for it himself, out of his own pocket. It was months after I'd finished the movie and I'd already dyed my hair another color, so we had to go back to red. And then, they put me on this treadmill that was, I don't know, 20 feet high and no railings and the wind machines were really strong. I suppose I should have been scared, but I wasn't. I loved it." Well, why not? Surely even at that young age, Ann-Margret must have sensed this was her moment to bloom, and
Ann-Margret still performs her stage shows, perhaps with a few less motorcycles than in the past, but plenty of razzle-dazzle. She has played
Now Ann-Margret must fly, or sail, to be exact. She tells me briefly of two movies she'll appear in later in the year, and promises to consider a cabaret appearance. She hugs me and says, "Nobody is as kind to me as you are!"
Before she's out the door, I say: "Maybe when
She pauses, and her eyes fill up. "I've never understood that kind of cruelty. Never. And I've known it. I won't talk of it. But I know."
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