Pocketful Of Miracles (1961) was the fmal film of Frank Capra, the legendary veteran director of Hollywood comedy, and Ann-Margret’s first. The pretty 20 year-old played Bette Davis’ daughter, brought up in Spain in the belief that her mother, a poor apple-seller round Broadway, is a high-society lady.
Her performance led to a role in 20th Century-Fox’s musical remake State Fair (1962), in which she exuded more zest and talent than the rest of the cast, especially in her big production number, ‘Isn’t It Kinda Fun’. Further proof of her singing and dancing abilities came the following year in Bye Bye Birdie, in which she crooned ‘How Lovely To Be A Woman’ and five other songs.
She was equally impressive as Elvis Presley’s sexy co-star in Viva Las Vegas (1963), and in a number of straight roles, especially that of Karl Maiden’s sluttish wife in The Cincinnati Kid (1965). But she only proved her credentials as a serious actress in Mike Nichols’ Carnal Knowledge (1971), for which she was Oscar nominated. Her performance as the vulnerable and touching model no longer in the flower of her youth seemed to bode a turning point in her career.
However, this voluptuous and vivacious entertainer preferred not to make too many films, but rather to star in TV specials and appear at top nightclubs in Las Vegas, where she was known as ‘the hottest number on the strip’. But in 1972, her career, and even her life, might have ended when she fell 22 feet from a platform to a hardwood floor during a performance in Lake Tahoe. Miraculously – she herself puts it down to her Lutheran faith – she recovered, and was working again within a year, having undergone plastic surgery for facial scars.
Ann-Margret was five when she arrived in the USA with her parents from Sweden, none of them speaking English, and settled in
Chicago where the young girl learned sing-ng and dancing. It was comedian George Burns who discovered her at nineteen and put her into his Las Vegas act.
In 1967, she married TV actor Roger Smith, who also became her personal manager. When they met, he helped her settle her large debts, and she helped him raise his three children from a previous marriage.
After her accident, Ann-Margret returned to the screen, looking as amazing as ever, in Ken Russell’s Tommy (1975), for which she received her second Oscar nomination. As the mother of the eponymous rock star, played by Roger Daltrey, she brought some sanity to the wildly undisciplined proceedings.
She continued to be active, but spent much of the 1980’s and 90’s appearing in TV movies although in the mid 90’s she did well in a pair of movies with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau – Grumpy Old Men and Grumpier Old Men.
In recent years Ann-Margret has divided her time between guest appearances on TV series such as Army Wives, CSI and Ray Donovan and roles in movies like The Break Up and Old Dogs.