“Why do you think you’re such a smoky something, when you’re so nothing painted blue?”
Every disreputable film fan knows that line. It is one of Ann-Margret’s many out-of-space utterances in 1964’s black-and-white juvenile delinquent saga, the luridly titled “Kitten with a Whip.” This movie was made one year after Ann-Margret achieved major film stardom as the sweet but almost uncomfortably sexy heroine in “Bye Bye Birdie.”
This year, “Kitten with a Whip,” a cult film if ever there was one, will be released on Blu-ray. The actress might prefer some of her later efforts, such as “Carnal Knowledge,” “Magic,” “Tommy” or “Joseph Andrews” to get the Blu-ray treatment, but “Kitten” holds a special place in the hearts of Ann-Margret aficionados.
There are also several significant honors coming up for Ann-Margret in Hollywood. One will be a tribute to her ’60s sex comedies, such as “The Pleasure Seekers,” “The Swinger” and “The Tiger and the Pussycat.” The star plans to attend and participate in a Q&A, which is big news. Ann-Margret is notoriously shy and circumspect. She doesn’t really enjoy talking about herself and she never ever criticizes another actor or a director. This event happens at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills.
Another planned event for Ann-Margret will be devoted to her TV work. This will include her sensational appearance on the 1961 Oscars, singing “Bachelor in Paradise,” her famous cameo as “Ann-Margrock” on “The Flintstones” and her numerous TV specials and variety show appearances. I also hope this gala covers her remarkable series of TV dramas, such as “Who Will Love My Children?” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and her masterpiece “The Two Mrs. Grenvilles,” which contained the fabulous Claudette Colbert’s final performance.
But wait, there’s more! Neal Peters, Ann-Margret’s No. 1 fan for decades, is putting out an expanded version of his spectacular coffee table book on his idol.
Ann-Margret had one of the most meteoric rises, falls and carefully orchestrated comebacks in film history. She was a natural talent, a real triple-threat girl who could act, sing and dance. The problem was, she was born too late. Had she been groomed by the old studio system, great roles would have been found for her, written for her and her explosive sexual energy harnessed. (The writhing, pouting Ann-Margret on film is a totally different woman from the quiet, restrained lady one meets in person. Like her friend Tina Turner, she has two very distinct personalities.)
Early on in her career, Ann-Margret was thrown into movie after movie without much thought. She worked a lot. Too much. And, like her idol, Marilyn Monroe, she often needed toning down when it came to expressing her sexual side on screen. But there was nobody to tone her down. And she was a far more realistic – if somewhat excessive – example of erotic womanhood than Monroe had been.
The director George Sidney was obsessed by Ann-Margret and cast her in “Bye Bye Birdie.” (“Birdie” was originally meant to be a vehicle for Janet Leigh and Dick Van Dyke, but once under Ann-Margret’s spell, Sidney handed the movie to her.) Then he directed her in “Viva Las Vegas,” where she overshadowed Elvis (and Sidney’s camera became even more invasive.)
Finally, there was “The Swinger,” which seemed to be Sidney’s cinematic fantasy about his star. Ann-Margret generally played a good girl, sort of pretending to be bad, but she was photographed from every conceivable suggestive angle, and her own performance style tipped the material into areas that were slightly disturbing. I once asked Ann-Margret about George Sidney’s obvious infatuation with her. As usual, she sweetly deflected the question, referring to him as “Mr. Sidney” and said how grateful she was for his interest and his talent.
Within a few years, Ann-Margret’s once promising career seemed stalled, she had become something of a smarmy joke. But with the help of hubby Roger Smith and manager Allen Carr she slowly rebuilt her reputation on TV and in Las Vegas, where on stage she could be as wild as she wanted to be.
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