"And not to be immodest Joseph, but I am not without mes charmes."
That was Ann-Margret as--I kid you not--Lady Booby, in the delectable, little-known 1977 movie about Restoration England, titled "Joseph Andrews." Peter Firth played Lady Booby's footman, Joseph, and while he was certainly not immune to Miss Booby's overflowing "charmes," his heart belonged to another.
"Joseph Andrews" was one of the many odd films A-M associated herself with, along with big ones like "Carnal Knowledge" and "Tommy," along with all those terrific TV movies, like "The Two Mrs. Grenvilles." A-M preferred to sing and dance onstage, rather than kill herself trying to maintain a continuously top-flight all-purpose feature-film career. (Her terrible accident in a Las Vegas fall, which almost killed her, probably put certain things into perspective as well.)
Although she first gained attention playing Bette Davis' sweet-faced daughter in "Pocketful of Miracles," it was her sizzling appearances in "State Fair" and--especially--"Bye, Bye Birdie," that thrust the titian-haired A-M into the fantasies of millions of American men. She was, to quote Cole Porter, "Too Darn Hot." And she stayed hot. Remember her hilarious turn as Jezebel Dezire in "The Cheap Detective?" (When Peter Falk began jabbering in delighted shock at her voluptuous appearance, she said, "Oh, I do that to myself, too.")
Her career seesawed after her initial blaze of popularity, but with the help of hubby Roger Smith and manager Alan Carr, she found her niche and a great deal of personal happiness. She lives a quiet life, saving her animal energy for her art. (She and Tina Turner have much in common.) Several years back she won an Emmy for her performance on an episode of "Law & Order: SVU."
She has never stopped working somewhere, someplace.
• On October 8 Ann-Margret will be honored at the big "Broadway & Beyond" gala, celebrating theater and dance.
She receives the Rolex Dance Award. Liza Minnelli will also appear. Perhaps to hand A-M her award, Perhaps, simply to be "Liza." Live performances from shows such as "A Chorus Line," "Damn Yankees" and "Tap Dance Kid" are scheduled to thrill the crowd at New York City Center. Also, Rosie O' Donnell's Theater Kids, The American Repertory Ballet, Cirque du Soleil, a world premiere from "Smash" choreographer John Bergasse and much, much more!
Then everybody will sip with the stars at the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel. The attire is "Broadway Glamour." So we can expect a lot of sequins, a lot of leg, a lot of cleavage. (And that's just the guys.)
But for movie fans, and those who have seen Ann-Margret give her all on stages all over the world, it's her night. Knowing her as I do, she will be overwhelmed, shy and brief in her remarks. She is a genuinely self-deprecatory person.
I've interviewed the star on a number of occasions. She is always lovely, but restrained. Never an unkind word passes her lips. And she still refers to all the people who helped her along in her career as "Mr." and "Miss."
But I do recall one sit-down with her that was quite a bit different. I'd traveled to Philadelphia to see A-M in her road company production of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." She was great and so was the rest of the cast. However, the staging itself looked as if it could be assembled and pulled down within minutes. The producers hadn't exactly spent a fortune.
Backstage, I found A-M more animated than I'd ever seen her. Whatever flaws the production suffered, she was clearly enjoying her role and the experience. She girlishly showed me all her costumes, picking out her favorites. I knew better than to pry deeply into any aspect of her personal life, but I did mention Elvis Presley, and she did weep slightly at that. I also told her I had an assistant who adored her, and had even put to memory some of her more lurid dialogue from "Kitten With a Whip." She loved that, and when Roger Smith entered the dressing room, he seemed healthy and livelier, too. "Oh, Roger, you know that people still remember my dialogue from "Kitten With a Whip!"
Smith glanced at me, expectantly. I laughed and said, "No, no. I love Annie but there are limits!" The star gave out a big robust laugh, and I caught a glimpse of what she was probably like when she wasn't protecting herself so much. (Her great idol had been Marilyn Monroe. During the frenzy of her early stardom, A-M was seen as MM's likely successor. But Ann-Margret wanted to stay grounded, and she did.)
We parted affectionately. I had the honor of introducing her in person at the Austin Film Festival in Texas. I've spoken to her several times since and every year receives a beautiful Christmas card from "Roger and Ann-Margret."