Ann-Margret was 16 when she and a girlfriend from New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill., first arrived in Fort Lauderdale.
“Mother and Daddy told me I could invite a friend, Holly Silvano, and Daddy drove us all down,” the movie star recalls, the excitement in her voice still evident. A strait-laced only child — “I was raised very well by a strong family. I went to church, Sunday school. I learned all the right values …” — her eyes were about to be opened at her beachfront hotel.
“Oh, my gosh. Fort Lauderdale! Holly and I couldn’t believe it. We looked out the window … We’d never seen so many boys our own age!” she says, before extinguishing any visions one might have of a future sex symbol running wild on Fort Lauderdale beach in 1957. “We met some wonderful people. There was absolutely no trouble. I got into trouble when I came to L.A.,” she says, laughing.
The career of the actress born Ann-Margret Olsson in Stockholm, Sweden, 72 years ago will be celebrated Nov. 9 at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival’s inaugural FLIFF Chairman’s Awards Gala fundraiser at the Westin Diplomat Resort in Hollywood. The black-tie affair will include a lifetime achievement award for the twice Oscar-nominated Ann-Margret, whose resume includes such films as “State Fair,” “Viva Las Vegas,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Tommy,” “Carnal Knowledge,” “Any Given Sunday” and “Grumpy Old Men.”
Three years after her visit to Fort Lauderdale, a 19-year-old Ann-Margret began to get an inkling of how her career would develop. She was in Las Vegas with the singing group she joined while attending Northwestern University in Chicago, and found herself auditioning for show-business icon George Burns, who had seen her performing in Los Angeles.
“He was preparing a variety show for the Sahara, I think. He had seen me, and I was very nervous,” she recalls of meeting the man who would become her first mentor. “I wore this tight sweater and black stockings that I wore quite a bit. The band and I had just come out to L.A., and I didn’t have any clothes to speak of.”
She got the job, and for opening night bought a new pantsuit outfit. At the dress rehearsal, Burns had other ideas, she says.
“The first thing he said to me was, ‘Where are the pants? Where’s the sweater? The tight sweater. People want to hear your voice, but they want to see where it’s coming from!’ ” the actress recalls, her velvety voice struggling to mimic Burns’ smoky rasp.
The advice stayed with her, and the following year, Life magazine acknowledged her rise with a photo spread of her screen test for “State Fair.” In it, she is wearing a sweater that would have met Burns’ approval. While she tested for the “good” girl role of Margy, she was cast as Emily, the “bad” girl.
IF YOU GO
The career of Ann-Margret will be celebrated during the inaugural FLIFF Chairman’s Awards Gala fundraiser, 6-11 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, at the Westin Diplomat Resort, 3555 S. Ocean Drive, in Hollywood. The black-tie event will include an awards presentation, a silent auction, dinner, cocktails and a performance by Grammy winner Michael Bolton and a seven-piece band. Tickets cost $250, $200 for members. Call 954-885-4169 or go to FLIFF.com.