#ClassicFilmReading: My Story by Ann-Margret

I've got a lot of livin' readin' to do this summer! Let's start! 

This is my first book for the 2021 Classic Film Reading Challenge! It's become something I look forward to each summer (find out what else I'm reading here), so I thought I'd ease myself in with someone fun and vivacious to start: Ann-Margret.

What struck me most reading her autobiography is how...normal she is. Sometimes when Iread the autobiographies of stars, I get the impression that they've bought into their myth hook line and sinker. They're no longer who they were, they're now who they are based on their fame, so it's hard to imagine them as real people. 

This wasn't the case with Ann-Margret: in fact, I got the impression that she never stopped being the small-town Swedish-American singer who stumbled upon fame. She focuses so much on her early life and family, and, even after she travels west to Hollywood (by way of Las Vegas), each story is told with normalcy at the centre of it. 

Before she left for Vegas to perform with her first band (The Suttletones), she tells us how she came upon her stage name, Ann-Margret: she dropped her last name so that anything she did professionally wouldn't fall back upon her parents, who she loved dearly. This was before the era of Cher, Madonna, Bono, Prince. She writes, "I didn't know of any performers who went by one name. It was just my way of ensuring that my parents were not hurt, embarrassed, or bothered by anything that might happen as a result of my being in show business." 

And then, once she's in Vegas and Hollywood, and she starts to become more of a star, even the stories of meeting Hollywood legends are framed with the aw-shucks, me? that permeates through the book. She met Clark Gable on the set of his final film, The Misfits, which had been filming in the Nevada desert, and they spoke of Northwestern, the university she'd briefly attended. You know what would be on my list of topics for a discussion with Clark Gable? Not my alma mater! 

She saw Marilyn Monroe on the set as well (this was also her final film) but never spoke with her. She found out later that they shared a stand-in, and she told Ann-Margret how Marilyn had noticed her on the set talking to Gable. "I would've loved to have known her," she writes. 

Her first film was Pocketful of Miracles in 1961, opposite Bette Davis. Once again, Ann-Margret's not caught up on the fact that it's Bette Davis, instead she relates a story of how Bette once stopped filming on one of her close-ups and had the hair-and-makeup people fix her up so that she'd look phenomenal. "This is your close-up," Bette told her. 

Another fun fact I enjoyed was that Ann-Margret would stick to calling people Mr. or Miss. to their faces, due to her traditional values and upbringing. She was never on first-name basis with Bette Davis, according to her. 

But again, back to that normalcy: the fact that she was a bonafide movie star is relegated to the background of her stories. She skims over the filming of Pocketful of Miracles, State Fair, and Bye Bye Birdie with such swiftness. If there's a story about her personal life or how she was feeling during this time, it's told with the context that 'this was happening while I filmed that.' So if you're going into this with the hopes that Ann-Margret's spilling tea, don't be too disappointed when the stories are sparse. 

And then: Elvis Presley enters her life. This is one of my favourite '60s movies: Viva Las Vegas. It's so iconic, so glam, and God, it makes me want to go to Vegas. Ann-Margret and Elvis dated while making this movie, and she spares us no detail about their time together. 

According to her, there was a spark from their first meeting, when they both said, at the exact same time, "I've heard a lot about you." Even though their love affair was short-lived, the mutual love and respect they held for each other lasted until his untimely death in 1977, though the tenderness with which she writes about him shows that the love is still there. My favourite detail? He'd always send her floral arrangements in the shape of a guitar on the opening night of every new nightclub act. 

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Of course, the central love story is between Ann-Margret and her husband of 50 years, Roger Smith. They met in the early '60s, married in 1967, and were devoted to each other. That's an understatement: he managed her career after their marriage and took care of every aspect that did not involve performing. 

Don't read anything abusive into that: from her own retelling, it was done from a place of sincere love and wanting to prevent people from taking advantage of her (her first manager signed her up for everything, overexposed her, ran her into debt without her knowledge, and disparaged her every chance he got). And it worked for them. Roger had been a television actor but didn't enjoy it, so he retired to work behind the scenes. 

The two were married in 1967 and stayed married until his death in 2017. They raised his three children from a previous marriage, and sadly, despite trying and trying, were never able to have any biological children of their own. 

And again, this love story is told as the main plot line: the fact that her career torpedoed, crashed, slowly built back up, and resulted in two Oscar nominations for her (she candidly writes that she was disappointed that she didn't win, for Carnal Knowledge or Tommy, but that she didn't dwell on it) is background to her personal life. It's refreshing. 

And finally, a few stories about her fellow stars, because she shares so few but they're so...normal: 

  • Steve McQueen encouraged her to say 'screw you' to the studios and ride her motorcycle even though they tried to forbid it. She listened. 
  • On the set of the remake of Stagecoach, she continued to ride her motorcycle, but because she was short and thin, it was hard for her to kick-start it, so one of her co-stars -- Bing Crosby, Red Buttons, Van Heflin, Slim Pickens, and Alex Cord -- would have to do it for her. They gave her a lead belt to help weigh her down after a while. 

And a few things I learned about Ann-Margret from reading this (that were probably widely-known on the internet if I'd have bothered to check): 

  • Legendary comedian George Burns gave her her real breakthrough into showbiz. 
  • She performed at the Oscars before anyone knew who she really was, but what makes this particularly interesting to me is that she sang the title song to Bachelor in Paradise, which is one of my favourite movies. 
  • She watched the news coverage of President Kennedy's assassination at Elvis's house. 
  • She fell 20 feet off of a stage platform and nearly died. Blood was pouring out of her ears and nose, and instead of letting Las Vegas doctors treat her, her husband insisted on flying her back to Hollywood so that she could be cared for in a way that wouldn't leave too much scarring. There's a detail in there about reconstructing her cheekbone in a way that went in through her mouth that honestly, I wish I didn't now have in my head, so you're welcome! 
  • She struggled with addiction, and despite relapsing a few times, has managed it since 1980. The care she writes about these struggles with is so appreciated. 
I'd definitely recommend this autobiography. It's light and refreshing, just like Ann-Margret!

Have you read this? Let me know what you thought in the comments!


  1. Excellent review! Thank you for sharing some of the highlights from the book. I adore Ann-Margret so this is a must-read for me. I'm very interested in her Hollywood career, her love of motorcycles and her marriage. I'm so glad you're participating in the challenge again this year!

  2. This sounds like a very interesting biography, especially for the fact that Ann-Margaret appears to have no ego. I love that you shared those tidbits of what you learned at the end.


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