Our Sons (1991) is a made-for-television film starring Ann-Margret and Julie Andrews playing two mothers of gay sons, one of whom is dying of AIDS. It was broadcast the same day as GMHC’s annual AIDS Walk in New York. The sons are played by out actor Željko Ivanek, who was decidedly in the closet when the movie was made, and Hugh Grant, who is not gay, but who is convincingly gay when he needs to be for a role.
When I was a little baby gay my mother dropped me off, all on my own at 9 years old, at Spokane’s Post Theatre for the Saturday first matinee showing of the film version of the Broadway hit Bye Bye Birdie. I was gobsmacked and I have never quite recovered. The very next day, after church, I set up my room’s summer window fan in the bathroom as a wind machine, and sang the title song in the manner of Ann-Margret, moving closer to the bathroom mirror and pulling back to gain the effect of the camera work. I was especially adept at having that little catch in my voice, just like the 22-year-old star of the musical movie. I can still do it today, although I no longer have hair to be blown around and flounced.
Since making her film debut in A Pocket Full Of Miracles (1961) opposite Bette Davis, Ann-Margret has worked in 80 films, receiving two Oscar Nominations for Carnal Knowledge (1971) and Tommy (1975).
She has won five Golden Globe Awards, a pair of Grammy Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and six Emmy Awards. I especially admire her work in a television version of A Streetcar Named Desire (1986) as an especially vivid and unhinged Blanche DuBois, her great comic work in the 18th century set Joseph Andrews (1977) as “Lady Booby”, and she sure showed her acting chops in the horror thriller Magic (1978) opposite Anthony Hopkins.
She was born in Sweden, but Ann-Margret moved with her family to Chicago when she was 6 years old. While singing in a musical act at 18 years old, she was discovered by George Burns, who put her in his nightclub act.
She had a passionate affair with Elvis Presley while filming Viva Las Vegas (1964). He asked Ann-Margret to marry him. Thankfully she declined, or she might have eventually become a Scientologist like wife number one. In that era, Ann-Margret was sometimes unfairly dubbed “the female Elvis”, when he should have been called “the male Ann-Margret”, right?
At the finish of filming of Bye Bye Birdie there was a wrap party, and the director, George Sidney, the producers, and the cast, including stars Dick Van Dyke, Paul Lynde, and Janet Leigh, all gave speeches extolling the extraordinary talents of Ann-Margret. When it was her turn, Maureen Stapleton, who played Van Dyke’s overbearing mother announced:
“I guess I’m the only person in the room who doesn’t want to fuck Ann-Margret.”
In 1972, Ann-Margret survived a dramatic fall from a concert stage in Lake Tahoe that shattered her face and left her in a coma. She fought back through tedious sets of reconstructive surgeries and a long convalescence. Yet, within a year she was back on stage. Ann-Margaret:
“I really believed I was spared by God in 1972 because I had so much left to do.”
She was married to Roger Smith for 50 years, until his passing in 2017. Smith was known for his acting and his hotness in the hit series 77 Sunset Strip (1958-64). He gave up his career to manage hers after they met.
She is my kind of entertainer: nightclubs, Vegas, films, television, and stage. She celebrates her 82nd birthday today; she still looks gorgeous, and she still keeps working. In her 70s, she made seven films and did five television series. In 2021, she was part of the ensemble of the film Queen Bees, with Ellen Burstyn and James Caan (in his final film) which is not about queens.
I have been so inspired by this beautiful and talented woman, that I have a chapter in my upcoming memoir Jockstraps & Vicodin, titled Kitten With A Whip.
Ann-Margret tells this story about when auditioned for George Burns:
“I wore this light blue lambswool sweater and black stockings and little black one-inch shoes that I had worn all through the summer, because that’s all I had! and that’s the way Mr. Burns saw me. So on opening night, that’s what I wore. But then I searched all over the place for something that I thought would be really nice in Las Vegas, and it was more money than I had ever spent. It was an orangey-red velvet pantsuit, and pantsuits were just coming into style. At dress rehearsal Mr. Burns saw this outfit, & he said: ‘Where’s the sweater and pants that you wore on the audition… the tight sweater and the tight pants?’ I said, ‘Well, I thought that this was really nice and that you’d like it.’ and he said, ‘People don’t want to only hear your voice, they want to see where it’s coming from!’ I never forgot that.”
Ann-Margret sang Happy Birthday to George Burns on his 90th and 100th birthdays. You may never feel the same about baked beans after you have seen her in Tommy: