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Viva Ann-Margret!

The one and only Ann-Margret
The one and only Ann-Margret 07:22

In 1964 Elvis was already a legend – and 23-year-old Ann-Margret was on her way to becoming one, too.  In a career that's spanned more than six decades, she's evolved from '60s sex symbol to a Hollywood grand dame. 

Correspondent Tracy Smith asked, "How do you think it is that you've been able to work steadily for, what, more than five decades?"

"I guess I just have a lot of energy," Ann-Margret replied.

Ann-Margret and Elvis Presley in "Viva Las Vegas":

Ann-Margret hot dance with Elvis Presley in Viva Las Vegas (4K) by HE1NZ on YouTube

Seems she always did: a native of Sweden, Ann-Margret's first break came in 1960, when legendary comedian George Burns hired her for his Vegas act. But before long she was headed for Hollywood.

Even then, she knew show biz was a rough game, so to shield her family from unwanted publicity, she dropped her last name (Olsson) and became just Ann-Margret.

"I really wanted to protect them from any bad news about me, anything bad that was said," she said. "And I think I did, for a lot of it. I think so. Maybe not. But I tried."

Turns out they had a lot to be proud of. In 1961, she was nominated for a Grammy as best new artist, for her album, "And Here She Is … Ann-Margret."

And she broke out as a top box office star with 1963's "Bye Bye Birdie":

"Lot of Livin'" dance scene from "Bye Bye Birdie" by jbprichard on YouTube

That same year she was immortalized as "Ann-Margrock" on the primetime hit animated show, "The Flintstones." And the hits just kept on coming.

Smith asked, "You're finished with 'Bye Bye Birdie,' and they tell you, 'Okay, we'd like you to do 'Viva Las Vegas.' And your costar is gonna be …?"


"EP, Elvis."

"And I had never met him."

"Do you remember that first meeting?"

"Oh, yeah," Ann-Margret said. "It was kind of awkward – 'Hi!' – but it was great."

They made sparks offscreen, too, but that's still something she'll only talk about to a point.

Smith asked, "What's your fondest memory, would you say, of him?"

Ann-Margret.  CBS News

"Oh, my gosh. Oh. Oh, I don't wanna get into that, 'cause that's so personal. It's just so personal."

"Does it make you sad? Or it's just …"

"I don't like to share. 'Cause that was between, that was between him and me."

At the end of "Viva Las Vegas," Ann-Margret marries Elvis. In real life, she wed actor Roger Smith in 1967.  The marriage lasted 50 years, until his death in 2017.

And here's something else close to Ann-Margret's heart: she made multiple trips to Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War to help keep up morale in her own unique way, on both land and sea.

Smith asked, "What was it like going to Vietnam and performing for the troops?"

"Ooooohhhh!" Ann-Margret replied. "I was there in 1966 and 1968. Boy, you talk about my heart pumping. Woo! Ow!"

But back home, she was tired of being typecast as the singing sex kitten, and wanted to prove she could hold her own in a dramatic role. She got her chance in 1971, when director Mike Nichols cast her opposite Jack Nicholson as his tragic lover in "Carnal Knowledge."

Jack Nicholson And Ann-Margret In 'Carnal Knowledge'
Jack Nicholson and Ann-Margret in Mike Nichols' "Carnal Knowledge" (1971). Archive Photos/Getty Images

"How did 'Carnal Knowledge' change how people saw you?"

"Oh my gosh, they thought I could act!"

And the academy voters thought so, too: she earned her first Oscar nod, for a film that her own parents couldn't bear to watch.

Ann-Margret said, "Daddy never saw it. He knew what it was about. And he didn't wanna see it, because of obvious things. And I understood. Of course, I understood."

"But how was that for you to have people say, 'Oh, she's a serious actress'?"

"Oh, I was thrilled. I never planned for anything like that."

In a 60-year career, there are some things that haven't changed, like her love for motorcycles.

What is it about motorcycles? "Speed," she laughed. "Being outside with the wind, and rain, and whatever out there. It's just exciting."

Ann-Margret atop her purple Harley Davidson. CBS News

This purple Harley is her latest. She says she still rides on occasion … and that she's seeing someone.  

"And how's that to find love?" asked Smith.

"It's a nice feeling. He's not a stranger, no."

Ann-Margret still makes the rounds at various Hollywood functions, and she has a new film set for release later this year.

The woman who came to fame singing "bye bye" isn't ready to say farewell just yet.

Smith asked, "Does it seem a little surreal even as you tell the story now?"

"Oh yes. My whole life," Ann-Margret said. "How can this happen? I'm so thankful for everything. And I'm very thankful that I have another day. Yup."

For more info:

Story produced by John D'Amelio. Editor: Steven Tyler. 

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