Ann-Margret Once Said She and Elvis Presley Shared the Same Career Frustration – ‘People Don’t Want Us to Change’
Ann-Margret and Elvis Presley shared a yearlong, hot-and-heavy love affair after co-starring in the 1964 film Viva Las Vegas. The two iconic stars’ off-the-charts chemistry translated into a lifelong connection and friendship, despite their marriages to other people (Roger Smith and Priscilla Presley).
In her 1994 memoir, Ann-Margret: My Story, the now 79-year-old Swedish-American actress reflected on the many similarities between herself and the King of Rock and Roll. She even claimed that she and Presley were similarly frustrated in their artistic careers when they tried to break out of the limiting molds they’d been relegated to.
Ann-Margret sometimes struggled to establish herself as a serious actress
Before her husband took over her career as her manager, Ann-Margret often clashed with her management team. At first, she was billed as “the female Elvis” or “the next Marilyn Monroe,” but she wanted to be known for more serious dramatic roles instead.
In her memoir, Ann-Margret reflected on one of her attempts to do just that with the 1964 film Kitten with a Whip. After achieving success in her leading roles in Bye Bye Birdie and State Fair, she worried that she would be pigeonholed into musical films or similar “wholesome” parts alone.
By contrast, Kitten with a Whip was a crime drama featuring Ann-Margret as a troubled teen who terrorizes a politician played by John Forsythe. While she thought the movie was “an interesting, ambitious attempt at film noir,” she also knew it was “doomed by its exploitative-sounding title.” She was also frustrated that her manager hadn’t consulted her before signing her up to star in the film.
Ann-Margret’s growing fanbase was somewhat turned off by the film, she wrote, arguing that it garnered “some atrocious reviews” and “sorely tarnished [her] reputation with fans.” After all, she had primarily played girl-next-door roles.
“My performance in Kitten was so gritty and intense that people were confused,” Ann-Margret argued. “They preferred me as the innocent sweetheart in Birdie.”
She claimed Presley was met with similar challenges in his movie career
According to Ann-Margret, Presley shared her feeling of being stuck in a particular, stereotypical kind of role. When Presley took on roles that didn’t fit into his usual “box,” she wrote, the movies often flopped – and his fans were disappointed.
“The same problem frustrated Elvis,” Ann-Margret wrote in her memoir of her diminished reputation among fans after Kitten with a Whip. “People didn’t want us to change.”
It seems that both the actress and the actor sometimes felt stifled by their limited range in terms of available roles. After they filmed Viva Las Vegas together, Ann-Margret revealed, Presley often commiserated with her about his longing to sink his teeth into more challenging parts.
“Elvis began to work on the next in the series of movies he would grow to detest for their predictability and shallowness,” Ann-Margret wrote of his frustration over the “stock characters” he was asked to portray. “In later years, we’d sometimes commiserate, because from the time we made Viva I’d always told him what a fine dramatic actor he could be.”
Ann-Margret claimed that Presley “thought so, too,” but he never felt that he could shift his career so radically.
Presley’s bodyguard seemed to confirm Ann-Margret’s claims in his memoir
In his 2007 memoir, Elvis: Taking Care of Business, Presley’s former bodyguard, Sonny West, seemed to agree with Ann-Margret that the King of Rock and Roll was often frustrated by his roles in campy, lighthearted musical comedies in which he portrayed a romantic lead and sex symbol.
West claimed that Presley had his own “Kitten with a Whip” moment with the 1960 Western drama Flaming Star. Presley believed it would be his “dramatic breakthrough,” according to West. He told reporters at the time that he hoped to “move on to new dramatic frontiers” and “handle only straight roles” after his leading turn in the film.
But, while Presley’s performance was lauded by critics, the movie didn’t do quite as well at the box office as his previous ones. In 1961, he took another dramatic role in Wild in the Country. This time, Presley’s performance was far from well-reviewed – which Presley seemed to take as “a sign that his fans wanted him to sing in his movies and leave the dramatic stuff to Olivier,” West revealed.