The Velocity Of
The Ever-Sexy And Ever-Hyphenated Ann-Margret Is Addicted To Speed, She Said At The TCM Film Festival, Partly Inspired By Her Rural Upbringing But Also Marlon Brando In One Of His Most Iconic Roles
Ann-Margret, at the TCM Film Festival 2015, Hollywood, Calif., March 2015. Image courtesy of TCM Film Festival.
By David Fantle And Tom Johnson
Reel to Real Special for Modern Times Magazine
April 13, 2015 — At the TCM Classic Film Festival a couple of weeks ago, Ann-Margret told the audience gathered for a 50th anniversary screening of The Cincinnati Kid in which she starred with Steve McQueen, of her lifelong love affair with speed.
“Not the drug,” she peremptorily cautioned.
It seems that since she was a little girl growing up in the flyspeck village of Valsjöbyn, Sweden — population 160 then; 98 now — Ann-Margret couldn’t get enough of motorcycles or their velocity.
“My uncle rode bikes and when I was a young child, we lived very close to the Norwegian border so we’d travel from my village all the way over among the fjords and mountains,” she said. “I loved it, and later when I saw The Wild Ones with Marlon Brando, it just blew me away. I had to have a motorcycle. My father owned an Indian motorcycle, so he really couldn’t say anything when I wanted one of my own.”
Whether on the Harley-Davidson (lavender with daisies painted on it) she still rides, or in movies like Bye Bye Birdie, Viva Las Vegas, or The Cincinnati Kid, Ann-Margret, who turns 74 at the end of the month, has a knack for making men’s hearts race. And perhaps nowhere are her wiles more front and center then as bad girl “Melba” in The Cincinnati Kid, which remains one of the greatest card-playing movies ever.
Prior to filming, Paramount Studios told Ann-Margret and McQueen that they couldn’t ride their motorcycles to work or they wouldn’t be insured.
“Steve had such animalism; he was like a cobra,” she said. “Like me, he loved speed. I was single then and rode a Triumph 500. I could identify with him because I’m a bit of a daredevil too. I love a little bit of danger and he felt the same. I remember Steve told me: ‘Let them stay nervous, that’s their job.’”
Indeed, Ann-Margret admitted with pride that the fastest she’s ever gone is 120 mph, at 2:00 a.m. on L.A.’s Mulholland Drive (a serpentine roadway which boasts almost as many curves as she does).
“There was hardly any traffic,” she reassured the audience in that same demure kitten’s-purr voice she used on her cuckold husband in The Cincinnati Kid, Karl Malden, and which reduced him to a powerless heap of gelatinous goo.
Ann-Margret said that she was cast in The Cincinnati Kid after a meeting with then-director of the film, Sam Peckinpah. About two weeks later, she learned that Norman Jewison had taken over the reins because Peckinpah had wanted to shoot the movie in black and white, like a Western.
“But a movie where you show cards all the time wouldn’t allow the audience to distinguish between the red and black cards in the poker scenes,” she said. “That would’ve been a bit of a problem.”
Ann-Margret said that she never watches her movies and has seen The Cincinnati Kid just once in the last 50 years. She has better things to do, she said, like taking care of Roger, her husband of 48 years and, every once in a while, “caning it” on her Harley just to prove she still can.
(Read about Ann-Margret’s “Cincinnati Kid” costar Steve McQueen’s need for speed at: http://www.moderntimesmagazine.com/page15/150323-Nation-McQueen-Cool-Reel-Real/150323-Nation-McQueen-Cool-Reel-Real.php)
David Fantle & Tom Johnson have been entertainment journalists for more than 30 years and co-authored the 2004 book, Reel to Real: 25 Years Of Celebrity Profiles From Vaudeville To Movies To TV. Fantle teaches film and television at Marquette University in Milwaukee and Johnson is a former senior editor for Netflix. They can be reached at www.reeltoreal.com
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