The world exists because of vamps. Mythical Venus ruled the Romans; Cleopatra commanded the Nile; Salome undid John the Baptist. In the modern world of the West, Eva Tanguay was the "I Don't Care" girl; Josephine Baker flaunted her phallic bananas; silent-film star Theda Bara was The Devil's Daughter and the Siren of Hell; Mae West talked and oozed sex and spent the night in jail. As time progressed, the wicked stilettos of voracious sex appeal were filled by Jane Russell (recall her body in The Outlaw), seductive singer Eartha Kitt, and stripper Tempest Storm, who finally hung up her famous G-string at age 65.
In 1964, bodacious, Swedish-born Ann-Margret Olsson was known mostly for a few small, girl-next-door roles. Then came Viva Las Vegas. Clad in bikinis and leotards that would have embarrassed a gynecologist, Ann-Margret swiveled and strutted her 5-foot-5-inch frame to the rockin' beats of the King and even topped him in bad, bad body language. But it wasn't just her perfect physique that throttled you; it was that red hair, those brown eyes, and, yes, that rack. Ann-Margret was on the map, but with all her slithering, she was still a nice girl—until Kitten With a Whip. Critics hated it, but Kitten tattooed Ann-Margret on the chest of pop culture forever. As juvenile-delinquent doll Jody, Ann-Margret played it psycho and sexy in a crazy-drivin', crazy-drinkin' camp flick that spontaneously combusts at the end of too much hellraising. At the same time, Ann-Margret was releasing albums and charting rock singles such as the electric "I Just Don't Understand" and "Thirteen Men," a loungy post-nuclear fantasy about being the only female left on Earth. Miss Vixen even gyrated for the kiddies as cartoon character Ann-Margrock in an episode of The Flintstones.
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Like most vamp girls, Ann-Margret was always underrated as an actress. But above the boobs was a brain, and in 1971, Ann-Margret took a chance in Mike Nichols' film Carnal Knowledge. Although still cast as a sexpot, her portrayal of a tormented goddess earned her an Academy Award nomination. A few years later, she received another nomination as the drunken hottie mother splashing around in satin sheets filled with baked beans in the Who's Tommy. In her 40s and 50s, this real-life motorcycle-riding kitten continued to burn up highways—and Vegas nightclubs, cooing her "come and get me" songs and flashing a bod that would make a teenager turn crimson.
But the coolest thing about Miss Ann-Margret has always been her willingness to let us ogle and pant and be oblivious to her depth. She never complained like Marilyn or Jayne, and that takes some hefty ovaries.
Right now, you can get as close as you're ever gonna get to the ultimate kitten. Ann-Margret is coming to see you, OC, in the revived production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, in which she'll romp, stomp and toot your horn till the bulls keel over. And what else would we expect from the 61-year-old symbol of all that is dreamy about women? Why, to play a madam, of course.
Ann-Margret appears in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 556-2787. Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7:30 p.m. Through Feb. 10. $27.50-$64.50.