BACKSTORY: Edited from

Born in Sweden on April 28, 1941, Ann-Margret Olsson came to America at age five. She began taking dance lessons at age eight, showing natural ability from the start. Her parents were very supportive and encouraged her to enter talent contests, and in 1957, she performed live on national television at age 16. After attending Northwestern University for a year, she left for Las Vegas to pursue a career as a singer. She was discovered by George Burns and soon afterward got both a record deal at RCA and a film contract at 20th Century Fox. In 1961, her single "I Just Don't Understand" charted in the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 Charts. Her acting debut followed the same year as Bette Davis' daughter in Frank Capra's remake Pocketful of Miracles (1961). A year later, she starred in the musical State Fair (1962) and won a Golden Globe Award for "Most Promising Newcomer" before her breakthrough the following year.

With the blockbuster successes of Bye Bye Birdie (1963) and Viva Las Vegas (1964), Ann-Margret became a Top 10 Box Office star, teen idol, cultural icon, and was dubbed "the female Elvis Presley". A flood of highly-marketed pictures followed, including Kitten with a Whip (1964), Bus Riley's Back in Town (1965), The Cincinnati Kid (1965), Made in Paris (1966) and The Swinger (1966). Most of these movies capitalized on her sex bomb image rather than her acting capabilities. She could not escape being typecast because of her great looks. As a result, her film career cooled down in the late 1960s, and she turned to Las Vegas sing-and-dance shows and television specials for new projects. After a few less-publicized films, she struck gold with the groundbreaking drama Carnal Knowledge (1971) and scored her first Oscar nomination. A near-fatal accident at a Lake Tahoe show in 1972 only momentarily stopped her career. After her recovery, she returned in full-force and was Oscar-nominated again for her intense performance in Tommy (1975), the rock opera film of the British rock band The Who. She followed with a variety of impressive and entertaining films such as Joseph Andrews (1977), Magic (1978) and The Villain (1979).

Her film career remained steady into the 1980s, with strong turns in The Return of the Soldier (1982), Twice in a Lifetime (1985) and 52 Pick-Up (1986). However, these were outnumbered by poorly received comedies like Lookin' to Get Out (1982), a film now only notable for featuring the screen debut of future superstar Angelina Jolie. She started to make some television films, and received the first of many Emmy nominations for her performance in Who Will Love My Children? (1983) (TV). A late career highlight for her was Grumpy Old Men (1993), as the object of desire of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. She continues to act in movies today.


N.Y. Times Review by Bosley Crowther, April 5, 1963: WHAT with the streets of New York crowded with young people out of school and the breezes that blow in from New Jersey warm with the breath of spring, the Music Hall has a fitting picture to go with its holiday show and its annual "Glory of Easter" pageant. It is the screen adaptation of the musical comedy "Bye Bye Birdie," which is not about birds but about kids.

That is to say, it is fitting and delightfully in the groove when it is doing with verve and versatility the things that were done best on the stage. These are a couple of numbers in which young people dance and sing with the nimble and joyous exuberance of daffodils bursting into bloom and, by and large all scenes in the picture wherein Conrad Birdie appears, he being the teen-agers' singing idol who is beautifully, sharply travestied.

When the chorus of bright and limber youngsters in this highly appropriate spoof of a fad such as — well, Elvis Presley — do the song called "The Telephone Hour," wherein the high-school kids in a community monopolize the invention of Mr. Bell, it hums with vitality and humor; and when they do the number "Kids," it jumps with the pace and vigor of totally realized youth.

Likewise, when Jesse Pearson in the riotously gross and gilded role of a hip-swiveling, rubber-lipped jive-crooner bounces into the young people's midst and tears the girls (and some of their mothers) to tatters with his howling of "Ya Wanna Be Sincere," the picture reaches the high point of its satire and cinematic speed. If George Sidney, the director, had done the whole thing in the style of this number, he'd be in.

But, unfortunately, Mr. Sidney and his scriptwriter, Irving Brecher, have allowed the essence of this spirited musical comedy of Michael Stewart to get away from them. Not only do they lose Conrad Birdie in the mazes of their rearranged plot, but they lose the essential idea of satire and the pace and sparkle of the show.

Once Conrad Birdie has been deposited in a jittering Ohio town and given one smashing exposure to the population and the audience, he is pretty much dropped out of the picture and most of the time is taken up with the largely superfluous unfolding of a rocky romance between Janet Leigh and Dick Van Dyke. These two play a couple of New York characters who are trying to plug a song.

Even a crucial teen-age romance between Ann-Margret and Bobby Rydell, both attractive youngsters but still with a lot to learn, is pushed aside while that big bicker between Miss Leigh and Mr. Van Dyke is waged to a point of tedium and a none-too-soon fare-thee-well. Maureen Stapleton as Mr. Van Dyke's mother is dragged in for some farcical relief.

The climax comes with a mad bit about a Russian ballet troupe being forced to speed up its performance on an Ed Sullivan television show. While the spoof of Sullivan is okay, this other slap-stick nonsense is for the birds. But it is not for "Bye Bye Birdie," which is supposed to be about American kids.