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(Credit: MGM)

Music

Exploring the romance between Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret

@SamWKemp

Aside from a grand piano, the MGM sound stage was completely empty. Over in the corner, a few technicians could be heard lugging pieces of equipment to and fro, but apart from that, the only sound was the echo of heels on the polished wooden floor. As Ann-Margret and Elvis Presley walked over to one another, photographers began taking shots of what the studio executives clearly thought would prove to be a historic moment.

The significance of the meeting was lost on the pair themselves, however. “Elvis Presley, I’d like you to meet a wonderful young lady, Ann-Margret,” said George Sidney, the director MGM’s upcoming film, Viva Las Vegas. “Ann-Margret, this is Elvis Presley.” They shook each other by the hand gently, managing to garble the words: “I’ve heard a lot about you,” at precisely the same moment, and leaving them staring at each other blankly, before they began to chuckle, awkwardly to begin with, but then with more and more confidence until their laughter was bouncing around the walls like so many pinballs. That meeting would launch a successful professional relationship between Ann-Margret and Elvis that would gradually transform into a romantic one, with the production of Viva Las Vegas providing the backdrop for one of the fieriest on-set love affairs in Hollywood history.

When Ann-Margret met Elvis Presley on the set of Viva Las Vegas, in July ’63, she was 22 and Elvis was 28. With a few years on his co-star, Elvis was already an established actor, with something 14 films in the can. Ann-Margret, on the other hand, was at the dawn of her career. The star of Bye Bye Birdie was well aware that Elvis was a man who had managed to win the heart of practically every woman he’d ever met. In fact, being the late-night fantasy of every housewife in America, he’d even managed to win over the hearts of women he hadn’t met. The last thing Ann-Margret expected, however, was that she too would fall for him.

Before principal photography began, she and Elvis were sent to a recording studio to record their solo numbers for the production. As they ran through their respective material, singing take after take after take, their minds began to wander, returning to that first meeting in the darkness of MGM studios. Then, on July, 11th Elvis and Ann-Margret stepped into the same cramped booth to record three duets, ‘The Lady Loves Me,’ ‘You’re the Boss,’ and ‘Today, Tomorrow, and Forever,’ sparking something that would continue to smoulder as principal photography began, at which point they travelled to Las Vegas.

Here, their romance began in earnest. As Ann-Margret once recalled: “Initially, Elvis and I might’ve admitted that the only heat between us came from the hot desert sun,” but as the days passed it became clear that the co-stars were besotted with one another, with one AP writing a note that read: “They hold hands. They disappear into his dressing room between shots. They lunch together in seclusion.”

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Elvis and Anne-Margret quickly fell for each other, finding in each other everything they themselves lacked. Whether it was a love of music, a passion for motorcycles, or a devotion to God, everything they loved about life was reflected back onto them, as though they had both stumbled into a hall of mirrors and, with no intention of leaving, decided to make it their home. Even when they danced, they were perfectly aligned: “When Elvis thrust his pelvis, mine slammed forward too. When his shoulder dropped, I was down there with him. When he whirled, I was already on my heel,” Ann-Margret said. They opened themselves up to one another entirely and baked in that honesty for as long as they could. But, it couldn’t last forever.

During the production of Viva Las Vegas, it became apparent to Ann-Margret that Elvis had one hell of an ego. It was Elvis’ opinion that the director, George Sidney, was giving his co-star favourable camera angles at his expense. Elvis would go on to complain that the “sonofabitch was trying to cut him out of the picture.” And in a way, he wasn’t wrong. In the final cut, it was clear that George Sidney had ensured that Ann-Margret’s beauty and talents as a dancer were properly recognised, occasionally meaning that Elvis had to take the back seat. Despite the controversy, however, the ‘Hound Dog’ singer found reason to swallow his pride.

When filming for Viva Las Vegas concluded, Ann-Margaret and Presely’s romance continued, with Elvis showering his one-time co-star with letters, flowers, and elaborate gifts, such as a pink love-heart bed. But, in 1967, their relationship came to an abrupt end. In her autobiography, Ann-Margret speaks of the various “other factors in Elvis’s life that forced him apart from me,” the biggest of which was that he had likely already promised himself to another woman, Priscilla, who he married in Las Vegas on May 1st, 1967. A year later Ann-Margaret married the actor Roger Smith. But, despite the fact they didn’t end up together, Elvis and Ann-Margret remained firm friends for the next ten years.

In fact, when Elvis opened at the International Hotel on July 31, 1969, he walked out onto the stage and saw Ann-Margret front and centre. I like to think that, just for a moment, Elvis saw the room go dark and the audience dissolve into thin air, leaving the pair standing in an empty room, just as they had been the day they met.