“It’s not Ann-Margret.”
That’s Roger Sterling’s judgment in Season 3, Episode 2 of “Mad Men.” He’s commenting on an ad Sterling Cooper has created for a diet cola that shows an Ann-Margret look-a-like singing “Bye Bye Sugar,” as a take off of the real star singing the title song in the 1963 movie “Bye Bye Birdie.”
His pronouncement hones in on a pop culture truth that audiences have known for almost 60 years: There is no one like Ann-Margret.
Today, Ann-Margret, the pioneer in first-name fame, turns 80, and her starring turn in “Bye Bye Birdie”—and its later MadMen reference—is only one of her iconic moments.
Turn on the Music
Swedish-born Ann-Margaret Olsson has stayed relevant for decades. After 68 films—from Carnal Knowledge to Grumpy Old Men—two Academy Award nominations, and countless TV shows, she won an Emmy Award in 2010 for her guest appearance on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. What’s more, she has a new movie coming out in June called Queen Bees, which centers around the cliques and capers in a retirement home.
Ann-Margret said she changed “from Little Miss Lollipop to Sexpot-Banshee” once the music began.
But of course she’s known for more than her acting. She’s recorded 14 albums and she can dance—boy can she dance! She was initially billed as a female Elvis, and Life magazine, putting her on the cover, remarked that her “torrid dancing almost replaces the central heating in the theater.” Explaining her moves, the actress (who could look like a fresh-scrubbed co-ed in some photos and a seductress in others) wrote in her autobiography that she changed “from Little Miss Lollipop to Sexpot-Banshee” once the music began.
Ann-Margaret held her own in the swiveling hips department starring alongside the King himself in the film, Viva Las Vegas. The two were reported to have had a torrid affair during the making of the movie, and though she starred with other rakish types, including Steve McQueen and Jack Nicholson, Ann-Margaret settled down in 1967 with fellow actor Roger Smith. Their marriage lasted 50 years, until his death in 2017.
Of all the accolades and awards she’s received, what could mean more than having your youthful sexiness revisited in one of the most important TV shows ever? Ann-Margaret, who was at the time 68, recalls that watching herself on “Mad Men” was a bizarre experience.
“I just was sitting there wondering: OK, when is the other shoe going to fall,” she told CTV News, noting she’d only ever watched one episode of “Mad Men” before that. “When are they going to say something bad? It’s a very strange feeling, to see myself. I was sitting there so nervous!”
Of course no one said anything the least bit critical. In fact, the whole episode was a homage to the illustrious star. As the admen at Sterling Cooper said: “Men want Ann-Margret and women want to be her.” We’d say “amen” to that, but it doesn’t come close to encompassing the range of her career or the scope of her appeal.