Ann-Margret, in the Flesh

Beyond age 60, the legendary sex kitten has an adoring Castro crowd writhing in ecstasy

Frasier leads Ann-Margret from Sweden, where her mother sang folk songs for a town of 150, across the ocean aboard the Gripsholm to New York City, where her father immediately took her to see the Rockettes with anAl Jolson movieat Radio City Music Hall.

"It was so huge and so, so beautiful," says Ann-Margret in a voice filled with husky excitement as she scoots to the edge of her seat and stares up at the gold-gilt ceiling of the Castro Theatre. "I couldn't speak a word of English, but I had never seen anything so beautiful. Thirteen years later, I was on a marquee. I still can't believe that."

Frasier invites her to talk about George Burns, who discovered her singing in a nightclub and brought her on tour; and Montgomery Clift, who brought her to the set of The Misfits when she was still singing with a band; and Bette Davis, who taught her the meaning of a close-up; and Jack Nicholson, who taught her how to cry; and Mike Nichols, who believed she could be a serious actress; and Roger Smith, her husband and manager, who believed she could be anything. But Frasier skirts the subject of Elvis, a tender topic that still makes Ann-Margret teary. (A-M and Roger Smith were among the very few celebrities to attend his funeral.)

Folks wanting "dish" will have to wait. Folks wanting Ann-Margret get tales about a fluffy white dog named Missy and owning the same house for 34 years. They get a glimpse of what it's like to stare into the business end of a giant baked-bean cannon while pretending not to see it; they get to chuckle at a woman's age, even if it's not really 105, and learn facts about real-life Texas madams; they get to hear rousing renditions of the Illinois New Trier High Schoolcheer; and discover how music can make a polite small-town girl feel free.

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