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Roger Smith

Outta Gas With Elvis

How close was it that Elvis Presley got a Swedish wife?

The answer was buried with Elvis. The only one else who possibly could have known is Colonel Parker, the one who probably got Elvis on other thoughts, have decided to remain silent. And now he too, is dead.

Very few women in Elvis' life meant as much to him as Ann-Margret.

The one, who for obvious reasons, feared the couples' hot romance more than anyone else, was Priscilla Ann Beaulieu, then just a school girl who had just turned 18, who lived "secretely" at Graceland, and who had just left high school.

And whom Elvis had promised to marry.

Some people who desperatly hoped he would break that promise to Priscilla and her parents, were the boys in the Memphis Mafia. Most of them never liked Priscilla in the first place, they considered her greedy, calculating and humourless.

Like Elvis, they came to love the redheaded girl with the green eys from Valsjobyn, Jamtland, Sweden.

She was the opposite of Priscilla. She sparked. She could dance, she could sing, she could be sexy but also shy and family loving. You could joke with her and she joked back. A hot and gorgeous thing with pizazz. She was both smart and humble. And she rode a bike!

No wonder Elvis fell.

The two met in the beginning of July in 1963. Elvis was 28, Ann-Margret 22. Both were on top of the world. For the first time Elvis and the Colonel had agreed to have a "leading lady" starring with Elvis in a film. Ann-Margret wasn't just any body, but a superstar in her own right, after the success with the musical "Bye Bye Birdie", her third film (loosely based on Elvis' joining the army).

She was so big, she had some months earlier had had the honor to sing at what was to be the last John F. Kennedy birthday party. The year before Marilyn Monroe had done this. A pretty good measure of her status. (She did "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home" at the official party, then "Bye Bye Blackbird" at the private, that followed, if anyone of you wonder).

The first meeting between Elvis and Ann-Margret was well planned by the publicity department for the upcoming film "Viva Las Vegas". Director George Sidney, who himself was pretty keen on Ann-Margret, introduced the two stars to each other at the MGM studios. Both were formally dressed, Elvis in a suit and tie, Ann-Margret in double-buttoned white turtleneck, her hair up.

They said a few polite phrases. A photographer took some shots, then it was over.

That we both possessed the devil, noone knew, Ann-Margret writes in her book.

They met again on July 11. This time to work together. The place was Radio Recorders Studio on 7000 Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles. Elvis had the days before recorded six of the songs for the film, now it was time for a couple of duets with Ann-Margret: "The Lady Loves Me" and "You're The Boss".

They found each other instantly. They were on the same wavelength. They sparkled.

When Elvis later asked his "foreman" Joe Esposito, what was so special with Ann-Margret, he replied:

- She's the female you.

Noone could have said it better. Elvis and Ann-Margret had similar personalities and qualities. They were soul mates. They both came from simple backgrounds. They were both hesitant to strangers. Sometimes very shy. But like wild animals on stage. The music transformed them. To perform was their motivation. Then they gave it all. Both of them were also night people.

Shooting started on July 15 in Las Vegas. Elvis and his entourage "occupied" the 28th floor of the Sahara Hotel. Elvis of course stayed in the presidential suite. A few floors down, Ann-Margret stayed.

It didn't take long though, before she spent nights with the "king" in his suite. They stayed inside for whole weekends. Other times, they went out together, just the two of them, without the usual of Elvis' hangers on. Elvis' buddies went crazy, this just wasn't the Elvis they were used to. On the other hand, they liked really Ann-Margret. She was straightforward and nice, sure of herself - and incredibly attractive.

There were guys of the Memphis Mafia who were just as crazy about Ann-Margret as Elvis was. To no use of course.

Elvis was head over heels in love - and when he was like that you had better watch it. You could joke of course, even about Ann-Margret. Alan Fortas, one of the guys, asked her - in the presence of Elvis - for a "favor", one time when she was dressed extremely sexy:

- Would you run round the block four times, and then lend me your pants...

The room went dead quiet for a few seconds, then both Ann-Margret and Elvis started laughing their heads off.

Shooting was a breeze, except for a few incidents with director Sidney. His love for Ann-Margret was so big, that in every scene, Elvis came to play second fiddle. Which, of course was out of the question. Elvis complained and the Colonel had to put things right. Other than that, Elvis was in a rarely good mood, day in and day out.

The Colonel however, got other things to think about, the day Elvis approached him, and demanded that he should also be Ann-Margret's manager, since she wasn't very happy with her own. Something like that was totally against his philosophy, and he soon made it clear to Elvis that if that was to happen, he would only have half the time to dedicate to Elvis, and what the consequences of such a deal would be.

Elvis gave it a minute's thought, then backed down. The Colonel knew exactly how to treat his star.

But the love between Ann-Margret and Elvis showed no signs of wearing off. On the contrary it deepened and they learned to trust each other and their feelings. Journalists soon found out this was no ordinary Hollywood romance, created by publicity agents. The articles - and the pictures! - that followed, drove Priscilla crazy back in Memphis. Elvis made sure on the phone that nothing was going on, but he couldn't calm her down. She wanted to come west herself, but Elvis put his foot down, giving various reasons for her not to come.

The main reason was, he was pretty satisfied himself. Things couldn't be better. Ann-Margret was his woman in Hollywood, and young Priscilla was his also, pining away at Graceland. But deep down, he knew of course, that finally he would have to choose.

Elvis wasn't one for brooding, though, he would rather grab his Harley, pick Ann-Margret up, and go riding round Los Angeles. The perfect way for the couple to be for themselves.

At one time though, thing didn't go too well. Elvis had just picked her up at MGM, and gone a few blocks, when he ran out of gas at the corner of Venice and Overland. Luckily enough right by a gas station, but still, he had no money.

- Neither have I, said Ann-Margret. They looked at each other foolishly and laughed. The problem was easily solved, however. The guy at the gas station got their autographs in exchange for a full tank of gas... Joe Esposito came by the next day and payed the check.

Shooting of "Viva Las Vegas" finshed on September 16, but both stars continued to see each other, as much in love as ever. Elvis started to give Ann-Margret childish nick-names, a typical sign of his warm feelings: Rusty (her name in the film), Thumper, Scoobie, Bunny.

They lived only for the moment and for each other. But times were changing. The day John F. Kennedy was shot, November 22, 1963, Elvis and Ann-Margret watched the TV broadcasts, hand in hand.

The first bad signs came, when Ann-Margret was in England to appear at the grand premiere of "Viva Las Vegas". The English press asked only about her romance with Elvis, and she, in her normal straight forward way, didn't deny it. The headlines and articles that followed gave the impression of a soon to be engagement and then marriage.

Ann-Margret called Elvis to tell him that things had been blown out of proportion, that she was misquoted. The newspapers had exaggerated, she explained.

Elvis didn't know what to think. He had also run into troubles at home. He and Priscilla fought like never before, and on several occasions, he threatened to send her back to Germany. Priscilla told her parents, who went mad. The Colonel was called in. Pressure on Elvis was increasing to end the "affair" with Ann-Margret, and to live up to his promise to Priscilla and her family.

Time had come to make up his mind.

There were those in the Memphis Mafia who are convinced, that Elvis would have chosen Ann-Margret, had she given up her career. But that was a way to high a price to pay for a young star, with her whole life ahead of her.

Suddenly - after a couple of months' storming love - Elvis just stopped to call Ann-Margret. And he didn't return her calls. She sent a telegram: I Just Don't Understand" (after one of her singles), but didn't get an answer. One day she ran into a couple of Elvis' buddies on Sunset Boulevard, and she asked what was wrong. Noone could say anything but that it was "typically Elvis".

The closest they came to a wedding was in the film's final scene, sot in a real wedding chapell in Las Vegas: Little Church of The West. An almost real illusion for both them, Priscilla, the fans - and the press.

Noone has said it out loud, but Elvis could never have married Ann-Margret, even how much he loved her. It would almost certainly have led to Priscilla suing him, he had promised to marry her. Then everything would have become known about them and their relationship in Germany, when Priscilla was only 14. That scandal could have ended his career, which he must have been aware of, especiallysince what had happened to his old buddy Jerry Lee Lewis (who had married his 13-year old second cousin, and whose career was shattered).

Time passed, and Elvis and Ann-Margret found each other again, though not in the same way as before. They gave each other presents. They attended each others shows (Ann-Margret was a sure guest when Elvis made his comeback in Las Vegas, July 31, 1969). Their close friendship lasted until Elvis' death. Ann-Margret was one of the celebrities who attended his funeral in Memphis.

To this day, Ann-Margret talks highly of Elvis. The worst thing she knows is when someone ridicules him and his artistry. He doesn't deserve that. And that comes from a woman who came him and the man behind the myth closer than few others.

Ann-Margret's got style.

Elvis would have needed a strong woman by his side.

It's a shame it wasn't her.

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Footnote 1: "Viva Las Vegas" opened in New York on April 20, 1964. It was the 11th most succesful film in the US that year, bringing in $4 675 000.

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Footnote 2: The western scenes, with a "shoot out" between Elvis and Ann-Margret was shot in Old Vegas Amusement Park in Henderson, Nevada.

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Footnote 3: The duets with Ann-Margret and Elvis were released on records long after Elvis' death.

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From the book "Elvis - King Of Sweden" by Borje Lundberg, 1997, Premium Publishing. A book about Elvis' connections to Sweden, his record releases here, etc.

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