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CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD

Hello, 'Birdie'

A chance encounter got Ann-Margret her role in 'Bye Bye Birdie,' the 1963 musical that made her a star.

April 25, 2011|Susan King

The iconic musical number that serves as a prologue and epilogue to the 1963 musical comedy "Bye Bye Birdie" was something of an afterthought. Six months after principal photography ended on the musical, director George Sidney brought the film's young star Ann-Margret back to Columbia Pictures to shoot the new musical number, "Bye Bye Birdie."

And the rest is pop culture history.

Placed on a treadmill with a fan hitting her red tresses, Ann-Margret was shot against a vibrant blue background. The treadmill moved her back and forth in front of the camera, as she crooned the tune in a form-fitting dress with a flouncy skirt.

"Mr. Sidney came up with the idea," recalled Ann-Margret, who turns 70 this week. "The studio didn't want to do it, so he paid for it himself. When the studio saw the actual movie with that they reimbursed him."

Two years ago, AMC's Emmy Award-winning series "Mad Men" paid homage to that song when they tried to re-create it for a cola ad. It was a disaster, which lead ad exec Roger Sterling to explain the reason it didn't work was because "it's not Ann-Margret."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, April 26, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Ann-Margret: An article in the April 25 Calendar section about Ann-Margret's notable film roles identified the character she played in "Carnal Knowledge" as Susan. She played Bobbie; Susan was portrayed by Candice Bergen.

Ann-Margret recalled that her daughter-in-law called her when the episode aired. Both the actress and her husband of nearly 44 years, Roger Smith, both got tears in their eyes, "because it was so kind and loving."

The film made Ann-Margret, who had previously appeared in 1961's "Pocketful of Miracles" and 1962's "State Fair," an overnight sensation.

"She bursts off the screen in the movie," said film historian and critic Stephen Farber. Farber will be chatting with Ann-Margret and former teen singing sensation Bobby Rydell, 69, who plays her boyfriend, Hugo, Wednesday evening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater. Before the discussion, there'll be a screening of a new digital restoration of the film. (The event is sold out but there will be a standby line.)

"Bye Bye Birdie" began as a Broadway musical in 1960. It was penned by Michael Stewart with a score by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams that includes such hits as "Put On a Happy Face," "Kids" and "A Lot of Livin' to Do." The musical is a satire based on Elvis Presley's induction into the Army. Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) is a teen sensation who, after he is drafted, is slated to give a farewell performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," singing a new tune, "One Last Kiss," to one of his devoted fans, Kim (Ann-Margret), in her hometown of Sweet Apple, Ohio. Also starring are Dick Van Dyke, reprising his Tony Award-winning turn as Birdie's songwriter, Albert; Janet Leigh as Albert's girlfriend, Rosie; Paul Lynde, also from the Broadway play, as Kim's harried father; and Maureen Stapleton as Albert's possessive mother.

Ann-Margret said she was cast not because of her previous film work but because of her dancing ability. "It was New Year's Eve 1961, and I was on a date with someone and we were with another couple," the actress said. "We were at the Sands in their little lounge. There was dancing there, and my date didn't dance, but the other gentleman did. We were up there dancing. It was the time of the twist. And isn't it something, Mr. Sidney was in that room watching me!"

Rydell, who is still good friends with Ann-Margret, was at the height of his teen idol hysteria with such hits as "Wild One" and "Volare" when he landed the role of Hugo. "I never saw the show but the part of Hugo Peabody was nothing on Broadway," said Rydell, who still does a "Birdie" medley in his singing act. "George Sidney must have seen some magic between Ann-Margret and myself because every day my script got larger and larger and larger. I got to sing and did all of that dancing."

susan.king@latimes.com

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'Bye Bye Birdie'

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Samuel Goldwyn Theater, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills

Information: www.oscars.org

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Viva Ann-Margret

She's played sloe-eyed vamps and someone's mother and she's still here.

'Carnal Knowledge'

Ann-Margret was nominated for a supporting actress Oscar in Mike Nichols' controversial 1971 drama. She stole the film as Susan, a party girl who enters into a horrific relationship with a womanizer (Jack Nicholson).

'Tommy'

The actress picked up a Golden Globe and lead actress Oscar nod as pinball wizard Tommy's (Roger Daltrey) outrageous mother in Ken Russell's electric 1975 adaptation of the Who's seminal rock opera.

'Viva Las Vegas'

Ann-Margret reunited with her "Bye Bye Birdie" director, George Sidney, for this rollicking 1964 Elvis Presley musical in which she plays swimming instructor Rusty Martin, who is romanced by Presley's Grand Prix racer, Lucky.

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