ANN-MARGRET (1941 – )
I openly admit it; I was seventeen in 1964 when I first saw her (in Viva Las Vegas) and I positively drooled! She co-starred with some singer whose face and name I cannot recall. Why? Because all I could see was Ann-Margret. Her co-star could have performed naked throughout the entire picture, for all I know, because I don’t remember noticing him! She was originally discovered by George Burns and placed under contract with both RCA Records and 20th Century Fox, and even had a single, ‘I just Don’t Understand’, that made it into the Billboard Top Twenty in 1961.
Enter Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia
It has been said that the most memorable first screen appearances was that of Omar Sharif as he emerged from the dusty mirage aboard his camel in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) I beg to differ. Unless I am mistaken, (and that is entirely possible given my Olympic-standard drooling), Ann-Margret’s legs, topped by a pair of white short shorts, first appeared to that unknown singer’s view as he lay under his racing car affecting repairs! Our first glimpse concerned just the bottom half of her, and immediately poor Omar and his flea-bitten camel became little more than a vague memory. Omar who?
Enter Ann-Margret in Viva Las Vegas – no contest
Although she has picked up no fewer than five Golden Globe Awards and has been twice Oscar-nominated (for Carnal Knowledge (1971) and for the rock-musical Tommy in 1975), the lady very quickly became pigeon-holed as a ‘sex kitten’, so good roles proved to be few and far between for her. I have never considered her to be much of a singer, and I am less than impressed by her choice of films (although that has not been her fault, it would seem). Her looks have been somewhat of a double-edged sword, so to speak. Her sex appeal has landed her roles, yet that very same quality has excluded her from genuinely strong acting parts. In April 2022 she turned eighty-one. Somehow, I just cannot think of her as an octogenarian!
GENE AUTRY (1907-98)
The job description ‘singing cowboy’ has never been one that sent me scurrying to the cinema, not even as a Saturday morning matinee little boy, and most certainly not as an adult! I have enjoyed John Wayne westerns (most of them) down the decades, but not even ‘the Duke’ could entice me into watching his ‘Singing Sandy’ offerings when he first started his career. Unlike most of my schoolmates, I was not into Roy ‘bloody’ Rogers either. Mind you, I thought he had a nice looking horse, going by the still shots of him atop Trigger. In fairness to Autry, however, it was he that put the ‘singing cowboy’ on the map. The others merely jumped on the band wagon. And for two or three decades it was quite a ride. Autry’s pictures nearly always brought in around ten times what they cost to churn out. The man was a walking, riding, singing gold mine. And he also wrote songs – over two hundred of them. In fact, his ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’ sold over thirty million copies, making it the second highest-selling Christmas song of all time, beaten only by Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’.
Gene was discovered singing in a telegraph office in Oklahoma by Will Rogers. Will suggested he try his luck in California, so Gene packed up and moved to Hollywood. By 1940, his movies were making enough money at the box-office to place him fourth-highest in all the money-earners in the movies. Only the films of Mickey Rooney, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy raked in more cash than his. Even four years’ service in the armed forces (Air Transport Command from 1942 to 1946), scarcely put a dent in Autry’s popularity. At war’s end he signed with Columbia Pictures, after which he formed his own production company. In his hey-day he was making six to eight feature films each year. Of the ninety-two feature films he starred in throughout his lifetime, only two were in colour.
In response to his millions of fans Gene even invented his ‘Cowboy Code’:
- The cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
- He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
- He must always tell the truth.
- He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
- He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
- He must help people in distress.
- He must be a good worker.
- He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action and personal habits.
- He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.
- The Cowboy is a patriot.
No wonder I had little time for ‘Singing cowboys’! Never shoot first? Few cowboys would last long if they let the ‘baddie’ take a free shot! And what if ‘the smaller man’ had a gun or a dozen mates to back him up? And I never met a kid in my life who always told the truth – including me. As for ‘being a good worker’, that’s a bit rich coming from a fella whose idea of a hard day’s work was to sit on his horse, play his guitar and sing. And ‘parents’ should have to earn respect like everyone else. As for being a patriot; that sounds too much like the abominable ‘my country right or wrong’ philosophy that has caused more wars than you can poke a stick at!
A Dell Gene Autry Comic Book
It seemed that everything he put his hand to succeeded. By 1948, Dell Publishing was printing more than a million Gene Autry Comic Books per year. After he retired from the screen he invested in numerous business ventures, including running his own television and radio stations. His real estate holdings helped make him a multi-millionaire. In 1992, he was estimated to be worth $320 million! Eventually, Gene owned the California Angels Baseball franchise, before he sold part of his interest to Disney and they became the Anaheim Angels. In 1942, the citizens of the Oklahoma township of Berwyn decided to change the town’s name to Gene Autry. He died in 1998 from lymphoma, four days after his ninety-first birthday.