Elvis Presley first met Ann-Margret in 1963 when production began on his feature film Viva Las Vegas – which hit cinemas this week, March 13, back in 1964. What started out as a sordid affair eventually blossomed into a loving relationship between the two Hollywood stars. But not every moment of their relationship was filled with joy. Elvis found himself becoming furious when the film’s focus was moving away from him, and onto Ann-Margret.
At the time, Ann-Margret’s career was growing exponentially. She had previously starred in the runaway blockbuster hit Bye Bye Birdie, and Viva Las Vegas was sure to make her an even bigger star.
Elvis knew this and he also knew she’d be a great fit for his image, but he didn’t expect the Viva Las Vegas director to take quite a shine to Ann-Margret once the cameras started rolling.
Filmmaker George Sidney reportedly started giving Ann-Margret more “favourable” camera angles during filming. This meant Elvis lost out on some major scenes. Eventually, the King of Rock and Roll’s ego got the better of him.
According to Red West, one of Elvis’ close friends in the Memphis Mafia, the star ranted furiously about George and Ann-Margret teaming up against him.
Red said Elvis “complained bitterly that the ‘son of a b***h was trying to cut him out of the picture'”.
Eventually, Elvis went to his boss, Colonel Tom Parker, to smooth everything out. He, naturally, was not happy at all with what was going on. So he went over the director’s head and pulled rank on him.
The Elvis biographer, Peter Guralnick, claimed Parker went to the film’s producers to remind them who the real star of the movie was: Elvis Presley.
On top of reminding them that this “was an Elvis Presley picture” and that the focus should always be on him, he pointed out Ann-Margret shouldn’t be in as many songs as Elvis was.
The producers disagreed. They felt that focusing on Ann-Margret would bring in another kind of audience, expanding the box office potential.
But, according to Peter, Colonel Tom wasn’t going to hear it. And, as a result, he “pulled two of the three duets” from Viva Las Vegas that included both Elvis and Ann-Margret.
By the time Viva Las Vegas came out, Elvis had been placated. The King had six songs in the film, while Ann-Margret had just two solo performances, and one duet.
Ann-Margret never commented publicly on this disagreement, but she never really lost out. Her co-starring role with Elvis meant her career exploded almost overnight, and the affair she had with him made her the talk of the town for decades.
Ann-Margret and Elvis split up when Viva Las Vegas came out, following a rumour that they had gotten engaged in secret.
When these false headlines made their way to Elvis’ long-term girlfriend, Priscilla Presley, she was filled with rage. She demanded Elvis break things off with Ann-Margret, and he did as he was told.
Despite this, Elvis and Ann-Margret remained friends until his death. He even sent her flowers every night while she was performing at her Las Vegas residency slot in the 1970s.
She was also the only person from Elvis’ Hollywood life that attended his expansive funeral.