Thursday, June 8, 2017

LIZ SMITH: The 50-Year Love Affair

Ann-Margret and Roger Smith.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

The 50-Year Love Affair of Ann-Margret and Roger Smith.


“I JUST want to thank you for always being so good to my wife. She appreciates it very much. I do too."

Those were Roger Smith’s last words to me, after I’d sat with his wife, Ann-Margret, backstage in Philadelphia, where she was appearing in a modest, but highly entertaining road company production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” back in 2002.

I’d interviewed A-M quite a few times by then, and more chats would follow.  But this became my favorite memory of the flame-haired star, because it involved her husband. (Several years previously we’d met to discuss some film she was promoting). I found her lovely and shy as usual — shyer, actually, and more than a bit distracted.  Finally, she asked if we could end the talk. “Roger isn’t feeling well. He’s in the bedroom. Do you mind?” Of course, I didn’t. Although such is her cooperative personality, I felt that if I’d said, “We didn’t get enough” she’d have continued. 

In Philadelphia, however, she was on fire.  Perhaps it was the energy of having just come off stage. She was totally adorable and welcoming in her dressing room.  She showed me her costumes like an excited child (“look at the beading!  Look how well it’s sewn!”), raving about her onstage co-stars, and getting misty-eyed talking about Elvis.
Being something of an expert on her film career — which always seemed to astonish and please her — I joked around a bit about her famously over-the-top juvenile-delinquent saga, "Kitten With a Whip." Emboldened by her mood, I began throwing out some of her more wacky lines from the film, which, incredibly, she remembered. She was laughing hysterically when Roger Smith walked in. 
Her face, already radiant, blossomed even more. "Roger! Roger! Listen to this!" A bit embarrassed, I did the lines again and he also laughed heartily.  “My God, how do you two remember that?  Go on the road with this act!”  Ann-Margret had stood up, and Roger leaned in and gave his wife a huge, enveloping hug. Their mutual love and respect was touchingly obvious.
Roger Smith and Ann-Margret in 1972.
Roger Smith died on Sunday. He had suffered from myasthenia gravis for many years, although he never let that interfere with the passionate commitment he’d made to A-M, when he gave up his own successful acting career, to manage (with the help of Alan Carr) hers.  Smith is best known for his TV role in “77 Sunset Strip” and as the “beastly, Babbity, bourgeoisie” grown-up Patrick Dennis, in the 1958 film, “Auntie Mame.”
Smith as Mister Roberts in “77 Sunset Strip.”
A-M had risen explosively fast, but times were changing, she was rushed into too many films, her image was exploited, not shaped carefully.  Roger Smith was careful, and smart—wisely guiding her through choppy waters until she re-established herself with Oscar nominations, dazzling live appearances (in which she could let loose the “other” Ann-Margret, so different from the modest young woman one was always faced with, in close quarters), and brilliant TV movies.  

I extend my deepest sympathies to Roger’s three children from his first marriage, and to Ann-Margret.  Her 50-year marriage was quiet, private, scandal free.  Watching them together backstage in Philly, and when Roger Smith expressed his thanks for “being nice” to his wife—as if anybody could be mean to this lovely woman!—I saw clearly the love, mutual respect and need. 
Roger and Ann-Margret in 2010.
Several years before Smith and Ann-Margret met, her stardom was solidified with the release of “Bye, Bye Birdie.”  At the time, she was considered something of a femme fatale, a fan magazine idée fixe based more on her flamboyant image than her real life (she dated, like any pretty young woman, naturally.)   In “Birdie,” which capitalized on her sensuality, she did warble a sweet number, “One Boy,” which contained the lyrics: “One day you'll find out This is what life is all about/ You need someone who is living just for you.” 

For 50 years, Roger Smith and Ann-Margret paid close attention and honored those lyrics.
THERE IS still time to catch “Merciful Delusions: An Evening of One-Act Plays by Tennessee Williams.” This is happening — until the 11th — down at the HB Playwrights Theatre (124 Bank Street) directed by Lorraine Serbian. 

The six one-act plays are “Hello From Bertha” ... ”The Lady of Larkspur Lotion” ... ”Moony’s Kid Don’t Cry” ... ”A Perfect Analysis Given By a Parrott” ... ”The Case of the Crushed Petunias”  and “This Property is Condemned.”  (Movie fans and Williams aficionados recall that “This Property ... ” was made into a very good 1966 movie starring Natalie Wood and Robert Redford).  For tix go to HelloBertha.eventbrite.com
RECENTLY, we wrote about Quest magazine’s “30 Years” covering who is/was important in New York society and points elsewhere.

There were truly divine photos of past heroes and heroines, plus villains, every ten years in the May issue. It’s a grand collection!

There you can find your long lost VIP’s and just maybe yourself when you were younger. (Of course, I am there in a Harry Benson photo behind a big dessert. Yes, my life has been years and years of sweetness since I landed in Manhattan, as a nobody, circa 1949!)
Many people asked me where they can get Quest? Well, in NYC at the little bodegas and newsstands left on the East Side. But you can subscribe to this beautiful magazine at Quest Subscription, 420 Madison Ave, 16th Floor, NYC, 10017-1177. 2 years for $75 and one year for $48. If you subscribe, you’ll get the digital edition free.

Be sure you ask for the “30 Years” of so-called society in the May edition! This winner is almost sold out!

Well and good, but I have to ask the creative publishers Chris Meigher and his daughter Elizabeth, why they don’t bring this May issue back as a book? 

Contact Liz here.