The Secrets Behind Ann-Margret And Roger Smith'S 50-Year Marriage
Swedish-born, Midwestern-bred actress Ann-Margret first met actor Roger Smith around the time she appeared in her first feature film, 1961's Pocketful of Miracles with Bette Davis. Barely an adult, she hadn't yet established herself as the sexy female lead known for roles opposite such stars as Elvis Presley and Dick Van Dyke. Smith, then in his late 20s, was starring in television's 77 Sunset Strip.
"Every other woman I met was falling all over me," Smith told New York magazine in 1976 of his first impression of Ann, "but this innocent, fresh-faced beauty only spoke to me when I spoke to her and the rest of the time ignored me. I was impressed."
They wouldn't meet again until five years later. By then, Ann-Margret's career had peaked and appeared to be on the decline; 77 Sunset Strip was over and Roger Smith was separated from his wife of nine years, Australian actress Victoria Shaw. They began dating after Smith invited her to the San Francisco nightclub where he was singing. He took her out to dinner the next night, then for a ride on his private plane the following day.
"The man that I married is the man I knew I was going to marry on the third date," Ann-Margret told the New York Times in 1994.
Ann-Margret's parents reportedly disapproved of their relationship, likely because Smith, a father of three, was technically still married—but that didn't stop the pair from tying the knot in a Las Vegas civil ceremony two years after Smith's divorce was final. On May 8, 1967, Ann-Margret, 26, and Roger Smith, 34, were married in a cigarette-smoke-filled room at the Riviera Hotel.
"This is not the way I envisioned my wedding," Ann-Margret toldPeople recently. "I think everyone thought I was pregnant because I was crying though the whole thing. But we did it."
Smith proved to be a shrewd business manager, helping Ann-Margret pay off debts that totaled more than her annual salary in just two years. He adored her, believed in her talent, and took pride in her career. It wasn't long before he floated the idea of becoming her manager. Acting no longer fulfilled him, he reasoned, and she had more "raw talent." The long, miserable stints apart from each other, when Ann-Margret would be called off to Italy for work, for instance, helped solidify the decision.
"When I met Ann-Margret, I felt happy for the first time in my life," Smith told New York. "Once I found Ann-Margret, I couldn't stand to be without her and, surprisingly, she couldn't stand to be without me."
When Ann-Margret was a year old, her father had moved to the U.S. in pursuit of work, leaving her and her mother behind in Sweden. They eventually joined him, but for those five-and-half years apart, Ann-Margret was the closest witness to the loneliness and devastation her mother experienced. Entertainment journalists would later speculate that the actress's developmental years had left her with deep-seated fears of abandonment.
"She wanted me to be like her father and I wanted to do it for her," Smith said. "It's corny but true: By doing what she wanted, I liked myself much better. Being with her was more important than all my childhood dreams about being a famous actor."
This year marks their 50th anniversary. Over their decades together, the business and marital partners have leaned on each other during trying times marked by substance abuse, life-altering injury, and chronic illness. (They have no children together.)
Around the time Ann-Margret was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in 1971's Carnal Knowledge, she was dependent on pills and alcohol, unable to distinguish fantasy from reality, she told the New York Times. A year later, while performing in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, she fell from an elevated platform on stage and broke her left arm, cheekbone, and jawbone. Coming to her rescue, Smith piloted a stolen plane from Burbank, California, and rushed her to surgeons at a UCLA medical center.
She couldn't work for 10 weeks; the facial reconstructive surgery she'd undergone required wiring her jaws shut. During that time, she was on a liquid diet and Smith insisted friends carry wire cutters anytime she went out with them—in case of an emergency, they could cut the wires. Amazingly, Ann-Margret returned to the stage almost completely normal again.
In 1980, Smith was diagnosed with the rare neuromuscular disease myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune condition that can cause difficulty swallowing and speaking, and muscle weakness in the arms and legs. But through it all, Ann-Margret, 76, says her marriage to Smith, 84, has lasted because, as she told People, "we both want it to work."
Well, that, and their shared sense of self-deprecating humor. "We get into weird situations," she said. "If you can't laugh at yourself you are in trouble. We laugh before everyone else does."