Updated April 5, 2021 - 7:24 pm
At some point in the conversation, Ann-Margret casually drops the initials. “E.P.”
As in, “We were friends for a long time, E.P. and I. We met on the movie, we had several things in common, including a love for Las Vegas. We dated, and we just had a great time together.”
E.P. would be Elvis Presley, and the movie was “Viva Las Vegas,” the 1964 classic that solidified the city’s image as place to set yer soul on fire. The scene where the duo blaze through “C’mon Everybody,” with the “University of Nevada” lettering in the background, was set at what is today UNLV’s Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art.
It is appropriate, then, that Ann-Margret heads up the list of inductees for the upcoming 17th Annual UNLV College of Fine Arts Hall of Fame event set for April 13 at the university’s outdoor Valerie Pida Plaza. The event was rescheduled from last year because of pandemic public-gathering restrictions.
Ann-Margret joins the writer and cultural critic Dave Hickey, Harrah’s headlining magician Mac King and Luxor headlining comedian Carrot Top (legal name Scott Thompson) as fellow inductees. Trumpet great and singer Brian Newman will receive the inaugural Las Vegas Newcomer Award. Newman has made an impact in town as bandleader and performer for Lady Gaga, and as the front man for the “After Dark” late-night hang at NoMad Restaurant.
Also being recognized with the Koep Dean’s Medal are Justin Favela, UNLV alumnus and mixed media and installation artist; and Candy Schneider, vice president of education and outreach for The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Stage director and educator Giovanna Sardelli (daughter of esteemed Vegas singer Nelson Sardelli), and mixed-media artist Sush Machida will be recognized as Alumni of the Year.
The Hall of Fame was founded in 2003 to honor past and present residents of Southern Nevada who have made a significant impact in the areas of visual arts, performing arts, and/or architecture. Past inductees include Tony Curtis, Phyllis McGuire, Robert Goulet, The Killers, Wayne Newton, Liberace, Clint Holmes, Penn & Teller, Lance Burton and Siegfried & Roy.
Ann-Margret is no question a deserving member of that list of dignitaries, especially at UNLV. “Viva Las Vegas” was directed by UNLV College of Fine Arts Hall of Fame inaugural inductee and film-studies guest speaker George Sidney. Ann-Margret was cast in the film about four years after opening in Las Vegas as a performer, at the since-imploded Dunes.
“I started in 1960. I was a toddler, very young,” she said with a laugh. “I had been at Northwestern for about a year, and three gentlemen and I created a band called the Suttletones and were hired by the Dunes lounge. We were on at like 5 in the afternoon until 8 o’clock at night. Nobody came to see us perform. They were in there to drink and talk.”
Tony Bennett and Al Hirt, with whom Ann-Margret would later record, were headlining the showroom at the time.
Ann-Margret wend on to forge a successful stage career in Vegas, with her Dunes shows leading to a stint opening for George Burns at the Sahara. She headlined Las Vegas Hilton and Caesars Palace, along with the Dunes. She has also been nominated for two Oscars (for 1971’s “Carnal Knowledge” and 1975’s “Tommy”), along with five Golden Globe awards, two Grammys and an Emmy.
The headliner also developed a fondness for motorcycles, starting with the Honda 150 she cruised in “Viva Las Vegas.” That scene was the inspiration for a number in “Vegas! The Show” at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, the Honda swapped out for a Vespa.
Ann-Margret had graduated to a Harley-Davidson and rode one to the the opening of the Harley-Davidson Cafe on the Strip in 1999. As she says, “I love my motorcycles and the big noise they make.”
The entertainer has no real “feel” for today’s Las Vegas, having spent many years away from the city.
“It has been so long, I really don’t know what it’s like now,” she said. “But I have very fond memories, so many good friends there. I have good, warm, fabulous feelings about Las Vegas. Performing there helped me put three children through college.”
The classic film, too, is a fond memory, as is “E.P.”
“What can I say?” Ann-Margret said. “Yes, certainly admired and respected him. We were a lot alike and made a great movie together.”
When was the last time she saw “Viva Las Vegas?” Not recently.
“When it came out, in 1964,” Ann-Margret said with a laugh. “I never see my movies more than once. I like to keep it it that way, in my memories.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.