Gay Culture: Ann-Margret, Kitten with a Whip

Ann-Margret’s career got a tremendous boost when she appeared at the 1962 Oscar show, April 9, in which she sang “Bachelor in Paradise,” one of the five nominated songs.

The song was from the popular musical remake, State Fair, which Fox had released just weeks, in March, before the Oscar show.

In the space of three minutes, Ann-Margaret became “the Hottest Name in Town.” It did help that in January of that year, Ann-Margret received from  the Hollywood Foreign Press Association a Golden Globe as “Star of Tomorrow.”

The scholar Joe Bob Briggs has poignantly observed that Ann-Margret was a transitional figure in American culture.  She became a box-office star right after Sandra Dee, who represented a different, more innocent and naïve, screen image.

And yet, as Briggs noted, it’s almost impossible to realize how drastically American culture has changed from 1962 to 1964.  The rise of the Beatles, after their controversial but extremely successful 1964 visit to the U.S., signaled that change for the Fab Four not only revolutionized the world of music, but the entire real of fashion and pop culture.

Ann-Margret’ Oscar appearance got her screen work but no recognition as a serious actress, having begun her career as a song and dance femme in night clubs.

It took an imaginative director, Mike Nichols, and a good supporting part, as Bobbie Templeton, Jack Nicholson’s love-starved actress-girlfriend in “Carnal Knowledge” (1971) to change her then “prevalent screen image, as a teenage sex kitten, in Bye Bye Birdie, Viva Las Vegas, and Kitten with a Whip.

The Oscar nomination brought critical acclaim and bolstered Ann-Margret’s self-confidence, forcing her to mature as an actress.

Life magazine put her on the cover, prompting Ann-Margret to say: “The critics had an image of me, and they wouldn’t accept any other.  I was a cartoon character, a joke.”

For Time magazine: “It was like watching Minnie Mouse play Ophelia–brilliantly.”

Several critics have noted that Ann-Margret occupies a special place–gay icon–in gay subculture, but no sufficient explanations have been provided.

Was it her sexy looks?

Was it her screen persona?

Was it a particular screen role, such as Kitten With a Whip?

She, alongside Tuesday Weld, another gay icon, prevailed in the early to mid-1960s.

Then, as soon as the Beatles appeared in the US, they managed to revolutionize every aspect of popular culture, not just music.

It is indeed impossible to underestimate, if not easy to understand or explain, how radically American culture has changed between 1962 and 1964.