In return, Elvis’s buddies always felt comfortable when she was around. “She made his life a little easier because she understood him and didn’t make any demands on him,” Elvis’s cousin Billy Smith recalled. “She even understood his need for us. Priscilla never understood that.”
Marty Lacker added, “Ann genuinely liked people, and she liked every one of us. She wasn’t intimidated or threatened by us. I think she also respected us. We used to have a lot of fun with her. She had a terrific sense of humor. We called her ‘Rusty’ because that was her name in the movie and because of her red hair.”
As Elvis became more comfortable with Ann-Margret, however, they began to spend more time alone. “I knew I’d crossed into a certain uncharted territory when Elvis asked to be alone with me, but later the frequency with which it happened made me happy. It meant Elvis truly trusted me.”
During their private time together, Elvis opened up to her, perhaps more than he ever had with any other person in his life. She felt she came to know his heart intimately:
“Like everyone else, Elvis had dreams and desires, hopes and hurts, wants and weaknesses. He didn’t reveal this vulnerable side until everyone had disappeared, until those private moments when we were alone, after darkness had blanketed the city and we’d parked somewhere up in the hills and could look down upon the sprawl of L.A. or up at the stars.”
Ann-Margret admitted she had one, and no one would deny Elvis did as well. A case in point is the favoritism director George Sidney allegedly gave Ann-ar Fike, Joe Esposito, and Sonny West have all accused Sidney of giving Ann-era angles at Elvis’s expense.
According to Red West, after viewing the daily rushes, Elvis would “complain bitterly to us that the sonofabitch was trying to cut him out of the picture.” Reportedly, Elvis’s complaints were passed on to Colonel Parker, who took Sidney to task. According to Presley biographer Peter Guralnick, the Colonel confronted the producers, reminding them that this was an “Elvis Presley picture.” He didn’t buy MGM’s argument that featuring Ann-Margret would draw a wider audience to the film. Guralnick even reported that Parker used his power to pull from the film two of the three duets recorded by the two stars.
A viewing of the final edit of Viva Las Vegas reveals that Elvis clearly received the most exposure musically. He had six solo numbers to only two for Ann-Margret. Her strength as a dancer was featured, naturally, but overall Viva Las Vegas comes across as an Elvis Presley film with Ann-Margret as a strong leading lady. None of the pro-Presley accusers blamed Ann-Margret for the director’s perceived favoritism of her, and she didn’t mention the controversy in her book.
By all accounts, that developed quickly into full-blown love affair. “Elvis’s affair with Ann-ar Fike. “He was really in love with her. It got hot and heavy.” Marty Lacker added, “Neither one of them was married, and they really cared a lot about each other … and Priscilla was back at Graceland.” For her part, in her book Ann-Margret avoided passionate details of her relationship with Elvis, instead focusing on the motorcycle rides and other adventures they shared as close friends.
In his book, Jerry Schilling reported seeing Ann-Margret enter Elvis’s California home late at night in the fall of 1964 with her own key and make her way up to Elvis’s bedroom. Marty Lacker claims, “She used to write him letters and sign them ‘Bunny’ or ‘Thumper.’ And she’d call Graceland and use the same code.” And Ann-Margret admitted in her book that, “Elvis knew I loved pink and had commissioned a round, pink bed in a moment of tenderness.”