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Fifty-odd years ago, a young singer/dancer on the verge of breaking into the movies visited LIFE magazine’s Los Angeles bureau—and for once, the news hounds who worked there were speechless.
“Everybody was working on typewriters back then, so it was very noisy,” remembers the legendary editor Richard Stolley, who was L.A. bureau chief at the time. “I’m sitting in my office and suddenly it got quiet. All the typewriters stopped. I thought, ‘What the hell is going on?’ So I got up and I walked to the door. And what was happening? Ann-Margret was walking through the newsroom.”
Here, Stolley and Ann-Margret herself reminisce about those long-ago days—days that remain distinct in both of their memories.
“That,” Stolley says of the picture at left, “is what you were wearing when you came in to the bureau.”
“It was a light blue, lambswool sweater,” Ann-Margret recalls, laughing. “That’s the only outfit I had at the time. The only one! Oh, dear.”
In the decades since that first encounter, Stolley served as the top editor of both LIFE and PEOPLE magazines, and that fresh-faced 19-year-old starlet did pretty well for herself, too: Ann-Margret, born Ann-Margret Olsson in Stockholm, became one of Hollywood’s sexiest, most vivacious stars, her energy and talent lighting up movies as varied as Bye Bye Birdie, Viva Las Vegas and Tommy. Through the years, the great journalist, now 84, and the marvelous actress, now 72, have remained dear friends.
For this LIFE.com feature, the two of them reminisced over photos made by Grey Villet (“Oh, I loved him,” she says of the late LIFE photographer) for the 1961 LIFE article that introduced Ann-Margret as a hot Hollywood prospect while she auditioned for a role in the film, State Fair.
Many of the photos in this gallery were not originally published in LIFE.
Below are some excerpts from their chat: