Screen Star, Las Vegas Casino Headliner Ann-Margret Honored at UNLV

Ann-Margret helped popularize Las Vegas in her starring role with Elvis Presley in the 1964 movie Viva Las Vegas. Now the city is repaying the honor. The Swedish screen star is being inducted into the UNLV College of Fine Arts Hall of Fame.

Ann-Margret and Elvis Presley display their dancing skills in this poster for the 1964 movie Viva Las Vegas. Ann-Margret is being inducted into a UNLV Hall of Fame. (Image: The Sports Chief)

In Viva Las Vegas, Ann-Margret plays swimming instructor Rusty Martin. Presley portrays singing race-car driver Lucky Jackson, in town for the first Las Vegas Grand Prix. The romantic musical is set in Las Vegas casinos and other sites in the area. 

The movie’s theme song, also titled Viva Las Vegas, still is closely associated with the city in musical performances and at public events.

Nancy Uscher, dean of the UNLV College of Fine Arts, praised Ann-Margret for her impact on Las Vegas.

She is an incredibly talented artist whose work has illuminated the culture of Las Vegas,” Uscher said in a statement.

Ann-Margret’s Hall of Fame induction is set for April 13 on campus at the Valerie Pida Plaza, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Las Vegas Performer

Ann-Margret began in show business as a singer and dancer at the Dunes hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip, according to the Turner Classic Movies website. 

Comedian George Burns discovered her at the Dunes and hired to her perform in his holiday show at the Sahara Hotel and Casino on the Strip. Her showroom performances in Las Vegas led to a recording contract and movie roles, according to TCM.

The Dunes has since been demolished and replaced by the Bellagio Hotel and Casino. The Sahara is still in operation.

Throughout the years, Ann-Margret was a headline performer at Caesars Palace and other resorts in Southern Nevada. 

The Rat Pack

The 1964 premiere of Viva Las Vegas came only four years after another movie was released that also drew international attention to Las Vegas. That 1960 movie, Ocean’s 11, starred Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and others in the Rat Pack.

These screen and stage stars became associated with the Copa Room, a showroom inside the Sands hotel-casino on the Strip. The Sands has since been demolished and replaced by the Venetian and Palazzo hotel-casinos.

A book published this year by gaming historian David G. Schwartz of UNLV explores the years before the Sands was imploded in 1996. The book is titled At the Sands: The Casino That Shaped Classic Las Vegas, Brought the Rat Pack Together, and Went Out With a Bang.

Schwartz recently told Casino.org that current casinos can recapture the magic of the Sands era by showing “personalized attention” to customers.

“I think that, for Las Vegas at least, the brand has overshadowed the experience,” Schwartz told Casino.org. “Casinos will tell you how awesome they are. But they don’t always do such a good job of communicating what will make the experience inside them unique and worthy of a trip.”

Another Las Vegas movie also recently received attention. The Las Vegas Mafia movie Casino was highlighted in an event at the Mob Museum in downtown Las Vegas, celebrating the movie’s 25th anniversary this year.

Larry Henry

Gaming Regulation, Crime, Politics — Larry Henry is a veteran print and broadcast journalist who spent more than 16 years in Nevada, including serving as legislative reporter for the Reno Gazette-Journal and as political editor at the Las Vegas Sun. He's also written about popular culture for the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. As a broadcast journalist, he worked as managing editor at KFSM-TV, the CBS affiliate in Arkansas, where he now lives and where casino growth is a hot topic. A Marine Corps veteran and LSU graduate, he is also an avid movie fan, especially of classic film noir from the 1940s and ’50s.

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  • It’s about time Ann-Margret, once and always be known as Queen of Las Vegas and Female Elvis, is being recognized for her contribution to the entertainment capital. She is a talented and beautiful (inside & out) actress/singer/dancer, one of few triple threats, who has been sorely overlooked by the entertainment world.
    She was robbed of Academy Awards for Carnal Knowledge and Tommy because she was stereotyped as a sex kitten & the Academy was too bias to admit that she could give any Oscar deserving performance. I bet you they know deep down she did.
    Also, she was robbed of an Emmy for “Who Will Love My Children.” Even the winner herself, Barbara Stanwyck, acknowledged Ann-Margret’s great performance during her acceptance speech.
    Lastly, it boggles my mind that she doesn’t even have a wax figure in Madame Tussaud’s Museum in Las Vegas when people like Donny & Marie got one! They should have one for Ann-Margret standing next to the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. They are the best pairing in the movie world of all time, IMHO. Too bad they only made one movie together because Elvis did not have the spine to stand up to his manager. Elvis took prescription drugs to numb himself for being a coward. He died of a broken heart, not a heart attack as it was initially claimed. Nobody will ever know the real details of the relationship between Ann-Margret & Elvis because she’s not talking and most of the people around them who would know have long passed away. You know, my guess is that Elvis might have a journal & all his messages/letters from Ann-Margret hidden somewhere in his room (inside the wall?) @ Graceland. The conniving ex-wife of Elvis might even have them but too jealous or proud to release them to the public. Remember Priscilla wrote in her book that she tore up Ann-Margret’s note or letter to Elvis that she saw in his toiletry bag?
    Viva Ann-Margret! Thank you for inducting her into the UNLV College of Fine Arts.

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Larry Henry