Pale thin guys were shaking in line, nervous, and the snow was melting everywhere outside. The city was becoming liquid, puddling into slush. Hidden inside Borders Bookstore, all the way downstairs, Ann-Margret was sitting behind a butcher-block table and signing copies of her new purple book and radiating so much heat and sex and luscious vulnerability -- all quiet green eyes, all hushes and whispers and the kind of cooing sounds that make your ears itch inside -- that the poor young guys in line were starting to thaw too.

She stood for a second. The men inhaled. Gasped. There was silent applause for her figure alone. She was round and upbeat in a forest-green cape of some kind, and leggings -- a Robin Hood number, with red boots. Two necklaces were swinging down to where perhaps the most famous part of her allure is located, and bounced happily as though on helium balloons. Magnificent! A thick chain and a gold cross with diamonds.

"She always wears a cross," said Todd Brown of Fairfax, one of the thin young men. He looked a little dreamy, and sad, to be so close to her. When he was 3 years old he fell in love with Ann-Margret's picture on the cover of his family's "Bye Bye Birdie" album. He just couldn't keep his eyes off that picture. She was wearing tight capris. She was talking on the phone. Her legs were up in the air.

She was unimaginably nice to him, he said, after she had signed her new book, so simply called "My Story."

Brown's lips were trembly. "She sings like an angel," he said. "She has to be one of Hollywood's most talented actresses. I defy you to name another woman who can act, sing and dance as well as she does."


"Oh, she can't dance. Can she?"

Sure. She dances pretty well.

"Well," he said, "then there's only two of them."

Shirley MacLaine?

"She doesn't dance!"

Oh, yes. She started as a dancer.

"But not in Vegas, not a big show."

You have to give up under these sorts of circumstances. Brown kept staring at the Swedish-born performer, as though she were one of the big cats at the zoo. Her hair was enormous and fluffy and so red it was almost maroon. Her lips were coral -- an old-fashioned blend of pale orange and pink -- and matched her nails and cheeks. Her eyeglasses were tinted, dark at the top and falling into a rainbow of lighter hues. She is 53, and still a creature. But one with little paws.

Her publisher, Putnam, claimed that she didn't have time to be interviewed by this newspaper. On TV lately, she's gotten tongue-tied trying to answer specific questions anyway. But who needs an interview? All we need to know, right out, is that she and Elvis Presley had a big thing for each other for many moons, even during his bloated druggy period when he wore those white suits.

"We both felt a current, an electricity that went straight through us. It would become a force we couldn't control," she writes in her book.

And later: "He had touched something deep within my psyche."

Her husband, Roger Smith, sat close by at Borders. He had on a black cardigan and black Gucci loafers and the same kind of tinted eyewear -- that touch of Vegas -- as his wife. You couldn't really see his eyes, which must be the whole idea. He signed a few books too, and deservedly so. According to the book, Smith is some husband. Until his illness in the early 1980s, he ran the household while working as her agent, manager, producer. He built the bookshelves, flew his own plane. After stage performances, if he thought Ann-Margret seemed exhausted, he would "even lift me in his arms," she writes, "and carry me back to my dressing room."

How does a woman get adored like that? Standing in line, Mark Jefferson said he'd fallen in love with Ann-Margret during the days of the cartoon character Ann-Margrock on "The Flintstones." The contract worker for the U.S. Mint described himself as a "pretty big fan, yeah" in a low-balling sort of style -- but it's hard to be nonchalant when you're carrying a bouquet of flowers to a book-signing. Just 31 years old, he wore a blue sharkskin jacket and had black hair tapering to mini Elvis sideburns.

Finally, he said: "I'm about to faint."

In Ann-Margret's usual teasing but passive style, "My Story" is highly suggestive but ultimately vague. She exposes herself as part victim, part survivor. She is a wimp -- and also a bold, motorcycle-owning vixen. It's confusing: who she is, who she wants to be. It's been confusing for her too. There have been nervous breakdowns, different drug-related problems and the fluke accidents that so often come with drugs and nervous breakdowns. "I was an enigma to many people," she says in her somewhat sad opening paragraph, "including those closest to me, and sometimes to myself."

The first guy in line gave her a single rose. (He couldn't tell his name because he had called in sick at work.) Robert Jordan had a full bouquet and had come all the way from Richmond by train. "She's everything to me," he said.

She didn't meet Elvis until April 1963 -- until after she'd played Kim McAfee in "Bye Bye Birdie," the teenager from Sweet Apple, Ohio, selected to appear on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and kiss a rock idol named Conrad Birdie, who was mostly based on Elvis. "I'm not really sure why I was so calm about meeting The King," she writes. "After all, this was Elvis, a man who had captured the heart of almost every woman in America. Little did I know he would soon capture mine."

During the making of "Viva Las Vegas" -- he played a guy named Lucky, she played a girl named Rusty -- Ann-Margret realized how much they had in common. They had both experienced "meteoric rises in show business," she says, "liked our privacy ... loved our families" and "had a strong belief in God." They also shared a love of Harley motorcycles, black leather and performing.

"Music ignited a fiery pent-up passion inside Elvis and inside me," she writes. "When Elvis thrust his pelvis, mine slammed forward too. ... It was like discovering a long-lost relative, a soul mate."

Somebody on the set, she says, referred to her as "a female Elvis."

"We talked about marriage. We were so alike, so compatible. Elvis didn't like strong, aggressive women and I posed no threat there."

Sitting at her book table, she was like a cloud of feminist antimatter. Her chin was always down and demuring. Is that her secret? As the men approached, the star of "Kitten With a Whip" had ego licks for each:

"You're very perceptive," she said to one.

"You're about 6-2?" she asked another, looking way up into his eyes.

"Mr. Hand!" she shouted as one man leaned forward with his book. They were old friends -- it turned out later -- from California. "Weren't you in the Senate?" she asked.

"No, I worked in the Senate," Lloyd Hand said.

"Oh, you stinker!" she growled. "You just stood in line and weren't going to tell me who you were!"

Have you ever wondered where Elvis was on the day JFK was shot? With Ann-Margret! They were glued to a TV set like everybody else. "Elvis and I clung to each other," she writes, "tried futilely to make sense of what happened, and prayed for the future."

They dated for a year, then sort of drifted apart. The two stars stayed in touch -- through friends like Nancy Sinatra. In 1967, after she'd married Smith, Elvis came to her dressing room one night, closed the door, dropped down on one knee and took her hands in his. "I felt the heat in our bodies," she says. "In a soft, gentle voice weighted by seriousness, he told me exactly how he still felt about me, which I intuitively knew, but was very touched to hear."

Every opening night until his death in 1977, he sent her one huge flower arrangement in the shape of a guitar.

How'd Roger feel?

"It's a funny thing," she writes. "One of the traits I love about my husband is that he was never jealous of the friendship I shared with Elvis. ... Like everybody else, Roger put Elvis in a category all his own."

Toward the end of the line, after an hour of signing, one older fellow arrived at her table. He dropped the purple book down, with its cover picture of Ann-Margret's golden hair, and just stared at her. He inhaled her, paused to experience the moment of being next to the Goddess, the fluffy huge hair, the purr voice, the helium balloons, the open-mouthed fascination at his every word ... How many girls are like that anymore?

She bent her head to sign.

"And while you're at it," the man said deadpan, "if you don't mind putting your phone number in there too."

Can't blame him for trying.