Malmö, Skåne) is a Swedish model, actress and cult sex symbol. She is best known for her role as Sylvia in the 1960 Federico Fellini film, La Dolce Vita, which features the legendary scene of her cavorting in Trevi Fountain alongside Marcello Mastroianni.
BiographyEkberg was born in 1931, the eldest girl and the sixth of eight children. In her teens, she worked as a fashion model. In 1950, Ekberg entered the Miss Malmö competition at her mother's urging, leading to the Miss Sweden contest, which she won. She consequently went to the United States to compete for the Miss Universe title, despite not speaking English.
Although she did not win Miss Universe, as one of six finalists she did earn a starlet's contract with Universal Studios, as was the rule at the time. In America, Ekberg met Howard Hughes, who at the time was producing films and wanted her to change her nose, teeth and name (Hughes said "Ekberg" was too difficult to pronounce). She refused to change her name, saying that if she became famous, people would learn to pronounce it, and if she didn't become famous, it would not matter.
As a starlet at Universal, Ekberg received lessons in drama, elocution, dancing, horse-riding and fencing. Ekberg skipped many of the lessons, restricting herself to horse riding in the Hollywood Hills. Ekberg later admitted that she was spoiled by the studio system, and that she played instead of pursuing bigger film roles.
The pin-upThe combination of a colourful private life and physique gave her appeal to gossip magazines such as Confidential and to the new type of men's magazine that proliferated in the 1950s. She soon became a major 1950s pin-up. In addition, Ekberg participated in publicity stunts. Famously, she admitted that an incident where her dress burst open in the lobby of London's Berkeley Hotel was pre-arranged with a photographer.
 Film careerParamount Pictures and Frank Tashlin cast her in Hollywood or Bust (1956) and Artists and Models (1955) both starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Both films used her as a foil for many of the director's sight gags. Ekberg also played an Amazonian extraterrestrial in 1953's Abbott and Costello Go to Mars.
Bob Hope joked that her parents had received the Nobel Prize for architecture as she was touring with him and William Holden to entertain U.S. troops in 1954. The tour led her to a contract with John Wayne's Batjac Productions. Wayne cast her in Blood Alley, a small role (1955), where Ekberg's features and appearance were Orientalized to play a Chinese woman, a role that earned her a Golden Globe award.
RKO gave Ekberg the female lead in Back from Eternity.
In 1956, Ekberg went to Rome to make War and Peace, directed by distinguished Hollywood veteran King Vidor and co-starring Audrey Hepburn.
As Sylvia in La Dolce VitaFederico Fellini gave Ekberg her greatest role in La Dolce Vita (1960), in which she played the unattainable "dream woman" opposite Marcello Mastroianni; then Boccaccio '70 in 1960, a movie that also featured Sophia Loren and Romy Schneider. Fellini would call her back for two other films: I clowns (1972), and Intervista (1987), where she played herself in a reunion scene with Mastroianni.
La Dolce Vita was a sensational success, and Anita Ekberg's uninhibited cavorting in Rome's Trevi Fountain remains one of the most celebrated images in film history.
Personal lifeEkberg was married to the British actor Anthony Steel from 1956 to 1959. From 1963 to 1975, she was married to the actor Rik Van Nutter. In an interview she said she wished she had a child, stating the opposite on another occasion.
Ekberg was romantically linked to Tyrone Power, Marcello Mastroianni, Errol Flynn, Yul Brynner, Frank Sinatra and Gary Cooper; she also had a three-year affair with Fiat chairman Gianni Agnelli. In his autobiography "Pieces of My Heart," actor Robert Wagner claims to have had an enjoyable one-night stand with Ekberg.
Ekberg has not lived in Sweden since the early 1950s and rarely visits the country. She has welcomed Swedish journalists in her house outside Rome, and in 2005 appeared in the popular radio program Sommar, talking about her life. She stated in an interview that she will not move back to Sweden before she dies, when she will be buried there. Ekberg has said that the Swedish people and media have not appreciated her sufficiently; nevertheless, her personal and radio appearances have been popular in Sweden.
On 19 July 2009, she had been admitted to the San Giovanni Hospital in Rome, after falling ill in her home in Genzano, according to a medical official in its neurosurgery department. She had been living in Italy for many years. Despite her condition not being considered serious, she has been put under observation in the facility.
In popular culture
- Ekberg once said: "It was I who made Fellini famous, not the other way around."
- Bob Dylan mentions her in the song "I Shall Be Free" from the album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.
- At the 49-minute point in From Russia With Love, the killer Krilencu attempts to escape through a hatch opening from Ekberg's mouth in a huge movie poster for Call Me Bwana. After his friend shoots the man, James Bond notes that "she should have kept her mouth shut."
- In the first episode of Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus, in one sketch a cardboard cutout of Ekberg is presented with a man (Terry Jones) sitting behind it who sings a song about Albrecht Dürer.
- In 1980, Ekberg was referenced in the controversial Canadian Top 20 hit High School Confidential by the popular 1980s Canadian new wave band Rough Trade. In 2005, "High School Confidential" was named the 38th greatest Canadian song of all time on the CBC Radio One series 50 Tracks: The Canadian Version.
- In the 2005 film Elsa & Fred Ekberg is referenced as the character played by China Zorrilla ( a peculiar and greater than life woman) looked like the actress in her youth. The references to the faded beauty of the character are recurrent and relevant in the plot, when at the end of the movie the main characters travel to Rome to reenact the famous scene from La dolce vita.
- Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953)
- The Golden Blade (1953)
- Blood Alley (1955)
- Artists and Models (1955)
- War and Peace (1956)
- Back from Eternity (1956)
- Hollywood or Bust (1956)
- Man in the Vault (1956)
- Zarak (1956)
- Interpol (1957)
- Paris Holiday (1958)
- Screaming Mimi (1958)
- Sheba and the Gladiator (1959)
- La Dolce Vita (1960)
- Boccaccio '70 (1962)
- Call Me Bwana (1963)
- 4 for Texas (1963)
- The Alphabet Murders (1965)
- Way...Way Out (1966)
- I clowns (1970) as herself
- Killer Nun (also known as Suor Omicidi or Deadly Habits) (1978)
- Intervista (1987) as herself