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Also Known As: Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg Died:
Born: September 29, 1931 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Sweden Profession: actor, model

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Blonde and buxom to a physics-defying degree, Swedish born actress Anita Ekberg became the very definition of cinematic sex goddess with her iconic performance in Italian director Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" (1960). Coming to America after winning the Miss Sweden beauty competition in 1950, Ekberg soon secured herself a contract with Universal Pictures and began a string of appearances in such features as "Blood Alley" (1955), "Hollywood or Bust" (1956) and the historical epic "War and Peace" (1956). Often eclipsing her work on screen, however, were the alleged romantic liaisons with many of Hollywood's most powerful leading men, including Tyrone Power, Gary Cooper and Frank Sinatra. Sub-par genre pictures with titles like "Sheba and the Gladiator" (1959) were fast becoming Ekberg's stock-in-trade before Fellini cast the stunning actress in "La Dolce Vita," instantly making her co-star Marcello Mastroianni an international superstar, but oddly, doing little to advance her career. After a few more mainstream efforts like "4 for Texas" (1963), Ekberg settled for decades of forgettable European-produced B-movies until she appeared as herself in the Fellini reminiscence "Intervista" (1987)....

Blonde and buxom to a physics-defying degree, Swedish born actress Anita Ekberg became the very definition of cinematic sex goddess with her iconic performance in Italian director Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" (1960). Coming to America after winning the Miss Sweden beauty competition in 1950, Ekberg soon secured herself a contract with Universal Pictures and began a string of appearances in such features as "Blood Alley" (1955), "Hollywood or Bust" (1956) and the historical epic "War and Peace" (1956). Often eclipsing her work on screen, however, were the alleged romantic liaisons with many of Hollywood's most powerful leading men, including Tyrone Power, Gary Cooper and Frank Sinatra. Sub-par genre pictures with titles like "Sheba and the Gladiator" (1959) were fast becoming Ekberg's stock-in-trade before Fellini cast the stunning actress in "La Dolce Vita," instantly making her co-star Marcello Mastroianni an international superstar, but oddly, doing little to advance her career. After a few more mainstream efforts like "4 for Texas" (1963), Ekberg settled for decades of forgettable European-produced B-movies until she appeared as herself in the Fellini reminiscence "Intervista" (1987). Although her performance in "La Dolce Vita" far outshone any of Ekberg's performances before or after, the image of her cavorting with Mastroianni in Rome's historic Trevi Fountain would be more than enough to ensure her a place in the pantheon of film's greatest sex symbols for all time.

Born Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg on Sept. 29, 1931 in Malmö, Sweden, she was the oldest girl of eight children. Already working as a fashion model as a teen, she later entered the Miss Malmö beauty pageant. Winning in the local competition took the statuesque blonde on to the Miss Sweden contest in 1950, which she also won. Urged by her mother, she continued on to the Miss Universe pageant, held in Atlantic City, NJ, that same year. Although she would not win the broader competition, it did lead to more modeling work in the States and a modest contract with Universal Pictures. In Hollywood, she quickly drew the attention of industrialist, movie mogul and notorious womanizer, Howard Hughes, who offered her a contract at his RKO studio if she would have cosmetic work done to her eyes and teeth, in addition to changing her last name. Strong willed even then, Ekberg flatly declined his offer and remained with Universal, where she made several uncredited appearances in minor films, in addition to her official feature debut in the Abbott and Costello comedy "Abbott and Costello Go to Mars" (1953).

Ekberg, who had already engaged in several brazen publicity stunts, gained considerable exposure nationwide after she replaced Marilyn Monroe in Bob Hope's USO show in 1954. Soon after, she was landing considerably more prominent roles in such films as the John Wayne-Lauren Bacall action-adventure "Blood Alley" (1955) and the Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis comedy "Artists and Models" (1955), in which she played, not surprisingly, a gorgeous model. After appearing in the Victor Mature Afghan adventure "Zarak" (1956), she had achieved enough fame to be cast as a fictionalized version of herself in "Hollywood or Bust" (1956), which reunited her with the team of Martin and Lewis. Ekberg's first substantially three-dimensional character came with her portrayal of the self-absorbed Princess Helene Kuragina in King Vidor's "War and Peace" (1956), alongside cinematic luminaries like Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda.

Despite her serviceable performance in the big-budget epic, Ekberg's roles, while more prominent, were typically in low-profile genre pictures. A case in point was her reteaming with Mature for the crime thriller "Pickup Alley" (1957), where she played a woman caught up with an international drug smuggler (Trevor Howard). That same year, she landed the title role in the Western drama "Valerie" (157). Told entirely in flashback, it was the story of a woman (Ekberg) whose troubled marriage to her jealous husband (Sterling Hayden) ends in violence and murder. With each project growing more tawdry than the last, Ekberg next appeared as a traumatized exotic dancer in the murder mystery "Screaming Mimi" (1958), co-starring famed burlesque performer, Gypsy Rose Lee. She then played the Palmyrene Empress Queen Zenobia in the sword and sandal epic "Sheba and the Gladiator" (1959), an effort most notable for Ekberg's many elaborate costume changes.

In danger of sinking into a quagmire of gladiator epics, sordid thrillers and lightweight comedies, Ekberg was rescued by idiosyncratic Italian director Federico Fellini, who placed her in his seminal satire on mid-century Roman decadence, "La Dolce Vita" (1960). Perfectly cast as a pampered and impetuous movie star goddess, Ekberg's on screen frolic with co-star Marcello Mastroianni in the waters of Rome's Trevi Fountain went on to become one of the most remarkable and indelible moments ever captured on film. Although "La Dolce Vita" was an international sensation, for Ekberg, it did not result in an improvement in the quality of scripts she was offered. Fellini once again offered her a choice role in his segment of the Italian portmanteau film "Boccaccio '70" (1962), in which Ekberg's sensual celebrity persona was exploited to deliciously sardonic effect. That same year, she was back in Hollywood with Bob Hope for his jungle romp "Call Me Bwana" (1962), then reteamed with Dean Martin, in addition to Frank Sinatra and fellow international sex symbol Ursula Andress in the Western comedy "4 for Texas" (1963).

Other efforts included an appearance alongside Tony Randall in a comedic take on an Agatha Christie mystery in "The Alphabet Murders" (1965), followed by a turn opposite Robert Taylor in the Egyptian adventure "The Glass Sphinx" (1967). Increasingly seen only as a minor player in Hollywood productions with international settings, such as in the ensemble comedy "If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium" (1969), or in leading roles in European genre films like "Fangs of the Living Dead" (1969), Ekberg chose to relocate to the friendlier environment of Italy permanently. Over the next decade, Ekberg went on to appear in such forgettable projects as the South Korean treasure hunting adventure "Northeast of Seoul" (1972) and the made-for-TV movie "S+H+E: Security Hazards Expert" (CBS, 1980), in which she played an evil henchwoman opposite former fashion model Cornelia Sharpe as a female version of James Bond.

Twenty-seven years after "La Dolce Vita," Ekberg appeared in Fellini's career reflection, "Intervista" (1987), watching film clips of herself during her heyday alongside her former co-star Mastroianni. While the film was greatly appreciated by Fellini-idolizing critics, many unfortunately chose to focus on the unsympathetic effects of time on Ekberg's once hourglass figure and flawless features. For her part, the proud actress was more insulted by the director's onscreen assertions that it was he who made her famous, rather than the reverse. Although she remained relatively active in film well into the 1990s, few of the roles were memorable. An exception came with her portrayal of an aging opera singer who becomes the object of obsession for a diminutive legal clerk (Jean-Yves Tual) in the black comedy "The Red Dwarf" (1998) from Belgian filmmaker Yvan Le Moine. Filmed entirely in black and white, the Fellini-esque picture earned the former movie diva some of her best notices in decades. Describing her failed marriages to the minor actors Anthony Steel and Rik Van Nutter as "two marriages too many," Ekberg chose to live out her unofficial retirement in relative seclusion at her seaside home just outside of Rome.

By Bryce Coleman

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

2.
3.
 Fellini (2001) Herself
4.
 Red Dwarf, The (1998) Countess Paola Bendoni
5.
 Bambola (1996) Mama Greta
6.
 Ambrogio (1992) Clarice
7.
 Il Conte Max (1991) Marika
8.
9.
10.
 Cicciabomba (1983)
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1950:
Named Miss Sweden
1951:
Moved to Los Angeles, CA
1951:
Film acting debut in "Terras foster No. 5"
1951:
Competed in the Miss Universe pageant
:
Worked as model
1953:
U.S. film debut in "Abbott and Costello Go to Mars" and "The Golden Blade"
1955:
Played a character loosely based on herself in "Artists and Models," featuring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis
1955:
Made guest appearance on the ABC series "Casablanca" playing Ilsa (the role created in the film by Ingrid Bergman)
1956:
Landed one of her best Hollywood roles as Helene in King Vidor's "War and Peace"
1960:
Delivered her signature film performance as the movie star Sylvia in Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita," co-starring Marcello Mastroianni
1962:
Reteamed with Fellini for "Le tentazioni del Dottor Antonio," his segment of "Boccacio '70"
1967:
Co-starred with Shirley MacLaine in Vittorio de Sica's "Woman Times Seven"
1970:
Played herself in Fellini's "I Pagliacci/Clowns"
1979:
U.S. TV-movie debut as the queen in "Gold of the Amazon Women" (NBC)
1987:
With Mastroianni, appeared as themselves in Fellini's mock documentary "Intervista"
1991:
Acted in "Il Conte Max," a film directed by Christian de Sica (son of Vittorio)
1996:
Played an elderly restaurant owner who is killed in a gas explosion in ""Bambola"
1998:
Appeared as a flamboyant opera star who is romance by the titular character in "Le Nain rouge/The Red Dwarf" (released in the U.S. in 1999)
2002:
Made one of her last acting appearances on Italian TV series "Il Bello delle donne"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

"Anita is very simpatica, but not at all intelligent. Fellini adored her, but he treated her like a big doll. I told him people kept asking me to ask him if he had ever slept with her, and Fellini laughed and replied, 'By all means, tell them yes.'" --Fellini biographer and film critic Tullio Kezich quoted in THE NEW YORK TIMES, June 13, 1999

On working with Fellini. Ekberg told Allesandra Stanley: "I didn't speak Italian and he didn't speak English at that time. We communicated by looking at each other. It was most amazing. We didn't need dialogue very often. With the little Italian I knew, and the little English he knew, we communicated very well." --From THE NEW YORK TIMES, June 13, 1999

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Fred Otash. Former policeman, private investigator. Dated in early 1950s.
companion:
Alain Delon. Actor. Reportedly were romantically involved in the early 1960s.
husband:
Anthony Steel. Actor. Born on May 21, 1919; married in 1956 in Florence, Italy; his second marriage; divorced in 1959; reportedly was an alcoholic whose drinking problem caused the breakup of the marriage; died in March 2001 at age 81.
husband:
Rik Van Nutter. Actor. Married in 1963; divorced in 1975.
companion:
Gianni Agnelli. Industrialist. Reportedly had a liaison.
VIEW COMPLETE COMPANION LISTING

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