Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg (born on September 29, 1931) is a Swedish model, actress and cult sex symbol.
Ekberg was born in 1931 in Malmö, Skåne, the oldest 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 America to compete for Miss Universe in the United States 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 played instead of pursuing bigger film roles.
The Pin Up
While at Universal Ekberg caught the attention of legendary director and photographer Russ Meyer who went on record numerous times to say she was the most beautiful woman he ever photographed and that her 40D bustline was the most ample in A list Hollywood history, dwarfing rivals Jayne Mansfield and the British actress Sabrina. Ekberg also delighted gossip columnists with her social life. She was linked to many famous men, and was given the nickname "The Iceberg" because of her mysterious demeanor
The 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.
By the mid-50s, other studios offered Ekberg work. Paramount Studios and Frank Tashlin cast her in Hollywood or Bust (1956) and Artists and Models (1955) both starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Both films show off her stunning body but also use her as a foil for many of the director's clever 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 (1955 a small role 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. Co-starring Robert Ryan and Rod Steiger. Anita was perfectly adequate in her cardboard role, and suggested that with a good director and a worthwhile part, she might have something to offer.
In 1956 Anita went to Rome to make War and Peace (1956), directed by distinguished Hollywood veteran King Vidor and co-starring Audrey Hepburn.
As Sylvia in La Dolce Vita
Federico 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 (1962), a movie that also featured Sophia Loren. 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 ("The Sweet Life") 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.
Ekberg 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; during their marriage, she had several miscarriages, but no successful pregnancies. In an interview she said she wished she had a child, although on another occasion she said she never wanted a child.
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 the late Fiat chairman Gianni Agnelli.
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 never move back to Sweden until 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.
Ekberg in popular culture
- Once said "It was I who made Fellini famous, not the other way around."
- Ethel Merman dubbed the buxom Ekberg (measurements 40D-22-36) "the thinking man's dunce cap: two of them."
- When Albert R. Cubby" Broccoli co-produced From Russia with Love, the film star in the movie poster through which the Bulgarian assassin Krilencu escapes, was changed from Marilyn Monroe (as in Ian Fleming's novel) to Anita Ekberg.
- Big Bosoms and Square Jaws : The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film by Jimmy McDonough < ISBN:0-224-07250-1 > on Amazon.com
- VaVaVa Voom! Glamour Girls of The Pinup Era by Steve Sullivan < ISBN:978-1881649601 > on Amazon.com
- Did They Mention the Music?: The Autobiography of Henry Mancini < ISBN:978-0815411758 > on Amazon.com
A Personal Note from Robin
In 1960, while at home on leave from the Navy, my father, mother and I went to see La Dolce Vita at a local theater. The film was heavily publicized and the theater quite packed. The only three seats that were together were in the middle of the second row.
The film was produced in Italian with English sub-titles. Since my father and I both spoke enough Italian to keep up with the film, we enjoyed the scenery, "two of them". The "translation" left a lot to be desired, with several of the more colorful phrases being "cleaned up" during translation, and we often laughed aloud at the "mistakes". My mother on the other hand, was trying to read the subtitles and watch the movie. Her head was bobbing up and down like a mechanical, toy causing pain in her neck and shoulders. For some reason, she announced her reluctance to attend ever any more "Italian Movies".