One of the reasons I’ve been thinking about Anita Ekberg lately is because I recently sat down to watch Hollywood or bust. I even wrote about one of my favorite scenes from the movie where Ekberg kisses Jerry Lewis. In short, it made me rethink what I really know about the Ekberg actress.
Anita Ekberg was born in 1931 in Malmö, Sweden. No one could imagine that Anita Ekberg would become a sex symbol. However, by the time she was in her late teens, she was persuaded by her mother and friends to enter the Malmö beauty pageant. As a result, she won the Miss Sweden pageant and was exposed to the glitz and glamor of the Miss Universe beauty pageant. She didn’t win, but the fame she gained earned her a scarlet contract with Universal Studios.
Ekberg’s first credited role was as a Venusian Guardian in a comedy. Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953). It was a promising start that eventually led to Ekberg winning a Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year for her performance as a Chinese Villager in Alley of blood (1955) alongside side-screen legends John Wayne and Lauren Bacall. Interestingly, after the success at the Golden Globes, Hollywood studios promised big success to Ekberg. Her first major role was Back from eternity (1956). She even played Henry Fonda’s unfaithful wife, Princess Helena, well in War and Peace (1956).
Notably, during this period, Ekberg played typecast roles that exploited her curvaceous physique. This didn’t necessarily bother her, but with really significant female roles in Hollywood alluding to her, she instead found international fame in several major Italian films of the 1960s.
The most famous of the Italian films that made her an international star was Sweet life (1960). Italian director Federico Fellini, who first noticed Ekberg a few years earlier in the 1956 film. War and Peace Ekberg, along with Henry Fonda and Audrey Hepburn, cast Sylvia, a Marilyn Monroe-esque movie star who comes to Rome to film the film. In the film’s most famous scene, she wanders the Trevi Fountain dressed in a black strapless dress and jumps around playfully in an attempt to entice Marcello Mastroianni to join her.
Followed by success Sweet lifeEkberg again worked for Fellini in the segment Boccaccio 70 (1962) titled “The Temptation of Dr. Antonio”, in which Ekberg’s provocative poster comes to life and drives the morally-fighting good doctor insane. This role, in turn, increased Ekberg’s chances of appearing in the first of the planned James Bond films. Doctor No (1962). Unfortunately, she missed out on the part of Honey Ryder losing to Ursula Andress.
Despite Ekberg’s disappointment that he didn’t get a role in Doctor Noinstead, she was compensated with a supporting role in a Bob Hope comedy adventure. call me mister (1962). Several other major studio productions also helped establish Ekberg in the minds of the American public, especially the comedy western. 4 for Texas (1963) with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and a murder mystery film Alphabetic Kills (1965) along with Tony Randall and Robert Morley. But in reality, these films, like most films in Ekberg’s career, focused on her “full fantasy figure” rather than giving her the opportunity to really act. Shortly thereafter, Ekberg turned away from Hollywood and returned to Europe in the late 1960s to make films there.
It’s fair to say that Ekberg has enjoyed a privileged life that she has found through her film fame. She was often associated with many of Hollywood’s leading men, including the likes of Frank Sinatra and Errol Flynn. Nicknamed “The Ice Queen” in her early Hollywood days, she later married twice. She was often outspoken and famous, years later once saying: “It was I who made Fellini famous, and not vice versa.” But she was also equally outspoken, once saying that her biggest regret was not having children.
In recent years, she seems to have led a quiet life. Having said that she did appear in 2010 at the world premiere of a newly restored version Sweet life but, unfortunately, she returned to the villa where she lived south of Rome. Ekberg died in distress at the age of 83 penniless after years of fame in 2015. Before her death, it was reported that she was very saddened by her approaching old age, the problems associated with the fall, in which she broke her hip, and illness.
While we can honestly say that Anita Ekberg has never been a great actress, her film legacy is nonetheless forever immortalized in one breathtaking performance as Sylvia in the film. Sweet life (1960). I think now, looking back, it was a dream role. A dream role that film lovers can experience over and over again through home entertainment and occasional special screenings of the film at the local cinema.