Swedish actor, who created one of Italian cinema’s most famous moments in Fellini’s 1960 film, dies in Rome after series of illnesses
Rosie Scammell and Associated Press in Rome
Sunday 11 January 2015
Swedish actor Anita Ekberg, star of La Dolce Vita, has died at the age of 83.
Ekberg’s lawyer, Patrizia Ubaldi, confirmed she died in Rome on Sunday morning following a series of illnesses. She had been hospitalised most recently after Christmas.
Ubaldi said that in her last days Ekberg was saddened by her illness and advancing age. “She had hoped to get better, something that didn’t happen,” she said.
Ekberg created one of cinema’s most famous moments, wading into the Trevi fountain in Rome in the 1960 classic La Dolce Vita. Her character in the Federico Fellini film, temptress Silvia, was followed into the waters by Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni after a night of revelry in the Italian capital.
The scene instantly made Ekberg a cinema icon, although she was unable to maintain such a level of success and had few high-profile roles in her later career. She went on to be picked for the 1962 film Boccaccio ’70, along with Sophia Loren, and a year later appeared in 4 for Texas alongside Frank Sinatra.
Malmö-born Ekberg carved out her cinema career after becoming a magazine pin-up and model, winning the Miss Sweden competition in 1950 before seeking fame in the US. She was soon working with Hollywood greats including John Wayne, and in 1956 made the cover of Life magazine. Her move to cinema came the same year with King Vidor’s War and Peace, in which Ekberg acted alongside Audrey Hepburn.
Although Ekberg was seen as basking in the limelight, she took a tough stand against the paparazzi in 1960 when she threatened photographers with a bow and arrow.
But all appeared forgiven when La Dolce Vita secured Ekberg’s place in cinema history. “It was I who made Fellini, not the other way around,” she said of the film’s Italian director.
She was married twice, first to Anthony Steel in 1956. They divorced three years later. Her marriage to Rik Van Nutter lasted from 1963 until 1975. Her love affairs attracted widespread attention and she was once rumoured to be involved with Fiat chief Gianni Agnelli.
Ekberg rarely returned to Sweden, choosing to remain in Italy. In recent years, media reported that she had moved to a care home close to Rome.
Despite global praise for her Trevi Fountain scene in La Dolce Vita, taking a dip at the monument is strictly prohibited. Some film fans have however defied the ban, with one shirtless man diving in last May only to be chased by angry police officers.
The authorities are guaranteed some respite from such antics, as the fountain is undergoing 18 months of restoration funded by fashion house Fendi to the tune of €2.18m (£1.70m).
Sunday 24 January 2010
Sociologists and cultural historians agree that the 1950s was the decade in which the United States fetishised the breast. Jane Russell, for whom Howard Hughes had devised a special bra in the mid-40s, truly came into her own, and she was joined by Marilyn Monroe for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1953, the year Playboy was launched. In 1952, Anita Ekberg was a Lookmagazine cover girl; by January 1956, she was on the cover of Life.
Born in Malmö, the sixth of a blue-collar worker's eight children, Ekberg was voted Miss Sweden (her official vital statistics were 39-22-36) and went to America in 1951 for the Miss Universe competition. She didn't win and she spoke little English, but she got a movie contract with Universal, and though she took little interest in the dramatic coaching they offered, she found herself in demand for minor roles at other studios, for pin-up photographs to adorn lads mags and subsequently to appear on TV shows (Ed Murrow's Person to Person among them). In 1955, Time magazine published its notorious report on "Sin and Sweden", and this voluptuous, publicity-seeking Swedish blonde with her succession of celebrity lovers came to represent the new, liberated Scandinavian sexuality.
Ekberg made a couple of Hollywood films with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (both involving Frank Tashlin who'd written bosom gags for pictures featuring Russell and Monroe and later directed Jayne Mansfield's best-known pictures) and another couple in Britain. But it was in Italy that she found acting fame playing the devious Hélène Kuragin, unfaithful wife of Pierre (Henry Fonda) in King Vidor's War and Peace (1956), shot in Rome's Cinecittà.
She returned there to appear as the visiting film star Sylvia in La dolce vita, which opened 50 years ago next month and made her an enduring legend, most famously for her celebrated scene with Marcello Mastroianni in the Trevi Fountain. Her only truly memorable role thereafter was Fellini's segment of the portmanteau comedy Boccaccio '70 (1962) where she plays a 20ft version of herself with cleavage as deep as the Grand Canyon, stepping down off a hoarding advertising milk to terrify a Roman prude.
Fellini was to give her a couple of walk-on roles as herself, but from the 60s onwards she began to ignore her weight, balloon out (42-27-38 by 1982), and appear in rapidly forgotten Italian films, giving occasional rather sour interviews. But not before featuring with the first Bond girl Ursula Andress opposite Dean Martin in a slack Robert Aldrich western with the suggestive title 4 for Texas (1963), and she became an honorary Bond Girl the same year by way of From Russia With Love. In Fleming's novel, Bond shoots an assassin as he flees via a secret escape hatch in an enormous poster of Monroe in Niagara. In the film, he's killed as he appears through Ekberg's mouth in a giant ad for Call Me Bwana. "She should have kept her mouth shut," Connery quips.
Ekberg on Fellini "It was I who made Fellini, not the other way around."
Ekberg on Sweden "How can I know who's prime minister or in government in Sweden? It's been 40 years since I moved abroad."
Ekberg on her embonpoint "I'm very proud of my breasts, as every woman should be. It's not cellular obesity, it's womanliness."