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Anita Ekberg
Anita Ekberg 1956.jpg
Ekberg in 1956
Pronunciation Swedish: [aˈnîːta ˈêːkbærj]
Italian: [aˈniːta ˈɛkberɡ]
English: /əˈntə ˈɛkbɜːrɡ/
Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg

(1931-09-29)29 September 1931
Malmö, Sweden
Died 11 January 2015(2015-01-11) (aged 83)
Rocca di Papa, Italy
Occupation Actress, model
Years active 1953–2002
Anthony Steel
(m. 1956; div. 1959)

Rik Van Nutter
(m. 1963; div. 1975)

Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg (Swedish pronunciation: [aˈnîːta ˈêːkbærj]; 29 September 1931 – 11 January 2015) was a Swedish actress active in American and European films, known for her beauty and stunning figure. She became prominent in her iconic role as Sylvia in the Federico Fellini film La Dolce Vita (1960). Ekberg worked primarily in Italy, where she became a permanent resident in 1964.

Early life

Anita Ekberg was born on 29 September 1931, in Malmö, Skåne (Sweden), the sixth of eight children. In her teens, Anita worked as a fashion model. Ekberg entered the Miss Malmö competition in 1950 at her mother's urging. This led to the Miss Sweden contest which she won. Despite speaking very little English, she went to the United States to compete for the 1951 Miss Universe title (an unofficial pageant at that time, the pageant became official in 1952).


Universal Studios

Although Ekberg did not win the Miss Universe pageant, as one of six finalists, she did earn a starlet's contract with Universal Studios.

As a starlet at Universal, she received lessons in drama, elocution, dancing, horseback riding, and fencing. She appeared briefly in The Mississippi Gambler (1953) with Tyrone Power, Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953) (playing a woman on Venus), Take Me to Town (1953) with Ann Sheridan, and The Golden Blade (1953) with Rock Hudson and Piper Laurie.

Ekberg skipped many of her drama lessons, restricting herself to riding horses in the Hollywood Hills. Ekberg later admitted she was spoiled by the studio system and played, instead of pursuing bigger film roles. Universal dropped her after six months.

Batjac and Paramount

War and peace8
Ekberg in War and Peace (1956)

Ekberg toured Greenland with Bob Hope, entertaining American servicemen. Hope spoke of her beauty and John Wayne signed her to a contract with his Batjac Productions at $75 a week.

By the mid-1950s, after several modelling jobs, Ekberg finally broke into the film industry. She guest-starred in the short-lived TV series Casablanca (1955) and Private Secretary.

She had a small part in the film Blood Alley (1955) starring John Wayne and Lauren Bacall, made for Wayne's Batjac Productions. It was her first real speaking role in a feature. She appeared alongside the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedy act in Artists and Models (1955), directed by Frank Tashlin for Paramount, playing "Anita".

Ekberg's greatest opportunity was when Paramount cast her in War and Peace (1956) which was shot in Rome, alongside Mel Ferrer and Audrey Hepburn, directed by King Vidor. For a time, she was even publicised as "Paramount's Marilyn Monroe".

Anita Ekberg-1956
Ekberg in Hollywood or Bust (1956)

Ekberg was third billed in a thriller for Batjac, Man in the Vault (1956). It was distributed by RKO Pictures who had given Ekberg an excellent part in Back from Eternity (1956), directed by John Farrow.

Ekberg signed a deal with Warwick Pictures, the company of producers Albert Broccoli and Irwin Allen, who made films in England. She did Zarak (1956) with Victor Mature.

Ekberg returned to Hollywood to make a second film with Martin and Lewis (and Tashlin), Hollywood or Bust (1956). Ekberg made a second film for Warwick with Mature, Interpol (1957). In 1956, Hedda Hopper said her fee was $75,000 per picture.

She was announced for Glare directed by Budd Boetticher, but it was not made.

When John Wayne split up with his producing partner Robert Fellows, Fellows took over Ekberg's contract.

Gerd Oswald

Ekberg returned to Hollywood to make Valerie (1957) with Sterling Hayden and her then-husband Anthony Steel for director Gerd Oswald. She co-starred with Bob Hope and Fernandel in Paris Holiday (1958). It was also directed by Oswald as was Screaming Mimi (1958). She did a third for Warwick, The Man Inside (1958) with Jack Palance. Another film was announced for her, entitled A Lot of Woman, but it was not made.

Italy and La Dolce Vita

Ekberg went to Italy to star in Sheba and the Gladiator (1959), playing Zenobia.

Anita Ekberg1
Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita (1960)

She stayed in Rome to make La Dolce Vita (1960) for Federico Fellini, performing as Sylvia Rank, the unattainable "dream woman" of the character played by Marcello Mastroianni.

The movie was an international sensation and Ekberg settled in Rome. She had the lead in an Italian-French co production, Last Train to Shanghai (1960) (aka The Dam on the Yellow River), then was in Le tre eccetera del colonnello (1960), Behind Closed Doors (1961), and The Mongols (1961), which had an American director (André de Toth) and co star (Jack Palance).

She later said "things became a little bit boring for me after La Dolce Vita because every producer or director in Italy, England and America wanted me to recreate the same role – the movie star from America who comes over to Italy."

Ekberg then appeared in Boccaccio '70 (1962), a film that also featured Sophia Loren and Romy Schneider. Soon thereafter, Ekberg was being considered by Broccoli to play the first Bond girl, Honey Ryder in Dr. No, but the role went to the then-unknown Ursula Andress. However Broccoli then cast her in Call Me Bwana (1963) with Bob Hope.

Ekberg co-starred with Andress, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin in the western-comedy 4 for Texas (1963). She returned to Europe to make Love Factory (1964) and Who Wants to Sleep? (1965). She went to England for an Agatha Christie adaptation, The Alphabet Murders (1965), directed by Frank Tashlin who had directed her two Martin and Lewis films.

Ekberg was in the Italian How I Learned to Love Women (1966) then had a small role in a Jerry Lewis comedy, Way... Way Out (1966). She was in Pardon, Are You For or Against? (1966), an Alberto Sordi comedy; The Cobra (1967), an Italian crime film with Dana Andrews; The Glass Sphinx (1967) with Robert Taylor; Woman Times Seven (1967), an anthology directed by Vittorio De Sica, in a segment with Michael Caine; and Crónica de un atraco (1968).

She had a cameo in If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969) and the lead in Fangs of the Living Dead (1969), Death Knocks Twice (1969), and A Candidate for a Killing (1969).

Later career

Fellini called Ekberg back for a cameo in The Clowns (1970). She had bigger parts in The Divorce (1970) with Vittorio Gassman; The Conjugal Debt (1970); Quella chiara notte d'ottobre (1970); and Deadly Trackers (1972).

She went to Asia to make a Hollywood film, Northeast of Seoul (1972).

Ekberg was also in Gold of the Amazon Women (1979), Killer Nun (1979), S.H.E: Security Hazards Expert (1980), and Cicciabomba (1982). Fellini used her in Intervista (1987), appearing as herself in a reunion scene with Mastroianni.

Later performances included Count Max (1991), Ambrogio (1992), Cattive ragazze (1992), Witness Run (1996), and Bámbola (1996), in a part turned down by Gina Lollobrigida. She had a good part in Le nain rouge (1998).

She guest-starred in the Italian TV series Il bello delle donne (2001).

In 2021 actress Monica Bellucci co-produced and starred in a mockumentary dedicated to Ekberg, called “The girl in the fountain” presented as a special event at the 2021 Torino Film festival.

Personal life

Both of Ekberg's marriages were to actors, but neither of them succeeded. She was married to Anthony Steel from 22 May 1956 until their divorce on 14 May 1959 and to Rik Van Nutter from 9 April 1963 until their divorce in 1975. Ekberg's great love was Gianni Agnelli, the Italian industrialist and owner of Fiat. They were lovers for several years.

Ekberg was often outspoken in interviews, e.g., naming famous people she reportedly "couldn't bear". She was also frequently quoted as saying that it was Fellini who owed his success to her, rather than vice versa: "They would like to keep up the story that Fellini made me famous, that Fellini discovered me", she said in a 1999 interview with The New York Times.

Ekberg did not live in Sweden after the early 1950s, and rarely visited the country. However, she welcomed Swedish journalists into her home outside Rome and in 2005, appeared on the popular radio program Sommar, talking about her life. She stated in an interview that she would not move back to Sweden but would be buried there.

In 1963, she was sued by her publicist. In 1977, she was robbed in August and in December.

Anita Ekberg in Lund 2007.

On 19 July 2009, she was admitted to the San Giovanni Hospital in Rome after falling ill in her home in Genzano, according to a medical official in the hospital's neurosurgery department. Despite her condition not being serious, Ekberg was put under observation in the facility.

In December 2011, it was reported that the 80-year-old Ekberg was "destitute" following three months in a Rimini hospital with a broken hip, during which time her home was robbed of jewelry and furniture, and her villa was badly damaged by fire. Ekberg applied for help from the Fellini Foundation, which also found itself in difficult financial straits.


Ekberg died on 11 January 2015, at the age of 83, at the clinic San Raffaele in Rocca di Papa, Roman Castles, from complications of chronic illnesses. The actress had been in a wheelchair for several years after being knocked down by one of her pet Great Danes, which broke her hip. Ekberg's funeral service was held on 14 January 2015, at the Lutheran-Evangelical Christuskirche in Rome, after which her body was cremated and her remains were buried at the cemetery of Skanör Church in Sweden, in accordance with her wishes to be buried in her land of birth.



Year Title Role Notes ref
1953 The Mississippi Gambler Maid of Honor
Abbott and Costello Go to Mars Venusian Guard American science fiction comedy film directed by Charles Lamont.
Take Me to Town Dancehall Girl Uncredited
The Golden Blade Handmaiden An adventure film directed by Nathan Juran.
1955 Blood Alley Wei Ling, Big Han's wife American seafaring Cold War adventure film set in China directed by William A. Wellman.
Artists and Models Anita
  • Musical comedy in VistaVision directed by Frank Tashlin.
  • The film marks Martin and Lewis's fourteenth feature together as a team.
  • Longtime Martin and Lewis writer Herbert Baker worked on the script, which had the original title Rock-A-Bye Baby; the title later being used for a 1958 Jerry Lewis film.
1956 War and Peace Hélène Kuragin American-Italian war drama film directed by King Vidor.
Back from Eternity Rena drama film directed and produced by John Farrow.
Man in the Vault Flo Randall Film noir directed by Andrew V. McLaglen.
Zarak Salma
  • British Warwick Films CinemaScope in Technicolor action film based on the 1949 book The Story of Zarak Khan by A.J. Bevan.
  • Directed by Terence Young.
Hollywood or Bust Herself
1957 Interpol Gina Broger
  • Known as Pickup Alley in the USA.
  • British Warwick Films crime film shot in CinemaScope directed by John Gilling.
Valerie Valerie Horvat Western film directed by Gerd Oswald.
1958 Paris Holiday Zara Comedy film directed by Gerd Oswald
Screaming Mimi Virginia Wilson aka Yolanda Lange
  • Film noir directed by Gerd Oswald
  • Based on the novel by pulp novelist Fredric Brown.
  • Film never received an official video release in the U.S.
The Man Inside Trudie Hall British crime adventure film directed by John Gilling.
1959 Sheba and the Gladiator Zenobia
  • Historical drama film loosely pertaining to the Palmyrene Empire and its re-annexation back into the Roman Empire.
  • (Italian: Nel Segno di Roma)
  • Directed by Guido Brignone.
  • Originally called The Sign of Rome.
  • American International Pictures acquired the American rights to the film and retitled it Sign of the Gladiator despite there being no gladiators in the film.
1960 La Dolce Vita Sylvia Italian comedy-drama film written and directed by Federico Fellini.
The Dam on the Yellow River Miss Dorothy Simmons
  • Italian: Apocalisse sul fiume giallo
  • French: Le dernier train de Shanghai
  • Released in UK as Last Train to Shanghai.
  • Italian-French drama film written and directed by Renzo Merusi.
Le tre eccetera del colonnello Georgina
Anonima cocottes
1961 A porte chiuse Olga Duvovich
  • Internationally released as Behind Closed Doors
  • Italian comedy film directed by Dino Risi.
The Mongols Hulina Directed by André de Toth.
1962 Boccaccio '70 Herself
1963 Call Me Bwana Luba Farce film directed by Gordon Douglas.
4 for Texas Elya Carlson
  • American western comedy directed by Robert Aldrich.
  • The film was announced in 1960 as Two for Texas.
Bianco, rosso, giallo, rosa Alberchiaria
1965 Who Wants to Sleep? Lolita Young
  • German:Das Liebeskarussell
  • German comedy film directed by Rolf Thiele, Axel von Ambesser and Alfred Weidenmann.
The Alphabet Murders Amanda
1966 How I Learned to Love Women Margaret Joyce
  • Italian: Come imparai ad amare le donne
  • French: Comment j'ai appris à aimer les femmes
  • German: Das gewisse Etwas der Frauen
  • Also known as Love Parade
  • Italian-French-German comedy film directed by Luciano Salce.
Way...Way Out Anna Soblova American comedy film directed by Gordon Douglas.
Pardon, Are You For or Against? Baroness Olga
  • Italian: Scusi, lei è favorevole o contrario?
  • Italian comedy film written, directed and starred by Alberto Sordi.
1967 The Cobra Lou
  • Italian: Il cobra
  • Spanish: El cobra
  • Also known as Cobra and Female Cobra
  • Italian-Spanish crime film directed by Mario Sequi.
The Glass Sphinx Paulette
  • Italian: La sfinge d'oro
  • Italian-American 1967 adventure film directed by Luigi Scattini.
Woman Times Seven Claudie
  • Sette Volte Donna in Italian
  • Italian/French/American co-production anthology film of seven different episodes, all starring Shirley MacLaine.
  • Directed by Vittorio De Sica.
  • (segment "Snow")
1968 Crónica de un atraco Bessie
1969 If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium Performer
Malenka Malenka / Sylvia Morel
  • Also known as Fangs of the Living Dead.
  • Spanish-Italian horror film that was written and directed by Spanish director Amando de Ossorio, and his first horror film.
Un sudario a la medida Jacqueline Monnard
Death Knocks Twice Sophia Perretti
  • German: Blonde Köder für den Mörder
  • Italian: La morte bussa due volte
  • Detective film directed by Harald Philipp.
1970 The Divorce Flavia
  • Italian: Il divorzio
  • Italian comedy film directed by Romolo Guerrieri.
  • TV movie
Il debito coniugale Ines
Quella chiara notte d'ottobre
The Clowns Herself Film by Federico Fellini about the human fascination with clowns and circuses.
1972 Casa d'appuntamento Madame Colette
  • Translation: The House of Rendezvous.
  • Giallo film directed by Ferdinando Merighi under the pseudonym "F. L. Morris".
La lunga cavalcata della vendetta Jane
Northeast of Seoul Katherine Film directed by David Lowell Rich.
1979 Killer Nun Sister Gertrude
  • Also known as Suor Omicidi or Deadly Habits
  • Italian nunsploitation film directed and co-written by Giulio Berruti and co-written by Alberto Tarallo.
1980 S*H*E Dr. Biebling American spy film directed by Robert Michael Lewis.
1982 Cicciabomba Baronessa Judith von Kemp
1986 Dolce pelle di Angela Signora Rocchi
1987 Intervista Herself Italian film directed by Federico Fellini.
1991 Count Max Marika French-Italian comedy film directed by Christian De Sica
1992 Ambrogio Clarice
Dov'era Lei a quell'Ora? Anita Ekberg
Cattive ragazze Milli
1996 Bambola Mother Greta
1998 Le nain rouge Paola Bendoni


Year Title Role Notes ref
1979 Gold of the Amazon Women Queen Na-Eela

See also

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