Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg (born September 29, 1931 in Malmo) is a Swedish model, actress and cult sex symbol.
Ekberg was born in 1931, the oldest girl and the sixth of eight children. In her teens, she worked as a fashion model. In 1950, Ekberg entered the Miss Malmo competition at her mother's urging, leading to the Miss Sweden contest, which she won. She consequently went to the United States to compete for the Miss Universe title, 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.
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 Pictures and Frank Tashlin cast her in Hollywood or Bust (1956) and Artists and Models (1955) both starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Both films showed off her stunning body but also used 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, a small role (1955), 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. Ekberg 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, Ekberg went to Rome to make War and Peace, directed by distinguished Hollywood veteran King Vidor and co-starring Audrey Hepburn.
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 1960, 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 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, posteriorly stating the opposite on another occasion.
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 once said: "It was I who made Fellini famous, not the other way around".
Bob Dylan mentions her in the songs I Shall Be Free and Motorpsycho Nightmare from the albums The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and Another Side of Bob Dylan.
At the 49-minute point in From Russia With Love, the killer Krilencu attempts to escape through a hatch opening from Ekberg's mouth in a huge movie poster for Call Me Bwana. After his friend shoots the man, James Bond notes that "she should have kept her mouth shut".
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