The existence of the Hollywood party girl is not a new phenomenon. Yes, we are now subjected to the daily shenanigans of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, etc., but don’t think these gals just created on the spot new highs and lows in starlet behavior. Former Miss Sweden and former Cult Sirens bannergirl Anita Ekberg is such an individual, who used to party with the best of them, on any continent. A bit like Ursula Andress, Anita’s acting career was not her main focus in life, but mainly an excuse to go to exotic places and meet famous men. Man-eater, indeed!
Again like Ursula (mainly remembered for her part in Dr. No), Anita is associated with a single title in her movie work: Federico Fellini’s La dolce vita and its famous fountain scene. Well, it still remains a powerful sequence and one of cinema’s most enduring memories. But like Bettie Page, Anita is also remembered to not have taken a bad picture, as she remains one of the most photographed woman of the fifties.
Born Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg on September 29, 1931, in Malmo, Sweden, she was the sixth of eight children. Having six brothers around surely developped a fierce independent spirit. As a teen, she became a department store model, already displaying her amazon-like curves. This resulted in appearances in music halls and fashion shows.
Anita became a favorite of photographers for her anatomy and photogenic qualities and soon entered the Miss Malmo beauty contest. She won, which qualified her for the Miss Sweden pageant. She won again, which qualified her for the Miss Universe title. And a trip to America. She did not win that crown, but nevertheless appeared in a decorative way in some Universal studios movies, notably 1953’s Abbott & Costello Go to Mars, as an extra-terrestrial, of course.
She had to return to Sweden, but with the firm intention of coming to Hollywood and make her mark. After some English lessons, she was spotted by an agent at another European beauty contest, which resulted in a USO visit to American soldiers in Alaska and Greenland. Nothing was too good for warming up the bloodstream. Anita was soon enrolled by John Wayne’s studio and began a nearly endless parade on men’s magazine covers. And yes, the nightlife activities began on the party circuit. Sadly, she missed out being cast for television’s Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.
Blood Alley war her first legitimate movie role (but not very sexy, oddly). She would already play herself in two Martin & Lewis comedies, Artists and Models and Hollywood or Bust. More serious was her role in the big-budgeted War and Peace project, but her partying ways were now set in Rome, the movie’s filming location. She didn’t mind playing out set-ups where her dresses would pop out for photographers at social events. In 1956’s Zarak, her sexy harem-girl dance raised many eyebrows… and blood pressures.
There were reports that Anita didn’t mind being bitchy towards her fellow actresses/starlets. Her only real competition during that time was probably Jayne Mansfield, who also didn’t shy away from publicity and attention-getting stunts. But who could resist Anita anything, with her 39 ½-23-37 figure? Surely not actor Anthony Steel, who wed her in May 1956. But the next August, Anita’s nude form was displayed in Playboy magazine…
Noteworthy for Anita’s lovers was her participation in 1958’s Screaming Mimi, as she plays a stripper who at some point, is attacked in a shower! This remains one of her last almost-worthy American movie project, a picture that inspired Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. In November of that year, Anita allegedly performed a dance in Rome at a party to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Things got hot, as our actress was challenged by a notorious belly dancer to outperform her. Actually, this situation came up in court later, with all charges dropped!
Soon after, Anita shared the screen with newcomer Chelo Alonso for Sign of the Gladiator and was not very pleased to be out-performed to the point of losing public attention to a mere secondary player. The Cuban Bomb versus the Sweden Amazon! Other bad news included the end of her marriage to Steel. Anita was seen with many more suitors soon after. Then came the movie that changed everything…
Fellini’s La dolce vita will always be associated with Anita’s immortal scene of herself soaking it up in Rome’s fountains of Trevi, under the watchful eye of Marcello Mastroianni. Movie history was made. Thus began a period when Anita would almost work exclusively in Europe. She memorably played a billboard figure coming to life in Boccaccio ’70 and shared the screen with fellow Siren Ursula Andress in 4 for Texas. After that, well… there was still some regular work in mainly obscure pictures (some no more that mere cameos), with a couple of intriguing spots (like the cultish Fangs of the Living Dead). She married actor Rik Van Nutter in 1963 (a union that would last for twelve years). Again, paths were crossed with another Siren, for Way.. Way Out, namely Linda Harrison.
The legendary Anita Ekberg form began to change in the late sixties, not necessarily losing its curves, but beginning to expand. Not really bothered by this, Anita posed nude in 1978 and still conserved her glamour image. She appeared the same year in the strange thriller Killer Nun. Aside from playing herself in a great homage from Fellini for Intervista in 1987, nothing much remains memorable from Anita’s latter list of films. She still lives in Italy and remain candidly honest about her past.
So we have a Siren that made her own way even when finding other of these pages’ guests on her path. I bet she remained graceful and somewhat classy in her nightclubbing days, which could give a good reality lesson for our current times’ supposed party queens.
1953 The Mississippi Gambler; Take Me to Town; Abbott and Costello Go to Mars; The Golden Blade 1955 Blood Alley; Artists and Models; War and Peace 1956 Back from Eternity; Hollywood or Bust; Man in the Vault; Zarak 1957 Valerie; Interpol 1958 Paris Holiday; Screaming Mimi; The Man Inside 1959 Sign of the Gladiator 1960 La dolce vita; The Dam on the Yellow River; Three Etc.’s and the Colonel; Little Girls and High Finance 1961 Behind Closed Doors; The Mongols 1962 Boccaccio ’70 1963 Call Me Bwana; 4 for Texas 1964 Love Factory 1965 The Alphabet Murders; The Daisy Chain 1966 Way… Way Out; Love Parade 1967 Scusi, lei è favorevole o contrario?; The Glass Sphinx; The Cobra; Woman Times Seven 1968 Diary of a Holdup 1969 A Candidate for a Killing; If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium; Fangs of the Living Dead; The Blonde Connection 1970 The Divorce; Quella chiara notte d’ottobre; The Conjugal Bed 1972 Northeast of Seoul; Deadly Trackers; French Sex Murders 1978 Killer Nun 1980 S+H+E: Security Hazards Expert 1982 Cicciabomba 1986 The Seduction of Angela 1987 Intervista 1991 Count Max 1992 Ambrogio; Cattive ragazze 1996 Bámbola 1998 Le nain rouge