Long before I first really noticed Anita Ekberg through ‘adult eyes’, I saw her in Hollywood or Bust (1956) as a kid on my television screen. When Jerry Lewis got a kiss from Anita in the films finale, I secretly wished I was Jerry. Though I’m sure I would have squirmed and winced just like Jerry did in the presence of the gorgeous Ekberg. Years later, as a young adult I discovered European cinema and there was that same beautiful women in the iconic La Dolce Vita.
The 1960 film La Dolce Vita would be the vehicle that truly introduced Anita Ekberg to an international audience. How can one forgot the famous Trevi fountain scene where she wades in one of Rome’s great fountains, wearing a black strapless dress and playfully skips around trying to entice Marcello Mastroianni to join her.
Not particular a great actress, her ‘full fantasy figure’ was exploited nonetheless by Fellini who noticed her years earlier in the 1956 film War and Peace alongside Henry Fonda and Audrey Hepburn. Hollywood was also guilty of promoting the former Miss Sweden model in many forgettable films. Occasionally though, it worked as in the case of Artist and Models and more prominently Hollywood or Bust (both Martin and Lewis films) for comic effect.
Jerry Lewis clowning around after being kissed by Anita Ekberg in a scene from Hollywood or Bust (1956).
Born in Malmo, Sweden in 1931, no one imagined she would become a sex symbol. However, by the time she was in her late teens, she was encouraged by her mother and friends to enter Malmo’s beauty contest. She consequently won the Miss Sweden contest and was exposed to the glitz and glamour that was the Miss Universe beauty pageant. She didn’t win but the exposure she received won her a scarlet contract. She was promised big things by Universal studios but ultimately she found fame in several major Italian films, which included Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.
Ekberg enjoyed the privileged life she attained through film fame. She was often linked with many leading Hollywood men including the likes of Frank Sinatra and Errol Flynn. Dubbed the ‘ice queen’ in those early Hollywood days, she would later marry twice. She was often outspoken and famously, years later once said that “It was me who made Fellini famous, not the other way round.” But she was also equally candid once saying that her greatest regret was not having any children.
In her last years, she apparently led a quiet life. Having said that she did make an appearance in 2010 at the world premiere of a newly restored version of La Dolce Vita but regrettable she returned to the villa she was living in south of Rome. Ekberg, in some distress died at the age of 83, penniless after years of fame in January 2015. Before she died it was reported that she was very saddened by her advancing old age, the problems associated with a fall where she broke her hip and her illness.
Anita Ekberg will forever in my eyes be immortalized bathing in the Trevi fountain. Sometime in the future I hope to share with the reader a behind the scenes account of how it was made. Finally, I will never forget how as a wide-eyed kid I stared mesmerized by her in those funny scenes that she shared with Jerry Lewis.
Photo Credit: The image of Jerry Lewis with Anita Ekberg is presumably owned by Paramount Pictures. I make use of the image under the rational of fair use to hightlight an examples of the body of work Anita Ekberg took part in. It also enables me to makes an important contribution to the readers understanding of the article, which could not practically be communicated by words alone.