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Anita Ekberg: The voluptuous beauty of La Dolce Vita dies

The Swedish actor who was best known for her arrestingly sensual scene in La Dolce Vita, died in Italy. She was lonely and penniless in her last years, Italian media reports. But in her hey days, she rivalled Marilyn Monroe as best-loved pinup girls of the 1950s. HT profiles the star.

world cinema Updated: Jan 12, 2015 15:34 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Hindustan Times
Anita Ekberg,La Dolce Vita,Marcello Mastroianni

Anita Ekberg, the 83 year-old Swedish actor who died in Rocca di Papa near Rome, on Sunday, was best known for her arrestingly sensual scene in La Dolce Vita. Wading into the tourist hotspot of Rome's Trevi Fountain in a strapless black dress, she almost froze to death in the icy cold waters of February when the film, directed by Federico Fellini, was shot.

On top of this, her co-star, the dashing and debonair Marcello Mastroianni, was drunk on vodka, which helped him to keep warm. But he was stumbling, necessitating repeated takes. Finally, "they had to literally lift me out of the water, because I could not feel my legs", Ekberg had once said.

However, the uncomfortably icy experience was worth it all. The scene of Ekberg dancing in the water and splashing it all around, cooing all the time, "Marcello, come to me", is one of cinema's most iconic romantic moments. La Dolce Vita won the Palm d'Or at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival and the Oscar for Best Costumes.

A file photo taken in 1960 shows Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni (L) and his Swedish actor Anita Ekberg in Rome's famous Trevi Fountain during the shooting of Federico Fellini's film La Dolce Vita. Ekberg, who has died aged 83, is likely to be remembered for a single scene in which she cavorts in Rome's Trevi Fountain, exhibiting her curvaceous charms to an urbane Marcello Mastroianni in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita. (AFP)

But all this allure has -- much to the chagrin of the Italian authorities -- led to dozens of tourists jumping into the Trevi Fountain trying to copy Ekberg's magic moment. In 1996 after the death of Mastroianni, the fountain was turned off and covered in black as a mark of honour to one of the most captivating performers.

Playing a movie star, Sylvia, in La Dolce Vita -- chased by the paparazzi (the first time the term was used), including a pleasure hunting tabloid journalist, essayed by Mastroianni -- Ekberg shot into immense fame, her voluptuous figure and whispery voice adding to her image of a sex goddess, a sex goddess who seemed unattainable. Not just to that journalist, but others as well.Once a photographer, Felice Quinto, clicked Ekberg kissing a married producer at a Rome night club and followed her home. She went in and came back with a bow and arrow. One hit him on his hand. She then kneed and gave him a punch in his groin. The shocked man winced in pain. However, Quinto still managed to sell those pictures to tabloids the world over. Such was Ekberg's charm and importance then.

She was as renowned for her style as she was for her romances with major stars of the era like Frank Sinatra and Gary Cooper - though these relationships were never confirmed.

In this November 29, 1960 file photo, Swedish actor Anita Ekberg poses on the terrace of her hotel in Maratea, southern Italy. Anita Ekberg, the Swedish-born actor and sex-symbol of the 1950s and '60s who was immortalized bathing in the Trevi fountain in La Dolce Vita, has died. She was 83. Ekberg's lawyer Patrizia Ubaldi confirmed her death Sunday, January 11, 2015. (AP)

Ekberg married twice -- first to actor Anthony Steel from 1956 to 1959 and then to actor Rik Van Nutter from 1963 to 1975. She had no children.

Apart from her most celebrated appearance in La Dolce Vita, Ekberg was also known for her roles in War and Peace with Audrey Hepburn, Artists and Models with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin and Paris Holiday with Bob Hope. She tried, but lost out on the part of Honey Ryder in the first James Bond movie, Dr. No.

A former Miss Sweden, Ekberg clinched a Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer for one of her first Hollywood forays, the 1955 thriller Blood Alley with John Wayne and Lauren Bacall.

Ekberg was born in Malmo, Sweden, on September 29 1931, the sixth of eight children. In 1951, she was crowned Miss Sweden, and went to the US to vie for the Miss Universe title. She did not win this, but instead got a contract with Universal. She landed small parts there and also appeared in Bob Hope's television serials - where her curves were "fodder for jokes".

Over five decades, she made over 50 films. By the late 1970s, her career was just about over. Her most recent role was portraying Ingrid in the Italian television series, 'Il Bello Delle Donne' produced by Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset.

In contrast to her early and middle life, Ekberg's last years were one of suffering. She broke her hip when her pet dog knocked her down. And when she was in hospital, her house was robbed and also damaged in a fire, and according to the Italian media, she died lonely and penniless.

It was a sad end to one of the best known pinup girls (along with Marilyn Monroe) whose seductive magnetism drew men like nothing else. And she partied and partied as if there was no tomorrow.

First Published: Jan 12, 2015 15:33 IST