At the news of the Swedish siren's death earlier this week, we remember her style and legacy
Anita Ekberg made cinematic history in 1960 when Federico Fellini filmed her flouncing through Rome’s Trevi Fountain in La Dolce Vita, barely wearing a plunging velvet gown. It was the film that made her famous, however it was Ekberg’s own style and wit that made her an international icon.
Ekberg defined sex appeal. “She possessed incredible beauty," Fellini once said. "I had never seen anyone like her. The luminous colour of her skin, her clear ice-blue eyes, golden hair, exuberance, joie de vivre, made her into a grandiose creature, extra-terrestrial and at the same time moving and irresistible.” Pre-La Dolce Vita, Ekberg had been crowned Miss Sweden, before flying to America as a guest at the Miss Universe pageant. When she was later brought in to entertain American troops in the 1950s, Bob Hope introduced her as “the greatest thing to come from Sweden since smorgasbord,” also joking that her parents had won the Nobel Prize for architecture.
"I had never seen anyone like her... A grandiose creature, extra-terrestrial and at the same time moving and irresistible” — Federico Fellini
However, there was more to Ekberg than a glowing countenance, epic eyebrows and a curvaceous frame. She had a sharp tongue, often claiming, “It was I who made Fellini, not the other way around.” She also blasted the violence of modern cinema: “It's vulgar! Disgusting! Where is the elegance? The mystery? The romance?'” In 1960 she was photographed threatening the paparazzi with a bow and arrow. Her chic style inspired the fashion houses: Valentino based his 1995 Spring collection on La Dolce Vita, casting Claudia Schiffer in her place, while Dolce & Gabbana cited her as the influence for their in-house magazine, Swide.
While she will forever be defined by La Dolce Vita, Ekberg starred in a total of 40 films, working with the likes of Vittoria De Sica and King Vidor, and starring in War and Peace (1956), alongside Audrey Hepburn, and Hollywood or Bust (1956) with Dean Martin.
“I have no regrets. I have loved, cried, been mad with happiness. I have won and I have lost” — Anita Ekberg
Ekberg's romantic life was also dramatic. She was linked to eccentric filmmaker Howard Hughes, as well as actors Gary Cooper, Tyrone Power and Rod Taylor. She married two actors – first Anthony Steel and then later Rik Van Nutter, and reportedly declined a marriage proposal from Frank Sinatra. As she grew older, she became increasingly reclusive, eventually moving to a nursing home in Rome. When interviewed in 2011 on her 80th birthday, she said, “I have no regrets. I have loved, cried, been mad with happiness. I have won and I have lost.” While we may have lost Ekberg, we have won an everlasting icon.
Words by Mhairi Graham