Anita Ekberg is the Swedish bombshell whose dangerous curves and sultry stare made her an unmistakable sex-symbol of the 1950s and 60s. She was born Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg on September 29, 1931 in Malmo, Sweden. Her childhood in Sweden was crowded; with five older brothers and one younger sister. When she reached early adolescence, she began working as a model for boutique fashion houses. Success in modeling inspired her mother to enter her as a contestant in the "Miss Sweden" pageant. Although she was a relative newcomer to the pageant field, she won the title. After a year reigning as Miss Sweden, Anita was sent to the United States to compete in the Miss Universe pageant. She did not speak a word of English.
Anita did not win the title of Miss Universe, but she ranked as one of the six finalists who would receive an invaluable reward: a "starlet" contract with Universal Studios. The studio scooped up the six highest ranking girls and helped direct them towards careers in film.
Anita decided to stay in the United States, where she was immediately introduced to the highest tiers of Hollywood society. At a party, Anita was introduced to Howard Hughes, who was presently working as a producer and financier of films. Hughes took one look at the young Swedish beauty and recognized a star. He suggested she change her nose and her name and assured her a role in one of his films. Ekberg politely declined the offer, refusing to take any of his suggestions.
This sticking-to-your-guns-attitude was typical of Ekberg. She was given acting, voice, dance, fencing, and horse-riding classes issued by the studio, many of which Ekberg did not attend. She dismissed much of the studio's advice and relied primarily on natural talent. She began to permeate the social scene and developed a reputation as Hollywood elite. Her poor class attendance and party habits did not, however, hinder her career.
In the 1950s Universal and Paramount were competing to give Ekberg work. Among others she appeared in films such as Hollywood or Bust (1956), Artists and Models (1955), Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953), and Blood Alley (1955) - for which she won a Golden Globe. In 1956, Ekberg was cast in the blockbuster, War and Peace starring Audrey Hepburn, which was to be shot in Rome, Italy.
Anita developed a likeness for the Italian way of life and stayed in Rome after filming wrapped on War and Peace. It was here where she met Federico Fellini who gave Ekberg the iconic role of "dream woman" in his critically acclaimed La Dolce Vita (1960). The film would immortalize Ekberg forever in the classic scene where she frolics through the Trevi Fountain with Marcello Mastroianni.
Fellini made Ekberg a household name and she soon developed a cult following. Throughout her years making films, she helped solidify her sex symbol status by staging various publicity stunts where she suffered wardrobe malfunctions in front of tipped photographers. Her hourglass frame and soft features were spotted by various men's magazines, becoming popularized in the 1950s. Ekberg posed for various editorials and became widely recognized as a pin-up model.
Ekberg was married to Anthony Steel in 1956 and subsequently to Rik Van Nutter in 1963. Over the years she was said to be romantically involved with Marcello Mastroianni, Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn, Yul Brynner, Frank Sinatra, and Gary Cooper - to name a few.
Although Ekberg was raised in Sweden, she seldom returned and never lived there. She made a home for herself in Italy, where she resides today.