Anita Ekberg appreciation: The face of glamorous, uninhibited hedonism, dies aged 83

Ekberg stood for 1960s glamour at its most reckless and uninhibited

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The Independent Culture

The film career of Anita Ekberg – who died today aged 83 – was defined by a few minutes of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960). Playing a movie star, she is shown dancing riotously in a nightclub. She throws away her fur and takes off her shoes. “Come on everybody, follow me,” she shouts as her drunken fiancé (Lex Barker) sits on the sidelines. They row and she storms off. Jaded journalist Marcello Mastroianni drives her away into the Roman night. After howling like a wolf and wandering the streets with a kitten on her head, they end up at the Trevi Fountain. The sight of the water cascading over her body electrified audiences.

Ekberg stood for 1960s glamour at its most reckless and uninhibited. With her lustrous blonde hair, she had the voluptuous beauty of American actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield but there was a European mystique and sexiness to her too. She was nicknamed the “iceberg” and the “Nordic goddess”, but her appeal was very different from that of her fellow Swede, Greta Garbo. Whereas Garbo played tragic and enigmatic characters, Ekberg was a more hedonistic and joyful screen presence.

Fellini did not discover Ekberg. She was already established in Hollywood. She had worked with both John Wayne and Bob Hope. Wayne’s production company had her under contract, and she complained that she therefore saw little of the profits from director Fellini’s masterpiece.

Ekberg also used to grumble that the Trevi Fountain scene was shot in winter, and the water was icy cold. She seemed to take a perverse pleasure in downplaying the moment. Mastroianni, she claimed, was drunk when he shot the scene and couldn’t speak a word of English besides, so she had no way of communicating with him anyway.

Nothing else in Ekberg’s career came close to matching those few magical moments. Not that it mattered. However fleetingly, Fellini had caught the Ekberg essence – her beauty, impulsiveness and humour – and had carved her a notch in film history.