Anita Ekberg: The Swede who was La Dolce Vita

The actress Anita 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".

Anita Ekberg: The Swede who was La Dolce Vita
A 1955 portrait of Anita Ekberg in a publicity photo for the film War and Peace. Photo: INP/AFP

Although born and brought up in Sweden, Ekberg spent most of her adult life abroad, first in the United States, where she quickly emerged as one of a 1950's generation of pin-ups and starlets, and then in Italy, where she died in a hospital outside the capital on Sunday.

Ekberg had attracted attention while still a teenager, winning a beauty contest to become "Miss Sweden" in 1950.

The sixth of eight children, she was born on September 29, 1931 in the southern Swedish port of Malmö, where her father worked as a docker.

Both her mother and her friends had encouraged her to enter beauty contests, and her success quickly took her to the United States, with hopes of becoming Miss Universe.

Although she did not win, Ekberg was quickly noticed by, among others, the cult film director Russ Meyer, the eccentric millionaire businessman and producer Howard Hughes and the actor-producer John Wayne.

In addition to becoming a pin-up for magazines such as "Confidential" and "Playboy", she appeared in a series of comedy films including "Abbott and Costello Go to Mars" (1953), "Artists and Models" (1955) and "Hollywood or Bust" (1956).

In each case Ekberg's spectacular physique was made part of the plot, often to comic effect.

When in 1954 she visited a US base in Greenland with the actor William Holden and the comedian Bob Hope, the latter quipped that her parents had been given the Nobel Prize for architecture.

It was for the director King Vidor that Ekberg first arrived in Italy, to act in his 1956 film of "War and Peace" along with Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda.

She was then noticed by the great Italian director Fellini, who always had an eye for beautiful women.

He cast her as the dream woman who tempts Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini's iconic 1960 work "La Dolce Vita" (The Good Life).

The film won Fellini the Golden Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival of the same year, and the fountain scene rapidly became one of the most famous images in cinema history.

Ekberg was to star in several other major Italian films, including "Boccacio 70," (1962), co-directed by Fellini and Vittorio De Sica and also starring Sophia Loren, plus Fellini's circus film "I Clowns" (1970) and his "Intervista" (1987), also featuring Mastroianni.

In 2011 the Turin daily La Stampa reported that at the age of 80 the former star asked for financial help from the Fellini Foundation. She lived in a residence for elderly people near to Rome after breaking her hip.

Her many romantic liaisons reportedly included spells with Gianni Agnelli, head of the Fiat auto company, as well as with Mastroianni, Errol Flynn and Frank Sinatra.

Ekberg was married twice, firstly to the British actor Anthony Steel between 1956 and 1959 and then to the American actor Rik Van Nutter between 1963 and 1975. Both marriages ended in divorce and there were no children.

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Venice Film Festival fights for impact amid coronavirus curbs and cancellations

What if you threw a film festival and nobody came?

Venice Film Festival fights for impact amid coronavirus curbs and cancellations
File photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
That, in essence, is the challenge facing organisers of this year's Venice Film Festival, the glamorous annual competition where stars, critics, photographers and industry executives mingle on the bustling Lido, overlooking sandy beaches and the blue Adriatic.
Provided, of course, it's a normal year.
But in 2020, the world's oldest film festival is forced to walk a tightrope between preserving its lustre as the premier launch pad for Academy Award-winning films, while safely navigating the coronavirus crisis and averting the controversy over gender inequality that has dogged it in the past.
Opening Wednesday and continuing until September 12, the prestigious event now in its 77th year will be the first international film festival since the pandemic shuttered competitions around the world.
It has put in place a host of safety measures — from limited seating to thermal scanners, to a fan-free red carpet — to protect attendees as Covid-19 cases continue to climb in Italy and around the world.
In July, festival director Alberto Barbera declared the event “saved” as he announced the 18 films among the approximately 60 presented that would vie for the top award, the Golden Lion.
He promised that the festival would preserve the “liveliness of contemporary cinema”.
Despite its scaled-down size with theatre capacity reduced by about half, La Biennale di Venezia takes on greater importance this year due to the cancellation of rival film festivals across the globe, among them the glitzy Cannes Film Festival on the Cote d'Azur in France.
But just days ahead of the opening, organisers are scrambling to navigate uncharted territory amid uncertain attendance and last-minute cancellations.     
Whereas Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep and Scarlett Johansson provided the star firepower at last year's festival, ongoing travel restrictions — especially a travel ban from the United States into Europe — mean that most Hollywood elites will be no shows, along with actors and directors from China, India and South America.
Those arriving from outside Europe's Schengen zone will have to submit results of a Covid-19 test just before their departure, with a second test carried out in Venice, meaning that some attendees may have to cancel.
Earlier this week, the festival announced that American actor Matt Dillon would be a last-minute substitute on the jury for Romanian director Crisit Puiu.
No reason was given for Puiu's absence, but industry trade magazines noted he had given a speech earlier this month in which he said it was “inhumane” to watch movies with a mask on.
Those confirmed as attending include, among others, British actress Tilda Swinton, Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, US director Oliver Stone and Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen.
More women directors
The uncertain lineup of stars and dearth of top names leaves Australian actress Cate Blanchett, president of the jury, to take up the mantle of celebrity — and social activism — at Venice.
Blanchett was the leader of the #MeToo women's march up the red carpet steps at Cannes two years ago that sought to bring attention to the lack of parity and diversity in cinema.
The presence of Blanchett helps raise such awareness while the festival seeks to stanch criticism levelled in recent years over the glaring lack of women directors in festivals' top lineups.
The Oscar-winning headliner told Variety magazine on Thursday that this year's eight women directors in the main competition lineup of Venice is “a direct response to the positive advances that have been made this year”.
Others say it is too early to tell whether a page has turned.
“It's all about being consistent and diligent and believing that women make movies as well as men, and using that in the way you programme,” said Melissa Silverstein, founder and publisher of “Women and Hollywood”, which advocates for gender diversity and inclusion in film.
Last year's festival opened under controversy after the inclusion in the lineup of French-Polish director Roman Polanski, who fled the United States after his 1977 conviction of rape of a 13-year-old girl.
There were also only two female directors in the selection. In both 2018 and 2017, only one female director was represented.   
Blanchett said more was riding on the jury's decisions this year, given the limited opportunities for filmmakers to show their work publicly, due to the coronavirus closures.
“So, whatever the deliberations the jury will make will be more impactful. I don't take that responsibility or privilege lightly.”