The most famous of the seven sections in Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” belongs to Anita Ekberg. The Swedish bombshell was playing Sylvia, who was essentially her: a big-time pin-up and movie goddess, able to turn Rome’s every man into mouth-dribbling Tex Avery lust hounds. Marcello Mastroianni’s journo absconds with her and even scores some almost-canoodling in Rome’s Trevi fountain for the film’s most iconic, dorm room poster-friendly sequence.
The film would come to dominate her legacy, overshadowing the career that led to her being cast at all. Ekberg would complain that history was rewritten so that Fellini found her, when the reverse was closer to being true. Still, she reunited with Fellini twice, in his contribution to the 1963 omnibus film “Boccaccio ’70” and 1987’s “Intervista,” in which she and Mastroianni look back on their “La Dolce Vita” romping.
Ekberg died on Sunday, aged 83, outside of Rome, after two years battling illness. She passed away with loved ones nearby.
The last few years had not been kind to Ekberg, who was vocal about her plunge into financial difficulty, claiming she was penniless. That wasn’t entirely true; she still owned a large villa outside of Rome.
Born in 1931, Ekberg was crowned Miss Sweden in the early 1950s, which she used to get her foot in Hollywood’s door. She never took acting lessons, instead relying on her looks to get her a plethora of roles, the toniest of which by far being the 1956 mounting of “War and Peace” with Mel Ferrer and Audrey Hepburn. She was also one of the many courted by eccentric moneyman Howard Hughes.
Her greatest film, though, was “La Dolce Vita,” which is all the more notable due to her only being in about 25 minutes of its near-three-hour length. An examination of the jet set in Rome at the time, it’s divided into seven segments following Mastroianni’s journalist, who digs himself deeper and deeper into a world of partying and harsh morning afters. There are many electrifying episodes and girls, among them future Velvet Underground member Nico, but it’s Ekberg’s movie star who dominates the film, so much so that one feels a certain, Ekberg-shaped absence after she skidaddles from the movie before it’s even hit the hour mark.
She never had a role that major, though she did appear opposite Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin in 1963’s “4 for Texas.” She failed, though, to get the part given to another European blonde beauty, when the role of the first Bond girl in “Dr. No” went instead to Ursula Andress.
Ekberg’s funeral will be held in Rome and, after she is cremated, her remains will be sent to her home in Sweden.