Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexikon

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Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg


Actor, photographer's model

Anita Ekberg was a model and a world-famous Swedish actress.

Anita Ekberg was born in Malmö in 1931. She was the daughter of Gustav Ekberg, a warehouse boss, and his wife Alva. Anita Ekberg grew up in Malmö, living with her parents and seven siblings.

Anita Ekberg attended a school of domestic science in her later teenage years. In 1949 she appeared as a ‘number girl’ (ie she walked across the stage carrying a number card) at the Hippodrom revue show in Malmö. She was chosen to be ‘Miss Hipp’ and subsequently picked up work as a fashion model. She was crowned Miss Sweden in 1951, having been discovered on the street by a journalist from Vecko-Revyn, a weekly which arranged the beauty pageant. Anita Ekberg later represented Sweden in the Miss Universe competition in the USA, which subsequently led to her getting a student contract with the Universal film company, as well as a bit part in the Abbott and Costello film Abbott and Costello go to Mars in 1953. Anita Ekberg received a Golden Globe in 1956 as most promising newcomer for her role in War and Peace.

Anita Ekberg made around 60 films throughout her career, mainly in the USA and in Italy. She never made any in Sweden. Her films were an uneven assortment of major films and obscure films considered ‘turkeys’. She is best known for her role as Sylvia in Federico Fellini’s 1960 film La dolce vita. The scene in which Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni take a dip in Rome’s Trevi fountain has become one of the most iconic images from cinematographic history. It turned Anita Ekberg into a global star and her particular combination of sex-appeal and charisma led to her transformation into a sex-icon, like Brigitte Bardot. She was even known as ‘Paramount’s Marilyn Monroe’ for a time. Her other roles include the Lewis/Martin film Artists and Models, from 1955, Zarak, from 1956, the 1962 anthology film Boccaccio ’70, Gold of the Amazon Women, from 1979, and Intervista, from 1987.

Anita Ekberg’s private life was just as tumultuous as her relationship with the media in general and with Swedes in particular. She was stubborn, outspoken, and had a harsh tongue and displayed diva-like attributes. She had many well-publicsed relationships with famous men. Anita Ekberg was married to fellow actor Anthony Steel from 1956-1959 and then to Rik van Nutter from 1963-1975. She harboured no acting ambitions of her own – her most demanding role was said to be that of playing ‘La Ekberg’. She was a working-class girl who rose to be a global star, earned millions, and lost millions. “I have loved, I have cried, I have been deliriously happy. I have won and I have lost”, Anita Ekberg herself has said in relation to her life both under and beyond the spotlight.

Anita Ekberg died in Italy in 2015. She is buried in Skanör cemetery.

Jennifer Vintkvist
(Translated by Alexia Grosjean)

Published 2018-03-08

You are welcome to cite this article but always provide the author’s name as follows:

Kerstin Anita Marianne Ekberg,, Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexikon (article by Jennifer Vintkvist), retrieved 2024-04-19.

Other Names

    Married: Steel, Van Nutter

Family Relationships

Civil Status: Divorced
  • Mother: Alva Maria Ekberg, född Larsson
  • Father: Gustav Ekberg
  • Brother: Lennart Ekberg
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  • Yrkesutbildning, Malmö: Hushållsskola


  • Profession: Mannekäng, fotomodell, revyartist, nattklubbsartist, Malmö och Los Angeles
  • Profession: Skådespelare, film


  • Colleague: Federico Fellini
  • Colleague: Marcello Mastroianni
  • Colleague: Audrey Hepburn
  • Love relationship: Giovanni Agnelli


  • Birthplace: Malmö
  • Malmö
  • Los Angeles, USA
more ...



  • Lundin, Else-Marie, Anita från Malmö, Artograf, Simrishamn, 2004


Further References

  • Hector, Lars & Persson, Christel, Den sista divan: boken om Anita Ekberg, 1. uppl., Kira, Malmö, 2016