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This story first appeared in a special awards issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
At age 19, Sweden-born Anita Ekberg lost the Miss Universe crown — but won a Universal contract. It was 1950, and the new Miss Sweden had flown to America to compete in the pageant. As one of six finalists, she scored a studio contract and, with Universal’s push, became widely recognized as a pinup model, gracing the pages of fashion and men’s magazines across the country. Brief screen appearances led to a role in Blood Alley alongside John Wayne and Lauren Bacall.
By 1956, she’d been cast in a series of Paramount films, including Hollywood or Bust and War and Peace, and had been anointed New Star of the Year (along with Victoria Shaw and Dana Wynter) by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. But Ekberg got her most memorable role after Federico Fellini saw a photo of the blond bombshell dipping her feet in Rome’s Trevi Fountain. He cast her in 1960’s La Dolce Vita, in which she would frolic in that same fountain with co-star Marcello Mastroianni. “I was standing there in bare legs for hours in winter freezing to death,” she told the Irish Examiner in 2013. “We had to keep repeating the take. I had lost all circulation in my legs by the end.” Later roles in small-scale European films, such as 1979’s The Killer Nun, never quite met the same caliber of success. Having retired in 2002, Ekberg, 83 and twice divorced, now lives outside Rome, the city where she earned her place in film’s firmament.
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