On Sunday Anita Ekberg had the bad fortune to pass away as 1.5 million people were filling the streets of Paris. This is my apology (and my excuse) for not getting to this little tribute until today.
Ekberg was 84 when she passed, one reason why we haven’t seen the Swedish sex symbol in decades. She was all the rage in the 1960s, and though she acted in all sorts of movies both in Europe and America, I at least associate her with comedies…comedies in which she was invariably cast as a sex object. In the 1960s, the American film industry seemed to come to the conclusion that the sexist objectification of women was a lot funnier if the women were also foreign. Usually Ekberg and others were treated as sort of household pets, or as Charlton Heston called such creatures in Soylent Green, “furniture”. Even better if the little spitfire could be made angry so she could have an adorable little tantrum in her foreign accent, barely able to spit her words out.
Ekberg was in a surprisingly large number of American comedies in the 50s and 60s, starting with Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953, although that was just a bit role). She appeared with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin in Artists and Models (1955) and Hollywood or Bust (1956), with Bob Hope in Call Me Bwana (1963) (I made the mistake of thinking she was also with him in 1965’s Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number, but, silly me, that was Elke Sommer). She also appears in 4 for Texas (1963) with the Rat Pack and the Three Stooges, the all-star ensemble comedy Way…Way Out (1966) headlined by Jerry Lewis, and of course If This is Tuesday, It Must be Belgium (1969).
But then tastes changed. And Ekberg was 38 in 1969, becoming eclipsed by younger upstarts like Britt Ekland. Ekberg wasn’t, it must be admitted, very funny. But she was very beautiful. especially when she was angry. She lives now only in Valhalla – – and in her movies.
For more on comedy film history please see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
To find out more about show business past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.