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Ethel Merman dubbed the buxom Ekberg (measurements 40D-22-36) "the thinking man's dunce cap: two of them." Bob Hope joked that her parents had received the Nobel Prize for architecture as she was touring with him and William Holden to entertain U.S. troops in 1954. Anita Ekberg is classic Hollywood's most naturally large-breasted actress with Pam Grier being her only contemporary rival.
Howard Hughes wanted her to change her name because Ekberg was too difficult to pronounce. She refused, saying that if she became famous, people would learn to pronounce it, and if she didn't become famous, it wouldn't matter.
Although many of her films are largely forgotten now, she appeared in several notable features: the low-budget Film Noir The Screaming Mimi (1958) directed by Gert Oswald who already used her the previous year opposite Sterling Hayden in Valerie; War and Peace where she played Henry Fonda's unfaithful wife, Princess Elena. She also appeared in two Frank Tashlin films with Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin: Artists and Models (1955) and Hollywood or Bust (1956). In Back from Eternity, (1956) she was cast as Robert Ryan's leading lady.
However it was Federico Fellini who gave Ekberg her greatest role in La Dolce Vita in 1960, in which she played the unattainable "dream woman" opposite Marcello Mastroianni; then Boccaccio '70 in 1960, a movie that also featured Sophia Loren. Fellini would call her back for two other films: I Clowns (1972), and Intervista (1987), where she played herself in a reunion scene with Mastroianni.
Fellini aside, she did not appear in many notable films in the 60's. There was 4 for Texas by Robert Aldrich (1963) with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Ursula Andress; Call Me Bwana (1963), a comedy for which she was billed above the title alongside Bob Hope; Woman Times Seven by Vittorio de Sica in 1967, with Shirley MacLaine; The Alphabet Murders (1966), again with Frank Tashlin; and Way...Way Out (1966), the latter introducing Linda Harrison in her first movie. Ekberg also accepted a small role in If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium in 1969.
 Private life
Ekberg was married to the British actor Anthony Steel from 1956 to 1959. From 1963 to 1975, she was married to the actor Rik Van Nutter; during their marriage, she had several miscarriages, but no successful pregnancies.
She reportedly was romantically involved with Tyrone Power, Marcello Mastroianni, Errol Flynn, Yul Brynner, Frank Sinatra, and Gary Cooper; she also had a three-year affair with the late Fiat chairman Gianni Agnelli.
Ekberg has resided in Rome for many years.