He was the top film comedian of the time. She was a budding blonde sex symbol of great promise. It was natural to pair them in a film.
Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your Classic Movie guys back again to note that the indie producer Samuel Goldwyn often borrowed stars from other studios to perform opposite his contract players.
Who better than Bob Hope to showcase the producer’s newest talent acquisition, the 24-year-old former chorus girl with a peaches and cream complexion pictured above? She was quite a “princess” (that’s a hint!).
Despite her relative inexperience, our actress (born Virginia Jones in St. Louis) held her own nicely in her 1944 comedy pairing with Hope. You might be able to figure out the title of the picture by pondering the headline of today’s blog.
The movie was a smash hit, launching the starring career of our actress covering appearances in a wide range of films including a famous film noir featuring James Cagney’s most explosive screen performance. (Huge hint: film noir fans could also check her out in 1950’s “Red Light.” Our actress was costarred this time opposite George Raft.)
Can you name name her?
Meanwhile, we are interested to know if you identified the buxom blonde in last week’s photo with Hope.
Yes, that is Swedish star Anita Ekberg, one of the reigning international sexpots of the Fifties and Sixties.
Like so many American actresses in films Ekberg started out as a beauty contest queen, a Scandinavian one. She was chosen Miss Sweden in 1950, and unsuccessfully bid for the 1951 Miss Universe title.
Malmo-born (in the fall of 1931) Kerstin Anita Ekberg grew up in a large Swedish family than included seven brothers and sisters. After her unsuccessful Miss Universe bid, she decided to stick around Hollywood and do some modeling. Standing 5-foot-6-1/2 inches and endowed with 39-1/2-inch bust line, Anita was hard to overlook.
She caught the eye of — who else? — notorious womanizer Howard Hughes, who signed Anita to contract at his RKO studio. (She later claimed that Hughes at the time had proposed marriage.) Her RKO career went nowhere, and she wound up at Universal five years later. She made her movie debut in 1953 as a Venusian maiden in “Abbott and Costello Go To Mars.”
After appearing in several forgettable comedies including 1956’s “Hollywood Or Bust” with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Anita decided to take off for Rome where the red-hot Italian movie industry afforded more opportunities. It was director Federico Fellini’s film, “La Dolce Vita” (The Sweet Life), that propelled Anita to international stardom.
She appears opposite Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni as a fantasy image of idealized womanhood, highlighting her performance with a languorous dip — while still in evening dress — in Rome’s Fountain of Trevi. The image of her sensuous fountain escapade has been evoked countless times over the years in movie posters and in ad of all sorts. Anita’s “La Dolce Vita” image lives on — including in this blog (see photo below).
Her first comedy with Hope, 1958’s “Paris Holiday,” has Anita playing a mysterious European woman dogging Hope and the great (and now mostly forgotten) French movie comedian Fernandel. She was 27 at the time; Hope was 55. Not a match made in heaven.
In their second movie together, 1963’s “Call Me Bwana,” Anita is stuck playing yet another super agent of shady European backround. She was starting to put on weight by this time, and at age 60, Hope was pushing his comic lothario screen image almost to the limit. Skip this one.
Always referred to as “statuesque” and “voluptuous,” Ekberg drew less flattering descriptions (“erotic caricature” is one) in her weightier later years. Still, she always insisted that “I’m very proud of my breasts.”
Here’s that Fountain of Trevi shot of a soaking wet Anita in “La Dolce Vita.”