Sophia Loren

The Italian film industry has given many talented and critically-acclaimed motion picture actresses including Gina Lollobrigida, Claudia Cardinale, Anna Magnani, Isabella Rossellini and Monica Bellucci, but none of them has matched Sophia Loren’s reputation, popularity, fame and statuesque beauty (her height is 5 ft 8 in). Recognized as Italy’s most famous and honored female movie star of all time, Academy Award-winning actress Sophia Loren is equally regarded as an iconic sex symbol and one of the most beautiful and seductive women in the world, whose trademark gait continues to mesmerize the opposite sex.

Throughout the years, her name has been particularly associated with Italian director Vittorio de Sica, film producer Carlo Ponti (her husband) and actor Marcello Mastroianni. Her richly extensive and varied filmography testifies to her artistic longevity in international cinematic culture. Sophia Loren received during the 1960s and 1970s four Golden Globes for ”world film favorite female” as well as the Academy Honorary Award in 1991 for her exceptional film career achievements and her remarkable contributions to the motion picture industry, being declared ”one of the genuine treasures of world cinema” whose memorable performances have added ”permanent luster” to this art form.

Around 1950, Sophia entered a beauty competition (Miss Italia 1950) and although she did not win the pageant, she was among the finalists and captured the attention of Italy s most famous film producer Carlo Ponti, who served in the jury.

Born Sofia Villani Scicolone on September 20th, 1934 in Rome, Italy, she and her younger sister Anna Maria were raised by their unmarried mother and aspiring actress Romilda Villani after their father had abandoned them. They lived in their grandmother s house in Pozzuoli, a fishing town near Naples before the war forced them to flee the city and seek refuge in Naples. In order to support her poverty-stricken family that barely made ends meet, she changed her name to Sofia Lazzaro and at the early age of 15, she started working for various pulp magazines known as ”foto-romanzo”, which were extremely popular in postwar Italy and used still photos to convey romantic storylines.

Film debut

Around 1950, Sophia entered a beauty competition (Miss Italia 1950) and although she did not win the pageant, she was among the finalists and captured the attention of Italy s most famous film producer Carlo Ponti, who served in the jury. Shortly after enrolling in acting classes in Naples, Sophia made her film debut as an uncredited extra in MGMs 1951 American epic movie Quo Vadis, directed by Mervyn LeRoy and then Carlo Ponti cast her in a small role in the 1951 drama Anna, one of the greatest films of Italian cinema. Titanus studio executive Goffredo Lombardo, a close friend of Carlo Ponti changed her last name to Loren. After appearing in several low-budget comedies, she was cast in her first leading (and critically-acclaimed) role in the 1953 Italian film Aida, that was inspired by Giuseppe Verdi's opera and in which she portrayed the Ethiopian slave of the same name (Gina Lollobrigida was also considered for this part). That same year, she was also the protagonist of the Italian comedy Two Nights With Cleopatra.

Sofia Loren in The Gold of Baples

Baking pizza in The Gold of Baples.

Sophia Loren's breakthrough role was in the 1954 four-story anthology The Gold of Naples (L'oro di Napoli), directed by Vittorio De Sica and produced by Carlo Ponti and Dino de Laurentiis. The film entered Cannes Film Festival's feature film competition in 1955. The part of ”Sofia”, a light-headed pizza seller who loses her husband's ring sealed her status as one of Italy’s movie stars and launched her international acting career. In 1955, she replaced Gina Lollobrigida in the third film of the trilogy Scandal in Sorrento (Pane, amore e...). This Italian comedy in which she starred opposite Vittorio de Sica (this time as an actor) was directed by Dino Risi and won the award for Best Humorous Film at the 6th Berlin International Film Festival.

The role of the opportunistic and intelligent Phaedra in the 1957 romantic film Boy on a Dolphin, based on David Divine's novel, marks both her English language and Hollywood debut. Directed by Jean Negulesco and co-starring Clifton Webb and Alan Ladd, this movie shot in CinemaScope and distributed by 20th Century Fox is set in Greece and features a song in Greek performed by Sophia herself. That same year, Carlo Ponti obtained a Mexican divorce (because divorce was illegal in Italy back then) from his wife Giuliana and married Sophia by proxy. To avoid bigamy and concubinage charges in their native country, the couple moved to the US, where Loren's international film career really took off.

Hollywood pictures

With the aid of Carlo Ponti, Sophia Loren capitalized both on her exotic image and innate talent and appeared between 1957 and 1970 in numerous Hollywood films, many of which were co-produced by her husband and co-starred some of the most famous American male movie stars, including Clark Gable, William Holden, Cary Grant, Anthony Perkins and Paul Newman. While her only collaboration with John Wayne was the 1957 adventure film Legend of the Lost, directed and produced by Henry Hathaway, she played opposite Cary Grant in two films, the 1957 war movie The Pride and The Passion, on the set of which Loren and Grant began a short-lived yet overly publicized affair, and the 1958 romantic comedy Houseboat.

Anthony Quinn and Sophia Loren

Loren and Anthony Quinn in the background in Heller in Pink Tights.

In 1960, before returning to Italy with Carlo, a blonde and slimmer Sophia co-starred with Anthony Quinn in the Technicolor western Heller in Pink Tights (this was George Cukor’s only attempt in the genre as a director and the result was an atypical western). That same year, she was cast in the role of attractive ”Lucia” in the romantic comedy It Started in Naples, opposite Clark Gable and Vittorio De Sica; this movie is noteworthy for Sophia Loren’s intoxicating musical number ”Tu Vuo Fa L Americano”.

Returning to Italy

Eleonora Brown and Sophia Loren

Eleonora Brown and Sophia Loren in Two Women.

One of the climaxes of her unrivalled career was her bigger-than-life, remarkably gritty and unforgettable performance in the critically-acclaimed and commercially-successful 1960 Italian drama Two Women (La Ciociara), the film adaptation of Alberto Moravia's novel. Directed by Vittorio De Sica, produced by Carlo Ponti and co-starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, this masterpiece of Italian cinema is the powerfully touching story of a valiant mother (”Cesira”, portrayed by Loren) who tries to protect her teenage girl (”Rosetta”, played by Eleonora Brown) from the atrocities of WWII, especially the ”Marocchinate” , an Italian term for the mass killings and rape committed in Italy by the Moroccan Goumiers. The monument ”Mother Ciociara” commemorates the large number of women mutilated and killed by these colonial troops. Executed with mercurial brilliance and virtuous insight, the role of Cesira earned Sophia Loren, which was initially cast as the daughter(!), 22 international film industry awards.

The following year, Sophia Loren was cast opposite Charlton Heston (the two stars however did not get along while filming) in the historical epic movie El Cid, which was produced by Samuel Bronston and directed by Anthony Mann. At the height of her rich career, when she was considered one of the most popular actresses in the world, she was paid $1 million for the role of ”Lucilla” in Samuel Bronston s 1964 super-production The Fall of the Roman Empire, which turned out to be a box-office failure, forcing Bronston to file for bankruptcy that same year.

In 1963, Sophia Loren was cast in the role of ”Adelina of Naples”, opposite Marcello Mastroianni, in the Italian comedy anthology Yesterday, Today and Tommorow. Directed by Vittorio De Sica, this movie won in 1965 the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. In 1965 Sophia Loren gave yet another memorable performance as the resourceful and sharp-witted ”Filomena” in Vittorio De Sica’s exceptional film Marriage Italian Style, for which she received her second Academy Award nomination. Co-starring Marcello Mastroianni and produced by her husband, the movie is the delectable story of a businessman, Domenico, who is tricked into marrying a former prostitute and mother of three (Filomena), whom he has taken in his house, by pretending she is on her deathbed.

The highlights of her late career includes the 1977 critically-acclaimed and internationally successful drama A Special Day, directed by Ettore Scola and co-starring again Italian film icon Marcello Mastroianni; Robert Altman’s renowned 1994 film Pret-a Porter and the 1995 hilarious comedy Grumpier Old Men, co-starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

Sophia Loren currently lives in Geneva, Switzerland and she is known for her low-profile lifestyle. Loren is the mother of orchestral conductor Maestro Carlo Ponti, Jr. (born in 1968 ) who resides with his family in Los Angeles) and film director Edoardo Ponti (born in 1973) who is married to American actress Sasha Alexander, as well as the grandmother of four. Her husband, the only man she ”ever loved” passed away in 2007, at the age of 94; their love lasted a lifetime. She attributes her eternal, age-defying beauty to ... spaghetti and olive oil. 

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