Born Sophia Scicolone on September 20th, 1934, she was one of two illegitimate children. A shy little girl who was forced to endure living in the slums of Pozzuoli in war-torn Naples with her sister Maria was teased at school for her fatherlessness. Her mother Romilda Villani tried to shield her from the cruelty of her peers and concentrated her goals for success on her young daughter.
Sophia first saw her father when she was five years old, again at 17 and the last time when he died. She couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t divorce his wife and marry her mother and later, could not justify his presence in their lives. When he died, Sophia found forgiveness but she could not forget what she and her mother had been through. Those pains and the suffering left a scar in her heart that would emerge in many of her roles, imbuing them with such tumultuous emotion, it would bring tears to one’s eyes.
Sophia would become the ultimate reflection of what her own mother had wanted to become. At fourteen, Sophia was the promise of breathtaking beauty and at fifteen entered a beauty pageant, Miss Italy in Rome. Considered too provocative to be awarded the ‘crown’ she was awarded the title Miss Eleganza 1950.
Many in the beauty pageant scenes spoke of Sophia in disparaging tones, uttering opinions that her nose was too big, her lips not right, her hips too wide, little realising, as Sophia herself put it, ‘I had not exploded yet’. Regardless of being pubescent, she believed in herself and when she finally did ‘explode’ the ridicule turned to green envy.
She caught the attention of Carlo Ponti, a film producer who was 22 years older and as he put her under contract, christened her Sophia Loren. She acted in a string of small parts until in 1954 when she appeared in ‘The Gold Of Naples’ directed by one of Italy’s best, Vittorio De Sica. The film made Sophia and her walk a star. In the mid fifties, she took America by storm appearing along side Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra in a film called The Pride and the Passion. Always cast as a voluptuous peasant, she managed to give her roles class while being a siren that took away the breaths of men young and old alike.
While romantically linked for a time to Carlo Ponti, the romance could not flourish. Ponti was married and divorce at the time was illegal. Under his paternal wing, Sophia Loren won an Oscar in 1962 and won international acclaim for her role in Two Women which earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress. It was at this time that Cary Grant had fallen in love with Sophia and expressed that love openly when he asked her for her hand in marriage but it wasn’t to be. Carlo who realised he might lose the love of his life, in 1966 went to Mexico, divorced his wife and married Sophia whom he brought back to Italy. They would remain married for forty years during which time they had to beautiful sons. Sophia fiercely supports fidelity although when she saw the hypocrisy, laughed and denied being Italian. ‘I am not Italian,’ she said vehemently, ‘I am Neopolitan!’ and her engaging smile brought the lights of eternal and much deserved happiness to her eyes.
During the sixties and seventies, Sophia won five Golden Globe Awards for films that proved to the world she was a genuine actress with a passion for her craft. As the eighties approached however, her appearances on screen became few and she spent a lot of her time raising her sons, Carlo and Eduardo and became the first actress to launch her own fragrance and eye-wear.
Both Sophia and Carlo were not strangers to the Italian Authorities. Carlo had allegedly removed money illegally and Sophia was thought to be a tax evader. She turned herself in to the authorities in 1982 and spent 19 days behind bars in an Italian prison.
Declared as ‘one of the world cinema’s greatest treasures’, the screen missed her whilst she grieved for her mother who died of cancer at the age of 77 in 1991. She would return to mainstream films in the early nineties but although she was well received, her films were not until she played a sexy divorcee who seduces Walter Matthau in the comedy, Grumpier Old Men in 1995.
At 72 and still stunningly beautiful, tastefully, but with little else on she posed for the Pirelli Calendar in not much more than her skin. In that same year, her husband, Carlo Ponti died. He was 94. Sophia now drifts between Switzerland and Los Angeles where she is close to her sons and their families and prefers quietude in her life.
Show business is what she did, she said recently, ‘Not what I am.’ And with a career that has given the world six decades of immeasurable pleasure and received 50 awards, Sophia Loren retains a dry sense of humor and with a sultry voice at 82 is still deemed a megastar and a stunning screen legend who will forever remain one of the most recognizable actresses of all time.
Main Image: Flickr