It Started in Naples
She grew up in war-torn Italy and went on to become a star in America while continuing to make many of her best films in the country of her birth. Here, in 40 slides, is the Sophia Loren story.
She Grew Up in Poverty
Born Sofia Villani Scicolone on September 20, 1934, Sophia Loren was the illegitimate daughter of an aristocratic engineer and a struggling piano teacher. She grew up near Naples, living with her mother in the home of her grandmother.
She Went Hungry During the War
Loren was 5 years old in 1940, when Italy entered World War II. By 1942, her family was hiding from air raids at night and living on rationed bread.
Her Nickname Was "Toothpick"
Or, in Italian, "Stuzzicadente." Other kids gave her that nickname because, as a girl, she was so scrawny.
She Made Up for It Later
"Everything you see I owe to spaghetti."
She Has a Scar on Her Chin
You could say it's a battle scar: Sophia was hit by shrapnel during an air raid.
She Liked Men in Uniform
Loren—seen here playing pool with American soldiers in 1953—never forgot the GIs who shared their rations with her at the end of World War II.
She Was a Natural at Comedy
Early in her career, Sophia made her mark in light sex farces like 1954's "The Gold of Naples." "Comedy was fun for me because I come from Naples," she said. "All the dialects and the gestures of everyday life, I had it all inside of me, in my blood."
She Had a Fierce Rival
Loren would feud for years with Gina Lollobrigida (that's her on the right, at the 1954 Berlin Film Festival, with Yvonne de Carlo in the middle). Even late in life, Lollobrigida won't let it go. "I was the number one," she said, just before celebrating her 90th birthday.
She Got Married by Proxy
Carlo Ponti first met Sophia in 1950, when he was a judge in a beauty contest. He was 37, she was 15. In 1957, the film producer obtained a Mexican divorce from his first wife. Then he and Loren were married by proxy, with two lawyers standing in for the bride and groom.
Carlo Ponti Made a Big Promise
When they decided to marry, Carlo said he would give Sophia "the most beautiful house in the world." He came though with a 16th century Roman villa with 50 rooms, frescoed walls, a horse stable, a tennis court and a large guest house, on a 24-acre estate.
Her Marriage Was Illegal
Until 1970, divorce was against the law in Italy. After Ponti and Loren got married, he was charged with bigamy and she faced excommunication from the Catholic Church. In 1962, the couple gave in to legal pressure and had their marriage annulled, though they stayed together.
She Was Outspoken About Fashion
"A woman's dress should be like a barbed-wire fence: serving its purpose without obstructing the view."
She Was a John Wayne Fan
Sophia took flak for her limited English when she made 1957's "Legend of the Lost." But John Wayne came to her defense, saying, "This girl, she laughs and she's very happy, leave her alone, don't bother her ..." Loren recalled. "He was very easy to work with, a beautiful man." The Duke gave a pair of spurs, which she hung for years on her bedroom wall.
She Took a Crash Course in English
Not long before she marred Carlo Ponti, Sophia followed his advice and took an intensive course in English. It was well worth the trouble: She'd been offered $200,000 to co-star with Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra in 1957's "The Pride and the Passion"—provided that her English made the grade. It did.
She Was Taken Aback by Jayne Mansfield
Moments after Sophia met Jayne Mansfield at a Beverly Hills party in 1957, another photo in the same series as this one famously caught the Italian actress staring at the blonde bombshell's exposed cleavage. "It was a moment that for me was very difficult to cope with," Loren later recalled. "I couldn't believe what I was looking at. I couldn't believe it. You know, it was something.... It didn't really upset me, but I was a little shocked."
She Defined Sex Appeal
"Sex appeal is 50 percent what you've got and 50 percent what people think you've got."
Cary Grant Wanted to Marry Her
There were obstacles: Grant was married to actress and screenwriter Betsy Drake at the time, and Sophia was about to tie the knot with Carlo Ponti. Still, the Hollywood legend proposed to Loren while they were making "The Pride and The Passion." In the end, she said years later, "Carlo was Italian; he belonged to my world."
Her Jewelry Was Stolen
Peter Scott, a British thief known as the King of the Cat Burglars, proudly claimed credit for stealing Loren's jewelry—worth hundreds of thousands of dollars—while she was in the U.K. filming 1960's "The Millionairess." The jewels were never retrieved.
She Jinxed the Thief
Loren addressed Peter Scott on television. "I come from a long line of gypsies," she said. "You will have no luck." Whether that was a prophesy or a hex, Scott reportedly lost all the money he made from her jewelry at a casino in the South of France.
She Had Unorthodox Ideas About Beauty
"If you haven't cried, your eyes cannot be beautiful."
The Oscar Took Her by Surprise
Loren won her first and only Best Actress Oscar for 1960's "Two Women," but she wasn't in Los Angeles to accept the award and never expected to win it. "It was night and the phone rings," she recalled. "Cary Grant was screaming into the phone, 'Sophia! Sophia! You won!' I started to jump on the bed. At that moment, I felt I arrived."
It Was a First for the Academy
Until then, no performer in a foreign-language film had ever won an Oscar.
She Had an Inferiority Complex
Her fellow nominees included Audrey Hepburn for "Breakfast at Tiffany," and Natalie Wood for "West Side Story." Even so, Loren said, "The truth is that I have always had the complex of the one who has not studied: I only did the elementary and never attended acting classes."
Her Sister Married a Mussolini
In 1962, Loren's younger sister Anna Maria—seen here with Sophia in 1960—became the wife of Romano Mussolini, the youngest son of the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Romano was then a popular jazz pianist whose band toured with artists like Chet Baker and Dizzy Gillespie.
She Did a Lot for Boating
Sophia—seen here on the deck of a Riva runabout—helped make Italy's Riva brand synonymous with chic luxury boats.
She Adored Marcello Mastroianni
Loren received a second Oscar nomination for 1964's "Marriage Italian Style," one of the 17 films she made with Mastroianni. "He always knew what he was doing," she recalled. "But he always pretended not to know, and this I liked very much."
She Has a French Passport
In 1966, Loren and Ponti moved to France and became French citizens. There, Carlo obtained a legal divorce and then, in a suburb of Paris, married Sophia.
She Valued Motherhood Over Stardom
In her 20s, Loren suffered two miscarriages and wanted desperately to have a child. As she wrote in her 2014 memoir, "My life as a star felt like nothing compared with the happiness of the new mothers I'd glimpsed at the hospital." While making movies, she would bond with child actors and then stay in touch with them for years.
She's Her Own Harshest Critic
"I'm a giraffe. I even walk like a giraffe with a long neck and legs. It's a pretty dumb animal, mind you."
Her Career Hit a High Point in the '60s
Loren received her largest paycheck—$1 million—for "The Fall of the Roman Empire in 1964. A year later she played the title role in the big-budget comedy "Lady L," but the movie flopped, in part because of bad chemistry between Sophia and co-star Paul Newman.
The Star She Was Proudest to Work With Might Surprise You
Loren's co-stars included not only Cary Grant and Marcello Mastroianni but also Clark Gable, Paul Newman and Gregory Peck. But she felt especially honored to work with Charlie Chaplin, who directed her in his final film, 1967's "A Countess From Hong Kong." Chaplin returned the compliment, telling Sophia at one point, "I feel that, when I direct you, I am the director of an orchestra."
She's Great at Scrabble
She even beat Richard Burton—twice. Recalling their Scrabble games on the set of 1974's "The Voyage," Loren wrote in her memoir: "I know, it's hard to accept. Despite his immense knowledge and huge vocabulary, he succumbed to my supremacy."
She Focused on Family
In the 1970s, Loren accepted fewer film roles than she did in the '60s and devoted herself to raising her sons. "When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts," she said. "A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child."
Her Sons Made Their Own Mark
Edoardo Ponti, seen here with his mom at the Moscow Film Festival, is a filmmaker whose mentor was the great Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni. His brother, Carlo, is an award-winning orchestra conductor.
She's a Serious Art Collector
Sophia and her husband built a collection that includes major works by artists like Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso and Renoir.
She Routinely Burns Her Diary
Loren has long kept a journal. But to ensure her privacy, she puts a match to her diary at the end of each year.
She Has a Theory About Aging
"There is a Fountain of Youth: It is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of the people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age."
She's Not Looking for Another Husband
Sophia Loren and Carlo Ponti were together for half a century before his death in 2007. Later, when a reporter asked her if she thought she would marry again, Loren was emphatic in her reply: "No, never again. It would be impossible to love anyone else."
A Last Bit of Advice About Italian Food
Take it from Sophia: "Spaghetti can be eaten most successfully if you inhale it like a vacuum cleaner."
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