Sophia Loren is a gift to the film industry. She received multiple awards and honors and has worked in the European, French, Italian and American cinema. She has unfathomable talent, beauty, and charm and has become a household name since the mid 20th century.
The legendary actress started from the bottom and made it till the top. She went onto receive the highest honor any civilian could receive, by the Italian Government. Although, the later part of life was filled with glitz and glamor, when she initially started, Sophia did not have anything- no name, no house no money.
She was an illegitimate child of a wealthy man and she was also exiled from Italy. She overcame hurdles and became an actress, a mother, and a businesswoman. Take a read to find out about her incredible journey.
The birth of a legend
When people think of Sophia Loren, they think of the glitz and glamour. However, Sophia was not born with a golden spoon in her mouth. She had to struggle at every step of her way, to reach where she has.
Sofia was born as Sofia Villani Scicolone in Rome in 1934. She was born to Romilda Villani, an aspiring actress, and a piano teacher and Riccardo Scicolone. Her father was a womanizer who left her mother for another woman and refused to marry her as she fell pregnant.
Due to the circumstances she was born in, Sophia faced bullying in the early years of her life. When she turned 4, her mother took her and her sister and moved to a small town called Pozzuoli, near Naples.
Here, Romilda moved back in with her grandmother. Eventhough, now, there was a roof over their head, things were not easy for little Sophia. She had to share a room with eight other people and live in complete poverty.
Additionally, she was also washing dishes in her grandmother’s makeshift bar which was also the family’s living room.
While talking about Sophia’s father in an interview, her mother called him a pig and said that he was he was free to marry her. But instead, he dumped her after he found out about her pregnancy and chose to marry another woman.
It was not like Sophia was the only talented person in the family, but she was the only one who could make it.
When Sofia was a young child, her mother was offered the opportunity to go to the United States and play Greta Garbo’s body double. Her mother and Greta had striking similarities between them.
However, Romilda’s conservative parents did not approve of this, and she gave up this opportunity. But the young mother did not give up acting altogether. Additionally, when it came to her daughter, she was more compassionate towards her ambitions and supportive of her decisions.
Growing up strong-willed
The world didn’t know much about Sophia until she became an iconic celebrity. Her childhood was spent in poverty, and nobody could have guessed that she would one day become a global icon. People would often make fun of her and tell her that she had a plain face.
For Sophia, it was always about working hard a proving herself. She was fueled by her mother’s ambition and remained undeterred while making bold choices. She never let anyone tell her what she could and could not achieve. Given her circumstances, she learned to become strong and independent at a very young age.
Just before things changed.
Sophia faced a lot of challanges in Pozzuoli, she had had a troubled childhood and she suffered in silence. At her grandmothers, she shared a room with eight people and sometimes there was not enough water to even cook food. In times like these, her mother would use water from the radiator of the car since there was no other source.
Soon, things were going to change and good things were about to happen to her, but not before something significant took place. Just before the tables turned for Sophia she had to undergo one more ordeal, that was, surviving World War II.
World war II
The war had begun, and since Pozzuoli was situated in the front lines, that is on the Naples, it was a major bombing target for forces that were fighting the axis.
During the war, there was a heavy air raid and Sophia was caught in one such blast and was knocked to the ground. When she woke up, she discovered that a shrapnel had hit her chin and split it open.
Sophia still has the scar and boasts about it even now. But this incident was not going to keep her from becoming a star. Destiny had big things for her and she was going to achieve it one way or the other!
Being called a toothpick
Sophia’s nurse once told her that she had a plain face would never make it big. Additionally, the kids in her school bullied her and called a ‘Toothpick’ as she looked frail and thin due to poverty.
At the age of 14, things changed for Sophia; she was no longer the thin girl who was underweight. Instead, she began to transform into an attractive young woman. Her looks changed, and so did her attitude, she even felt amazing taking a stroll in the street.
At this time, she was unaware of what destiny had in store for her. Neither did she know that she was soon going to be a household name.
The roads that lead to Rome
In the year 1950, Sophia and her mother decided to leave Pozzuoli to try their luck in Rome.
Sophia, 15 years old then, participated in Miss Italy pageant. For the event, she wore a bulky dress that was stitched from old curtains, for her, by her grandmother. All though she did not come first in the pageant, she was ranked very high. This was enough to get her noticed and put her on the map
In the next year, she landed roles in Rome’s film industry, these roles were going get her noticed in the overseas too. She was soon going to become an international star.
Just like many Marvel stars today, who owe their successes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sophia too has Fumetti magazines to thank to, these were one of her first gigs. These were comics that came with photos instead of pictures and had a set storyline.
The stories were generic; there were love stories. There was a girl, she had a set of problems, she and her lover never would not get along and she would cry often, but in the end, everything would become okay and they were going to be happy. Sophia also added that, in that period it had to be like that.
Getting a stage name
When Sophia came back to Rome, she initially used her full name, that is, Sofia Villani Scicolone. But soon she changed her name for modeling and other small roles as extras in the films and that, stuck with her forever.
When she landed a role a small role in a film called La Favorita, she chose a stage name called ‘Loren’ which was a twist of the name of a Swedish actress called MĂ¤rta TorĂn. From then on, she was known by the name of ‘Sophia Loren.’
Film producer Goffredo Lombardo, suggested that Sophia take this stage name and she agreed.
Three years after coming back, settling down in Rome and working in the film industry, Sophia landed a leading role in a film called Aida, an adaptation of an opera of Giuseppe Verdi by the same name. Everyone loved Sophia’s performance and she became an important actress in Italian film industry.
After the success of Aida, Sophia began getting many film offers with leading roles including the critically acclaimed film’Two Nights with Cleopatra,’. But this was just the beginning for her, she worked in several other films after that, and continues to do so even now.
Way to go Sophia!
The film, Two nights with Cleopatra
Sophia started out with playing a few roles in low budget films. She performed in The comedy of errors, Two Nights With Cleopatra (where she played the role of both, Cleopatra and her look-alike maid) and such others.
The film, Two nights with Cleopatra, was not commercially successful, but Sophia’s partial nudity, help sell a few tickets. This film, however, was a stepping stone in her career and helped her land roles in bigger films with prestigious production houses. After this film, she never looked back. Her journey was rollercoster ride and she held onto her seat quite firmly.
The Gold of Naples, a critically acclaimed film
1953 was Sophia’s year; it was when her career truly lifted off. After Aida and Two Nights with Cleopatra, she landed a role in
The Gold of Naples.
In the film, she plays the role of an unfaithful pizza seller and brings six ‘episodes’ of Neapolitan life to screen. It was one of her best performances. Growing up near Naples truly shaped her for the role.
The film made her extremely successful, and her talent was recognized not just in Italy but in Hollywood also.
Sophia was a rising star in Italy after the success of her films. Around the same time, Hollywood too was looking for fresh faces. They caught hold of a few of her films, and in 1957 she was flown down to America toact in her first ever English film. It was a huge deal, but Sophia performed with utmost ease.
She seemed pretty confident about herself and this could be seen on the big screen too. Additionally, she was so good with her work that while she was shooting her first film in Hollywood and before it’s release, she made an American man fall in love with her.
Sophia and the man who fell in love with her, Cary Grant
Luck was in favor of Sophia when she entered Hollywood. She found herself working with two of the greatest celebrities of her time, Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra when she was hired for The Pride and the Passion. So much so, that the former individual actually fell in love with her!
It’s true, Cary Grant was crazily in love Sophia and was even ready to leave his family and kids for her; he was 52 at that time. Cary pursued her without knowing that she already had a man in her life. Sophia was already in love with a man and not everybody was aware about it back then.
Sophia’s true love
Sophia was very young at that time, and she had a very difficult choice to make!
On the one hand, she was in love with the Italian producer, Carlo Ponti for seven years, who was also 22 years older than her. And on the other hand, Cary Grant had also fallen for this young and attractive woman.
Carlo was married at that time and could not get a divorce from his first wife due to the strict Italian Catholic laws. Whereas, Cary was ready to leave everything behind, just to start a new life with her.
Sophia was under a lot of pressure; the man she loved could not be with her and then there was another was ready to leave everything for her!
She now had a difficult choice to make.
Turning down the legendary Cary Grant
Despite the actor’s constant persuasion, Sophia turned him down.It was not like she did not like him; in fact, she had grown quite fond of him due to their professional relationship. He was good looking and charming, but he could not offer her what Ponti could.
She could not leave Ponti, as Carlo was her only chance of having a family. She could see things happening with him and did not feel the same way about Grant. She loved Ponti and wanted to be him. Sophia envisioned a future with him. So choosing Cary Grant over Carlo Ponti was next to impossible for her.
A true Italian
Sophia liked Hollywood, and she also turned very successful there, but somehow felt like she did not belong there. She never saw herself as an equal to other Hollywood stars like Cary Grant or Marilyn Monroe. She was Italian and felt like she would not fit into Grant’s life in the way she would fit in with a fellow Italian.
Carlo Ponti made her feel like home and provided her with the safety and security that she always longed for! He also gave her a sense of confidence that she could not find anywhere else. Carlo was her father, partner, confidant, her everything!
Despite knowing how dedicated Sophia was to Ponti, Grant pursued her relentlessly. He would often invite her to intimate dinners, send her flowers, compliment her with a complete disregard for her relationship with Carlo Ponti.
There also came a point, where Cary Grant crossed the line and proposed to her, but Sophia Loren rejected him.
Sophia had placed her complete faith in Ponti and wanted to know if she was right in doing so. With Grant and other men making proposals to her, she had to see if she was doing the right thing, and thus, she devised a test.
Testing her relationship with Ponti
Sophia wanted to test her relationship with Ponti. So when she wrapped up the shoot of her second film with Grant called Houseboat, originally written by Grant’s wife, who was also supposed to be the female lead, until Grant got Sophia to play the role; she left the set with a bouquet in her hand.
Sophia held a bouquet of yellow roses, given to her by Grant in one hand and held Ponti with the other. She bragged about the gift and spoke highly about Grant. She wanted to know if it affected Ponti and whether he would get jealous. Ponti grew jealous with this little stunt of hers, and he was even vocal about it. For Sophia, this was it; she knew she wanted him to be her partner for life.
Sophia’s near-death experience
Sophia had a range of experiences in Hollywood, and not all of them were very exciting.
The year Sophia did her first film with Grant, she also worked on Legend of the Lost with actors John Wayne and Rossano Brazzi. After the shoot one night, while she was fast asleep in her hotel room, she woke up feeling dizzy.
Gas fumes were coming out of the gas in her room, and she was losing consciousness. Sophia tried to get to the door but collapsed onto the ground before she could reach the door.
To her good luck, her co-star Rossano Brazzi was passing by her room and had heard the commotion. He was able to rescue her in time.
The Bigamy charges
Sophia and her lover Ponti were together since she was 16 years old. So in 1957, when they go an opportunity, they both got married in Mexico, through proxy.
The duo were madly in love with each other, but their marriage posed a problem. Ponti had long separated from his first wife, but remained married to her. Due to the strict Catholic laws in Italy, he could not fiLe for a divorce. And now, he was newly married to Sophia Loren. This made him a bigamist, which was a serious offense. It also meant that it would be difficult for them to return to their home.
Returning to Italy
Sophia became immensely successful in Hollywood, but she loved and missed her home dearly. Due to the bigamy charges, she and Ponti were not allowed to re-enter Italy. They had to think of other alternatives and come up with a solution.
Sometimes, Carlo Ponti, would drive Sophia up to the Swiss Alps so she could see the overview of her country. But this was not a long term solution, so the duo had to come up with an idea to enter their country. They needed a concrete solution that would solve their problem in long term and one that would not have them move about as much and not rent houses under different names.
Two Women, the film
In the year 1960, Ponti and Loren returned to Europe. However, this did not mean that Sophia was done with her career in Hollywood. When she returned, she shot a film called Two Women. The story was about the two women, and their attempt at survival in Italy during the World war II. Since the storyline somehow reflected Sophia’s own childhood, she performed brilliantly in it. Her work was recognised and praised internationally.
Her performance in the film was so good that she was the first actress, in a non-English film language, to receive an Oscar! Cary Grant himself called her up to tell her about the award. Despite the films success, Sophia hadn’t turned up for the event as she thought she might faint after seeing the crowd.
Gaining International stardom
Sophia was a big star by mid-1960s. She was loved for her, acting looks and talent. She was a successful actress in the Italian, American and French films.She starred in a movie called ‘Marriage Italian-Style,’ and received critical acclaims. The storyline revolves around how the protagonist, a female who is a keep, tricks her long time partner of 20 years to get married to her after learning that he plans on marrying another woman and leaving her.
Sophia performed incredibly well in the film, additionally her work was praised internationally.For the same film, she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in 1964.
When the couple go their French Citizenship
Under the Presidency of Georges Pompidou, Sophia Loren and Carlo Ponti applied for their French Citizenship. Ponti even convinced his first-wife to move to France and apply for the same. In the year 1965, the three of them received their French Citizenship.
This Citizenship allowed Ponti to obtain a divorce from his ex-wife in France, something was not possible when Ponti resided in Italy. Since the Italian Government recognized this law, he was free of bigamy charges and Loren was longer charged with ‘concubinage’. He could even enter the country with his new partner and marry her if wished.
Sophia Loren was filming a movie in England in 1960. She arrived in the country wearing expensive jewels and diamonds. A couple of days later, while she was at the airport to meet her husband, the bag containing those jewels were stolen by a thief.
These jewels were purchased from her hard earned money, and since she came from a very humble background, it hurt her even more. The total cost of the jewels back then was ÂŁ185,000.
Many years later, a British criminal dubbed King of the Cat Burglars claimed that he was responsible for stealing those jewels, however, they were never found.
Criminal Charges against Ponti
Loren’s husband Carlo Ponti was convicted for multiple violations in Italy. A few of them were; misuse of government subsidies, illegal export of Italian funds and artwork, income tax evasion etc. These crimes resulted in a four-year jail sentence. Sophia too was tried for these crimes but was soon acquitted.
However, these acquisitions were not enough to tarnish Sophia’s reputation, and she continued to enjoy the popularity among her fans. Their love and support did not deter even for a second, she was always a star for them and continues to be so, even now. Sophia was recognised for her skill and talent, and respected for the same.
Trying to get pregnant.
Ponti and Sophia were trying to have children of their own for many years, but unfortunately, Sophia miscarried twice. After some time, the couple discovered that she had a hormonal imbalance. Sophia then began taking prescribed estrogen shots and undergoing fertility treatments. But even after that, there was no surity that she would be able to have children. Sophia did not imagine this, even in her wildest dreams!
This situation broke Sophia, as raising a family with Ponti was all she wanted since she was 16. It was her only dream and being in a position where she was helpless and incapable of being a mother,upset her even more!
One big happy family
Sophia became an international star, but she never forgot where she came from. She knew what she grew up with, where she belonged and she knew what she wanted in her life. A family was the most important thing in her life, and she really wanted one of her own.
In 1968, the couple was blessed with their first child, and despite their age gap and all the spotlight and the constant papparzzi, they were able to finally live the kind of life they wanted.The duo was happy, content, and finally for Sophia, it felt like something was going right. This meant living far away from affairs and scandals, unlike other typical celebrities.
The Film: The Fall of the Roman Empire
In the year 1964, Sophia made history by appearing in a film called The Fall of the Roman Empire directed by Anthony Mann . She was paid $1 million for it as fee and was one of the few actors who was paid such a heavy sum around that time. The movie, however, did not do that well.
Despite being unsuccessful at the box-office, people recognised the film as an intelligent work of art. It very well made and in today’s day it is viewed as one of the best example of ‘Sword and Sandal’ film. A genre that was very popular in the 1960s.
So many awards!
In the 1970s, Sophia Loren was back in Hollywood to be a part of many successful films. She played a role in The Sin, The Cassandra Crossing, Man of La Mancha and The Voyage.
Fast forward to a few years, in 1977, she did a film with Marcello Mastroianni called A Special Day. This film was super successful and was nominated for 11 international awards including two Oscars. It also received multiple awards such as the CĂsar Award- for the best foreign movie, a Golden Globe Award . Additionally, Sophia was awarded the prestigious David di Donatello Award. It was the seventh one in her career.
Carving her own niche
Sophia always believed that was important for one to reinvent themselves and grow as individuals . Unlike her contemporaries, who stuck to following the Hollywood path, Sophia decided to change things. She wanted to do something different and be more than just an actress. She came back to Italy and focused on herself. In the early 70s, she gave birth to her second boy and her family was complete.
While Sophia always believed that family was her first priority, she did not give her career up altogether. She continued to act in Italy but secretly started working on something else too.
Sophia’s revolutionary idea
Sometime during the 1980s, Sophia decided that she would take a break from work and focus on her husband and children. She wanted to spend more time with them, get to know them and care for them. Since Sophia’s first priority was always her family, this seemed like the right thing to do.
This break did wonders for her career instead! While looking out for her family, Sophia rediscovered herself. She came across a revolutionary idea that changed the entertainment industry forever. She began planning and gathering resources for it. Her idea was something the industry had never seen before, it was fresh and much awaited.
The Golden Globe award winner
Between the years 1964 to 1977, Sophia went on to receive about 4 Golden Globe Awards for ‘World Film Favorite – Female’ category. This established the fact that she was one of the most popular film stars in the world. Sophia won several awards apart from the Golden Globes aswell.
As the years went by, she starred in multiple films, a few of which were with Charlton Heston in El Cid, The Millionairess with Peter Sellers; It Started in Naples with Clark Gable and many other classic movies. All these movies were a huge success and Sophia became a sought after actress.
A series of Firsts
Back in the day, it was uncommon for celebrities to launch their own venture, infact nobody had heard such a thing before.Sophia became the first celebrity to do this! So, launching her own perfume line, in 1981, was one of the many ‘Firsts’ of her life, and it was an incredible idea!
After the success of her perfume line, she released her very own eyewear brand. This was super successful too. Sophia however, had a few more ideas in her mind. Apart from having a sharp business acumen, she knew she had a knack for writing. And that was her next idea!
Being an author
After venturing into the perfume and eyewear business, Sophia turned to writing. She published a book called Women and Beauty in which she shared secrets from her own beauty routine. This was her first book and quite a brilliant one too.
She also authored several cookbooks which had Italian recipes on home cooking, and memoirs. All of her books were best sellers and continue to be translated and sold in multiple languages till date. Sophia turned into a businesswoman and an author after a long struggle and hardwork. She took a path less taken, something most celebrities and individuals of her stature would not dare to.
Sophia’s secret mantra
Sophia strived hard to become a successful actress and then she turned into an even successful entrepreneur and an author. Among all her achievements, the greatest one according to her was marrying Carlo Ponti. She married the only man she ever loved and their relationship lasted for nearly 60 years, Something most of use can only dream of thesedays!
When asked, what was the key to a successful marriage according to her, Sophia replied saying that it was essential to remember that career was not the most important thing in the world.
She also went on to say that, ‘Show business is what we do, not what we are.’
Indebted to Spaghetti
A long time ago, Sophia gave an interview to a newspaper where a reporter asked her about how she maintained her curves and if there was any specific regimen she followed. Sophia replied, saying, ‘Everything I am, I owe to spaghetti.’ The answer wasn’t what the reporter had expected, but it was quite humorous!
However, a couple of years later, when she was asked about it again, she joked and said.’ I never said that. I think the quote was, ‘Everything I am I owe to spaghetti.’ How rude.’ Sophia’s sense of humor, her wit and style is something we all adore.