She arrived in the world destitute, an illegitimate child of a poverty-stricken mother. “Sofia Stuzzicadenti” seemed fated to a life of misery. Instead, a rags-to-riches fairytale and an unmistakable grace define the great Sophia Loren. Read on to find out how this iconic silver screen siren turned into a star.
Born in Rome
Sophia Loren was born to her unwed mother Romilda Villani on September 20, 1934. She was given the name Sofia Costanza Brigida Villani Scicolone. Her last name came from her birth father, Riccardo Scicolone. He was a construction engineer by profession but was also a film producer.
Romilda was an aspiring actress and a piano instructor when she was abandoned by Riccardo. Her only option was to move back to the small village of Pozzuoli, located near Naples.
She Lived in Poverty
Pozzuoli, on the Bay of Naples, was so impoverished in 1930s Italy that it was probably the poorest city in the nation. With the onset of World War II, nothing short of famine could describe how dire the situation was for the young girl’s family. Already sharing a room with eight people, the onset of war caused more deprivation.
Even water was scarce. It got so bad that her mother would salvage water from the car radiator and carefully spoon it into the mouths of her two daughters. Sophia was starving.
She Survived the War Years
Sophia Loren’s mother did what she could to bring in money during that desolate time. She went out on the street and begged for food and loose change. On top of that, nightly air raids pelleted the town. Sophia said that they were forced to sleep in a nearby tunnel.
At night, before bed, she and her family dragged mattresses into the tunnel. This went on for almost eight months. Once, when Sophia was seven, a bombing from overhead knocked her down and caused a shrapnel wound on her chin. The scar never completely healed.
Riccardo Scicolone’s Betrayal
Romilda longed to be an actress. Her dreams were fed by the promises of a film producer from Rome who claimed to hail from nobility, but he eventually abandoned Romilda and her two daughters and led them to poverty.
Their mother Romilda explained it bluntly: “That pig was free to marry me, but instead he dumped me and married another woman.” Sophia Loren did not fully forgive her father at his death, and he did not deserve it.
American G.I.s Arrive in Pozzuoli
Sophia recalls the time when British and American soldiers pulled into Pozzuoli. She talked about how they taught her English words and phrases such as, “Good morning.” Plus, the very practical phrase, “May I have some food.” The military men taught nine-year-old Sophia to dance the Jitterbug too. She would use the steps in the film “Houseboat,” but not for several years down the line.
The first time she had ever seen a chocolate bar was courtesy of an American soldier who had tossed her the candy. Perhaps it was because she was trying out one of those new English phrases!
Nonna Luisa’s Place
Luisa Villani, a smart and enterprising woman, was Sophia Loren’s grandmother. It was WWII, and once the American and British troops moved in, Luisa opened up her living room as a pub. She made homemade cherry liquor and sold it to the newly arrived troops. The women of the Villani family even provided entertainment.
It’s no wonder that G.I.s flocked to frequent the pop-up parlor, as beautiful Italian women, wonderful music, and homey hospitality greeted them. Sophia’s pretty and talented sister Maria sang while their mother Romilda played piano. Sophia served as a waiter.
The Language of Love
Sophia Loren’s grandmother was a very important person in her life. Nonna Luisa held together a sense of family during hard times. Even in slim times, her grandmother could cook something up from seemingly nothing.
When there was absolutely no food, she would soak stale bread in water and bake it with tomatoes. Sophia spoke many times about living at her grandmother’s place. She recalls Luisa preparing rabbit in white wine, olives, and tomatoes. The memories of love were like an aroma that came from the kitchen.
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Romilda Villani desperately wanted to be a star. She was a gifted pianist and graduated with honors from a conservatory in Naples. Her beauty was preternatural, a blonde from Italy’s southern end.
Romilda’s looks resembled Greta Garbo so much that she was offered to be Garbo’s stand-in. But since she was only 17 at the time, her mother, Luisa, did not allow her to go to Hollywood. So, she ran off to Rome to be a star. Instead, she met Riccardo and found herself pregnant in a ward for unwed women.
An Ugly Duckling?
Believe it or not, Loren was a very homely child. Even as an infant, a nurse, remarked that she was the ugliest child she had ever seen. Children in her class at school made fun of her, calling her “toothpick.”
Eventually, she matured into a teenager and then a young woman. From an ugly duckling to a graceful swan, Loren became one of the world’s most beautiful women ever.
Sophia’s Little Sister
The lovely Anna Maria Villani was born at her grandmother’s house. on May 11, 1938, in Pozzuoli. She was a beautiful and intelligent child. As children, Sofia lived in Maria’s shadow, but, as they grew, Maria became far out shadowed.
The two sisters have been very close their entire lives. As the only sibling of the most famous actresses in Italy, she married into a prominent family, wedding Romano Mussolini, a jazz pianist who was the son of Benito Mussolini. Unfortunately, their marriage lasted barely a decade as he was constantly being unfaithful.
It Was Like I Burst from an Egg and Was Born
Sophia Loren’s transformation after puberty revolutionized her life. She transformed from a skinny, plain, shy, and somber child to a marvelous butterfly. All of a sudden, she said, people noticed her, eyes followed her down the street as she walked. She heard whistles from strangers entranced by her form innocently sashaying by. That’s when it happened.
At age 14, her mother, witnessing her gawky adolescent child growing into her own resemblance with features of a gorgeous figure blooming as if overnight, immediately entered her into a beauty contest. She spotted her ticket out of deprivation and she reached out and grabbed it.
Sophia Loren is a proud and elegant woman. During one interview, she responded to a comment that she was Italian. She immediately rebuffed the characterization and said that she is not an Italian. First and foremost, she says, “I’m a Neapolitan.”
As an interview subject, she is kind and patient, and complimentary, but occasionally she puts the inquisitor in his place. The actual quote is quite famous: “I’m not Italian, I am Neapolitan! It’s another thing.”
A Noble Title
In her autobiography, “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life” Sophia said that, technically, she should have been granted a title of nobility. Through her father’s family line, the title "Marchioness of Licata Scicolone Murillo" was hers to take.
She could have been Viscountess of Pozzuoli, Lady of Caserta. But she did not want any of it, especially since it came from Riccardo Scicolone. She spurned it. It was only a minor title, anyway. The name “Sophia Loren,” in comparison, is a far superior name, plus, it is clear of her father’s association.
Queen of the Sea and Her Twelve Princesses
At age 14, Sofia’s mother entered her in a beauty contest. Her grandmother put together a makeshift ensemble. It was a gown made from old curtains, pulled straight from the window, and scuffed shoes that were painted over. It was her first pageant and she won. Sort of.
She did not win the top prize as pageant Queen, but she did place second as one of the 12 princesses. She won a roundtrip ticket to Capri, 30K lire ($35.00), and some wallpaper. She said the wallpaper came in handy for patching holes in the walls that were left over from WWII air raids.
Entering her second pageant as Sofia Lazzaro, the first time she would use the name, she wore a nicer dress. It was given to her specifically for the 1950 Miss Elegance at the Miss Italia competition. She came in second, again, competing against 200 girls. But her beauty attracted so much attention that the panel bestowed her special recognition.
At 15, she was awarded the Miss Elegance Prize. Reportedly, she was considered too provocative to win the top prize of Miss Italia, which went to soon-to-be actress Anna Maria Bugliari.
Back to Rome
With two beauty contests under her belt, Sofia’s mother decided the time was right to move to Rome. The money Sofia won was enough to get them to Rome, but not back to Pozzuoli. In Rome, she and her mother stayed with distant family members and Sofia was getting parts as an extra in quite a few films.
She and her mother had money coming in for the first time ever. There, she met the famous movie producer Carlo Ponti who would be her future husband, but that was a long time off.
Her First Film
The very first part Sophia Loren landed was in the 1951 movie “Quo Vadis.” It was a major motion picture, an epic about the fall of Roman Emperor Nero, filmed in Rome. Elizabeth Taylor made a cameo appearance, and it starred the day’s A-listers, Robert Taylor, and Deborah Kerr.
She did not even have a speaking part, but it was a big deal to get to play an extra. The movie came out barely a year after she won the pageant. She was 16. By age 20, she would be famous worldwide.
A Place of Their Own
Once Sophia began making money, she was able to afford the rent and it allowed her mother, Maria, and herself to move into a furnished room. She had saved up for it the old-fashioned way, by stashing money under the mattress.
It was a tight fit, she said, but they were happy to have the small room. It was their first place on their own. Sophia's life was about to get better.
How Much is the Scicolone Name Worth?
As soon as the budding Sophia Loren began earning money, she asked her father how much he required to give her little sister the Scicolone name. He asked for one million lire. She paid him but never forgot the depth he stooped to.
In Italy in those times, it was shameful and humiliating to be illegitimate. He must have had a hard heart. Sophia only said he must’ve needed the money.
Did Sophia Forgive Her Father?
The man was unfaithful to her mother with no regard for the poverty he caused or how much suffering the family endured. But earlier in her career as a young up-and-coming, Sophia talked forgivingly about her father. In internationally broadcast interviews, the starlet would credit Riccardo Sciocolone for creating all the wonderfulness that she is.
She said Sophia Loren couldn’t have existed, if not for him, as well as her mother. Yet, in later memoirs, she reversed those former views reserved for publicity purposes.
The Lazarus Connection
Under the stage name "Sofia Lazzaro," the rising starlet appeared in ten films. All her roles were as an extra, but she was working hard on her movie career. She took the name Sofia Lazzaro as her first stage name and it was befitting, they said, because it meant that her beauty was so stunning, that she could raise Lazarus from the dead.
The name is believed to have come from Carlo Ponti, and he would be instrumental in choosing her permanent stage name.
Ponti Scouted Sofia
Carlo Ponti was instrumental in getting the 15-year-old into movies. He discovered her at the first beauty contest and sent someone to invite her to the second. She declined. Next, a stranger told her that Carlo Ponti, an influential Italian filmmaker, wanted her to be in another pageant and that he would be a judge at that pageant.
Winning the prize of Miss Elegance was wonderful, but what she also gained was a screen test with Ponti. That was the true prize. It would make her a star. He said as much even late in life, “I have done everything for love of Sophia.”
The Screen Test
When she got the screen test with Carlo Ponti, Sophia did not speak English. Yet, she was able to get a meeting with Mervyn LeRoy, an admired American director. When he saw her, he invited her by saying, “Come,” yet she only understood it by his hand gesture.
Her mother advised the teen from Naples to answer “yes” to everything, no matter what he says. Just smile and nod. She did this throughout the meeting. Finally, he realized that she did not know a word of English. So, instead of a speaking role, she was given a part as an extra.
No one was more influential in Sophia Loren’s life than Carlo Ponti. When she met him as a teen, he was already married to an Italian woman named Giuliana Fiastri and they had two children. He first set eyes on Sophia in 1951, at the beauty pageant. Ponti was a prolific filmmaker and was nominated for two Oscars.
He won the Oscar for “La Strada” (1954), and his production, “Doctor Zhivago” was also highly recognized. Very influential in Italy, Ponti is known for popularizing Italian cinema for a post-WWII audience. He made 140 films, albeit his success was always eclipsed by Sophia Loren's.
Ponti was Loren’s finally married in 1966. Though he had first spied on her at 14, the two did not become lovers until she was 19. Making American movies and being tempted by leading men, especially Cary Grant, Sophia lived a celebrity lifestyle in Los Angeles, a home far away from home.
Even as she grew close to Ponti, he was of course still married, and she detested it. She wanted “a legitimate husband, children, a family.” Her mother advised her to stay away from a married moviemaker, and Sophia secretly feared she’d find her mother’s fate.
A Father Figure
It did not escape Sophia’s notice that she seemed drawn to older men. She said at one point that she felt she married her father. Carlo held the place Scicolone left vacant in his young daughter’s life. She craved a relationship with an older man that could give her stability and love.
She talked about her experience growing up with an absent father and she believed it was the reason she yearned to be in a rightful marriage. Luckily, that was her fate.
She Only Saw Her Father Three Times
Sophia only saw her father a few times in her life. The first time she saw him she was five years old. She also saw him when she was 17, reaching out to him on her sister’s behalf. The last time she faced him was before his death in 1976.
She said that she didn’t have a relationship with him and wished he would’ve been a different person and good to her mother. What she went through as a child, because of his abandonment, was “hell,” as she called it.
A Dream Passed On
Sophia Loren’s mother desperately wanted to be in movies, following that hope to Rome. It did not happen for her, but every little part of that dream came true for her daughter. Romilda said once, “Everything that I dreamed of for myself has happened to Sophia. I live in her image.”
Both beautiful Neapolitans went to Rome and met a director who could make them a star. But only Sophia achieved fame, fortune, and marriage to the man she fell in love with.
Carlo Ponti Mentored Sophia
Carlo Ponti groomed Sophia Loren, not only on her looks but on her skills as an actress. She had an innate aptitude, but he is the one who is responsible for getting her ready to star in American movies. She said he advised that she read good works of English literature, and to read them aloud.
Ponti gave her a language coach and under his teachings, she pored over works from the likes of Jane Austen, Shakespeare, and T.S. Eliot. Ponti also strongly recommended she lose her Neapolitan accent. He coached her on everything from stylish dressing to how to respond during interviews.
Don’t Touch the Nose
Sophia Loren followed all of Ponti’s recommendations. She took classes, she practiced reading, and she created a savvy and sophisticated look that would make her a style icon of the era. She did everything he told her. But she refused to get the tip of her nose done. Her nose, Ponti told her, is a little long and it doesn’t meet the camera well.
She said that she would never change her nose. She likes it. She said that she knows very well that her beauty is the result of lots of irregularities blended together on one face, hers. And she would not change her face for anything.
Becoming Sophia Loren
Carlo Ponti was instrumental in shaping the allure of Sophia Loren, the film icon, and he was also the person who gave the young actress her famous name. Her film credits shifted from Sofia Lazzaro to Sophia Loren under his guidance. The surname was inspired by a famous Swedish actress, Märta Torén, hence the spelling and pronunciation of “Loren.”
It was Goffredo Lombardo who actually came up with the surname, knowing of the Swede. Sophia’s first name was altered too. The “ph” replaced the “f” in Sofia, making her name more appealing to the American eye.
Sophia Wasn’t Ponti’s First
Carlo Ponti scouted Italian goddess Gina Lollobrigida before he ever set eyes on Sophia. He picked out Lollobrigida at a beauty contest and groomed her for success. He got her into 20 movies before his attention turned to Loren. The Italian filmmaker had a hand in making other women into leading ladies in Italian cinema and was said to have several love stories.
For Sophia, Lollobrigida was one of the biggest symbols of the ‘50s and a natural study for the younger actress. Yet, a legendary feud developed, and the women held a lifelong grudge.
Vittorio De Sica
Sophia Loren held a deep respect for Vittorio De Sica. He was an Italian actor and director who is acclaimed for leading the Neorealist Italian film movement. Loren appeared in several of De Sica’s commercial successes like, “La ciociara” (“Two Women”). She also starred in “L’oro di Napoli” (“The Gold of Naples”) and the renowned “Ieri, oggi, domani” (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.”)
It’s no wonder she admires the filmmaker as she won the Oscar for Best Actress in his film. Also, De Sica hailed from Naples, and she felt a special bond with him as a Neapolitan.
Sealed the Deal
In 1958, Loren won a movie contract with Paramount Pictures. The deal sealed a five-film collaboration between the actress and the studio. During this time, she made “Desire Under the Elms,” “Heller in Pink Tights,” and “Houseboat,” a film she starred opposite in Cary Grant.
Earlier, she made “The Pride and the Passion,” a war epic from the Napoleonic era made in Spain. She starred alongside Grant, and Frank Sinatra, as well. In 1960, she played the leading lady with Clark Gable.
Sophia on Clark Gable
Sophia Loren co-starred with her share of golden-age Hollywood legends. When she made “Bay of Naples” with Clark Gable in 1959 Rome, she was half his age. Gable was 58 and Sophia was 25. She said he was a competent actor, but she complained about one thing. According to a memoir, Gable was a serious and silent actor and he never failed to wear a wristwatch.
At 5 p.m., every single day, it would chime. And that is when he left the set. She said he was a difficult man who never worked past 5 p.m. and always left without saying goodbye.
Brando was a Baddie
Sophia Loren’s experience working with Marlon Brando on the set of “The Countess from Hong Kong” left a bad taste in her mouth. It wasn’t just her; the actor was known as a womanizer in the Industry. During a kissing scene, he told Loren that she had long black hairs on her nose and that her breath stank from eating Italian food.
He told her that she was disturbed and needs a psychiatrist after seeing her paintings in her dressing room. But it was he who was disturbed. During the third take of the kissing scene, Brando chomped down on Sophia’s lip until drawing blood.
Cheated at Scrabble?
According to Sophia, she drove co-star Richard Burton mad, and not in a good way. During a competitive game of Scrabble, Loren beat her leadman from “The Voyage.” The two were on set filming it and they enjoyed passing the time, but this time Burton said Loren won by cheating. She said he was furious.
Yet, she had only good words to say about him. She appreciated him because he was a wonderful conversationalist with fantastic knowledge, and an extensive vocabulary, and he enjoyed discussing lofty ideas.
In Charlie Chaplin’s Esteem
Sophia made “The Countess from Hong Kong” with master actor Charlie Chaplin who wrote, directed, and scored the film. She was very nervous in his presence. This was Chaplin’s last film, and she was lucky to have been able to work with the cinema great as he passed a year later. She was clearly not, however, impressed with Marlon Brando, who was on set making the film too.
She said that she was very impressed by the silent screen legend when he berated Brando for tardiness. One thing that the elder actor did not like in Sophia, she said, is that she always said, “yes” and never said, “no.”
And the Oscar Goes To. . .
Sophia Loren won the Best Actress Oscar for “Two Women,” the 1961 film by Vittorio De Sica, a much-loved director from where she was from. She was up against Hollywood giants Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and Natalie Wood in “Leaves of Grass.”
In “Two Women,” Sophia Loren plays a desperate mother in war-torn Rome struggling with her daughter to survive, hardly the role of a goddess. So, the fact she won an Oscar was a titillating upset in Hollywood. Hers was the first time a non-English-language performance had won. It was the first Oscar that went to a foreign film.
She Was a No-Show
There was such a slim chance of winning the Best Actress Oscar that Sophia stayed home. Choosing to stay back with family rather than brave the transatlantic trip to the Hollywood awards show, the actress was shocked to learn that she won. Speaking to the “Larry King Now” program, Loren said that she did not think she would win the award.
She also mentioned that she was afraid she would pass out from the pressure in front of the world if she had to go up and accept it. And who would catch her?
The Neapolitan actress woke up to great news. It was not until late that night after the celebration at her place, after the Academy Awards ceremony when she learned of her award. Miscalculating the time difference, she thought she had not won. Cary Grant, a co-star who she was close with, called her and imparted the news.
Carlo Ponti was the person who answered the call. He said, excitedly, in broken English, “Sophia win, Sophia win!” Ponti produced the film, so the win was his victory as well.
A Casanova Heart
Cary Grant was enamored by the beautiful young actress. She was barely 23 and he was 30 years older. Even older than Ponti. But he knew what he wanted, and he pursued her. He sent flowers to her every single day and penned letters pleading for her to choose him.
According to her memoir, he told her things like, if she prays with him, together, then life will be good, and “all will be right.” But Grant, like Ponti, was also married. And she, naturally, was tied to Ponti. She played it straight, and Ponti’s jealousy of Grant was just what she needed to cinch Ponti.
Frank Sinatra Speak-a Her Language
Sophia Loren was only 22 when she made “The Pride and the Passion” with Frank Sinatra. She said he and Cary Grant helped her learn English between takes after she begged them to teach her. But in her memoir, “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life,” she said that speaking to Sinatra felt more like home because he knew some Italian.
They got along fine, but when she beseeched him to sing to her on set, he always said, “No.” This was not the end of Sophia's story with Sinatra.
The Italian Marilyn Monroe
In the early 1950s, Sophia Loren got nicknamed the “Italian Marilyn Monroe” by some in the media. She was stunning that there was no other way to talk about the rising starlet than to compare her to the most beautiful woman in Hollywood. Plus, the two women shared the coveted hourglass figure featuring a cinched waist and curvy hips.
When Monroe passed away, Sophia said she felt that Marilyn died of loneliness. In a British interview at the time, she talked about being able to relate with the actress, even though she had never met her.
Twins in Talent
Even as children, Sophia and Maria performed for the troops stationed in Pozzuoli, and both lived all their lives in the spotlight. Maria recorded music and performed on Italian television as a singer and TV personality. She once spent an evening at John Wayne’s home singing songs with Frank Sinatra and Lauren Bacall.
The two were like peas in a pod. Back-to-back in Venice, Italy the two beauties were pictured lovingly in 1955 during the prime of their lives. Life couldn't get any better.
Linked with Brigitte Bardot
Sophia Loren was such a sensation she was compared not just to Marilyn Monroe but also to cinema legend Brigitte Bardot. In a 1960 interview in France, she was exalted by the interviewer who said she is so rare an actress she possesses an air of mythology akin to Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe, and even Marlene Dietrich, an iconic German silent film actress.
Sophia Loren, charmingly modest, demurs high compliments with a sweetness that never fails to spellbind her interviewer. She suggests he is exaggerating.
An Acclaimed Actress
Loren was dedicated to her craft as an actress and found herself recognized in American and Italian cinema. Besides holding the record for the first Award for a non-English film at the Oscars, she also holds the record number of Best Actress awards for the David di Donatello prize.
She won seven Donatello Awards. In 1964, she was nominated for a second Oscar in “Marriage Italian Style,” but she won Best Actress for that film in Italy. Loren won 21 awards including the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for “The Black Orchid.”
Famous in Italian Cinema
With astronomical fame and success in Hollywood and around the world, it should come as no surprise that Sophia Loren was one of the most exalted actresses in Italy as well. She made lots of Italian films and adored Italian and French cinema. She married an Italian producer.
Italians loved to see her best in Vittorio de Sica’s films, especially those starring side-by-side with one of Italy’s most beautiful actors, Marcello Mastroianni. They were so famous, that Italians flocked to movie theaters to see their latest performances together.
Rom-com, Italian Style
Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni starred in 12 Italian films together. This pair was the hottest couple of any title or genre. Just imagine an American romantic comedy starring the most famous A-lister man and the most beautiful love interest. Sophia and Marcello were even more revered. And these two genuinely loved and respected each other their entire lives.
They had such great screen chemistry that they remained friends off stage and Italians were there for it. The first time they met, it was like fireworks had gone off in the room, according to Loren. But the two only always remained platonic.
An Unforgettable Scene
It was in their seventh film together that Loren and Mastroianni made cinematic history. In “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” a 1965 film by Vittorio di Sica, there was a dance act that is yet considered a cult classic. Sophia said that making it was a wonderful experience. Her performance invokes in Marcello a charmingly humorous reaction.
The film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and this impish scene certainly hit a high point. But it’s all acting. Loren made the point with Larry King that her love scenes with Marcello were never real. The kisses were all fake.
Why Sophia Chose Carlo Ponti Over Cary Grant
Italian cinema held a special place in Sophia Loren’s heart, as did Carlo Ponti. As one of that day's most influential and modern filmmakers, he held high esteem. Americans didn’t understand why she turned down Cary Grant, one of Hollywood’s most famous, for an older Italian man in Italy.
He discovered her at 14 and created her stardom. They fell in love very early in her life and she felt indebted. Sophia adored her heritage and its tongue. And, as she said it, Carlo “belonged to my world.”
A Support System
When Cary Grant first met Sophia, it was on the set of “The Pride and the Passion.” He pulled strings to get Ava Gardner as a co-star but was pleasantly surprised with the young lady. He opened up with her right away. He gave her advice and gifted her two gold bracelets which he told her would keep her safe if she wears them.
He taught her the ins and outs of showbiz. He imparted to her that the moves she makes in her first year in the states will define her in Hollywood.
Carlo Ponti was 22 years older than Sophia but that wasn’t their biggest barrier. They were secretly engaged for three years and marrying was no simple task because first, he had to be divorced. In Italy, at that time, divorce was illegal. It proved to be a tough barrier.
The first attempt, five years after they met, found the couple going to Mexico to get a divorce for Carlo. While they were there, they married. However, officials in Italy warned them that it was not a legitimate divorce. He could be charged upon returning to Italy. It sounds bad, and it was.
Damned by the Vatican
News of Ponti’s divorce in Mexico hit the headlines. That day, it seemed that he was free to marry Sophia. The next day, however, the Vatican excoriated the pair. It published a strong condemnation in the Vatican newspaper. Sophia and Carlo were banished and accused of sin, a very harsh sentence in Italian culture.
The Church called Ponti a bigamist and warned if they come to Italy to cohabitate, they’d be living together in “concubinage.” The Vatican said it would excommunicate both from the Catholic Church. Sophia feared she’d never see home again. It was her saddest day.
Getting Married, Take 2
There were quite a few hoops, but they finally won a legal marriage. The Mexican marriage had to be annulled. He was legally married then to Giuliana Ponti, so divorce was needed first. His second attempt at ending the first marriage came about as a solution from Ponti’s soon-to-be ex-wife.
She recommended the idea of moving to France to file for divorce. Divorce in France would be accepted by Italy. So, the three of them moved to France and became French citizens. In 1965, Ponti’s wife divorced him. Then, a year later in Sèvres, Ponti took Sophia’s hand at a civil wedding.
An Iconic Snap
It was 1955 and Sophia Loren was hitting Hollywood by storm. At Cannes, the debutante actress was the most photographed person at the film festival. A posh welcoming party celebrating Loren and hosted by Paramount in Beverly Hills took a surprising turn. Blonde Bombshell Jayne Mansfield arrived fashionably last.
She very intentionally sauntered straight over to Loren’s table in a low-cut dress that clearly intended to upstage the Italian stunner. The infamous photo caught Loren in an expression she says was quite accurate. She said she was concerned that Mansfield’s breasts were going to “come onto my plate.”
Sophia was granted a true privilege when she was named President of the Jury at Cannes in 1966. She talked in an interview about how flattered she was for the honor to be invited by the echelons of festival presidents, some of which had the special distinction of being immortal members of the French Academy.
When she won the seat on the jury, she had only made 8 films and was yet young and glamorous. Carlo and Sophia had recently acquired French citizenship.
Sophia Goes Blonde
“Heller in Pink Tights” was a 1960 technicolor movie that sprang to life featuring Sophia Loren as a blonde. The western-style movie was not a big hit, but it was a lavishly costumed and vividly photographed color movie directed by George Cukor and has held its weight in film history.
Loren played the blonde and she happened to be at the thinnest size of her career. Cukor asked her to lose weight for the movie, so she lost about 20 pounds. He also asked her to wear a blonde wig.
Hollywood Fell in Love with Italians
When Sophia Loren arrived in Hollywood, she learned swiftly that, in America, Italians were expected to be either servers or gangsters. Cornered into the stereotype, she said, they tried to change her. Instead, she would change everything. Her celebrity made Italians as beautiful as Rome’s most famous landmarks.
The actress was brought in on a wave of pop culture crashing and flowing into Hollywood. Italians would fill great roles in Loren’s wake. The Italian Stallion known as Rocky Balboa was one. “The Godfather,” DeNiro as a taxi driver, and Travolta’s iconic roles in both “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever” also must have been part of the Italian pop wave.
Americans Fell in Love with Greece Because of Sophia
Sophia Loren even made Americans fall in love with Greece. In a movie called “The Boy on a Dolphin,” filmed on the small island of Hydra, Loren brought the beauty of ancient shores to the silver screen. It was the first Hollywood movie filmed in Greece. She said it was the most beautiful place she had seen.
More movies and plenty of tourists would flock to the ancient land soon after. For Sophia, it marked her first film as an English speaker and was special personally. Ponti and she consummated their relationship during the filming of it.
Sophia Behind Bars
Sophia served 18 days in jail for tax evasion in 1982. It was the only way she could get back to Italy to see her family. At the time, her sister Maria visited her in prison and reported that she had never seen her sister so low in spirits.
Talking to BBC1, she said it was a horrific experience that left a scar. She said that the papers claimed she had a luxury stay with a carpeted cell and color TV, but ultimately, she said she would never choose to do that again, with a sigh of regret.
Her Relationship with Being a Symbol
“How do you like being a symbol?” She must have been asked the question a thousand times. Her answer would vary. Instinctively, she embraced it. She held great pride in her fame and was not ashamed to be desirable. She worked hard to create the image. On the other hand, she did not think a woman should use her power over men.
She said it’s fun to seduce and to be seduced, but only playfully. Thinking back to how Jayne Mansfield held her front end over the table, Loren would not accept using it like that.
An Air of Confidence
Loren has always held herself with confidence and charm. It’s a double feature that is disarming. She will say things like, “I think there are women who have a winning nature,” and finish it off by adding, “And I’m one of them.” She exudes graceful self-esteem. When an interviewer admitted he gasped at her beauty the first he time saw her, she smiled and reminded him she was a star.
That’s why she refused to have a nose job, she loved her beauty, all of it. If an interviewer compares her to others, she corrects him, saying she’s not like everybody, she is herself.
Loren in the Kitchen
Sophia had a wonderful relationship with food, especially Italian food. She adored pasta and credited spaghetti for making her beautiful and healthy. Saying, “Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti” (not plastic surgery). She had such fond memories of making and eating Italian cuisine with her grandmother that she dedicated her second cookbook to her nonna’s memory.
Putting together two cookbooks, Loren was a trailblazer in the celebrity foodie craze. Her 1970s-era cookbook is a rare find and it’s now a collector’s item. It is called, “In the Kitchen with Love.” Speaking with Larry King, she divulged her favorite dish to prepare—eggplant parmigiana.
Living in Geneva
The Pontis moved to Geneva, Switzerland to find sanctuary from the risks of city life. It was a robbery at their NYC home that ultimately drove them to a safer location. Loren yearned for a protective place to raise her children and it is a very beautiful place. One of the best parts of Geneva, said Sophia, is that she drives up into the mountains every weekend to lay eyes on the land of her first love, her cherished Italy.
Once in Geneva, Loren decided to cut back on making movies so she could spend precious time with her children during their childhood. Family is paramount in Sophia’s life.
Sophia and Carlo’s home in Rome was grand and spectacular. Their private villa set in Marino, on the outskirts of Rome, mushroomed into a 50-room palatial estate. According to a 2012 “Vanity Fair” spread, the place dripped in opulence with ornate tapestries, posh furnishings, over six million dollars of paintings, and other works of art on display.
The Ponti couple fell in love with the 16th-century Roman villa, and they invested millions to scrupulously renovate it, beginning in 1960. Sitting on 18 acres of manicured lawns and landscaped grounds, the property boasted an orchard, waterfalls, stables, and its own aqueduct.
Italian authorities went after Carlo Ponti in 1977. Because he planned to take his wealth out of Italy and relocate his business interests, the government launched a major attack against him. Officials were dispatched to the Ponti villa, and they searched the property for documents. As recounted by “Vanity Fair” in a 2012 interview with Sophia, his personal and business files were seized, and the investigation went into effect.
During this time, it was illegal for Italians to take sums of money and property out of the country.
Two years later, Ponti was charged with the illegal transfer of capital abroad. He was sentenced to four years imprisonment and slapped with a fine of a quarter of a million dollars. His wife, Ava Gardner, and Richard Harris were all implicated with a conspiracy charge, but those were later dropped.
It was a legal fiasco that took nearly the entire ‘90s to be resolved. Ponti was able to get back his art collection which had been donated to Italian museums by the authorities.
Her Mother’s Passing
Sophia and her mother and her sister stayed very close. She would talk on the phone with her mother every day. So, when Romilda passed away in 1991 there was a lot of sadness and a great sense of loss. Sophia was 56 at the time when her mother died.
After her mother’s death, Sophia played Romilda Villani in a television movie called, “La Mia Casa e Piena di Specchi.” In 1980, she portrayed her mother in “Sophia Loren: Her Own Story.”
An Enterprising Woman
Today, we expect celebrities to launch a clothing line and a fragrance. We only wonder why they haven’t yet. Sophia, always ahead of the curve, launched her own line of perfume before it was even a thing. She was the first.
Famous ladies of our day have her to thank. Since she was known for her posh eyewear, always donning ornate and lovely frames, introducing her own line of frames was the next step in merchandising for the entrepreneurial Sophia Loren.
Carlo Ponti lived a long and happy life with Sophia, even if that took 20 years to dial in. His life ended in 2007 after their 41 years of marriage. He was 94 when he was rushed to the hospital for medical complications. The family had been living in Geneva, on that tenth day of January when he departed this world and left Sophia for good.
Sophia knew that in marrying a man two decades older, she could only feel fortunate that he lived so many years. Her only regret was that she did not get a traditional marriage in a white princess gown.
Achievement of a Lifetime
The Academy honored Sophia Loren with its Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1991 Oscars ceremony. She made an astounding 93 films in her career. In her acceptance speech, she intoned that had she attended previously, she would have been alone. Neither Cary Grant nor Ponti could be at her side.
The iconic actress was honored once more for a lifetime of greatness in 2019. She collected the European Cultural Taurus Award at the Vienna State Opera in a dazzling gown at 85. It was presented to her by her son Carlo.
Sophia’s name was cleared at last. It was in 1974, that she was convicted of tax evasion. Specifically, she was charged with failure to file. This, she said, was her accountant’s responsibility, and she blamed him for the charges against her. The accounting discrepancy caused the Hollywood star to be banned from Italy for years until she agreed to serve the time.
Her lawyer pursued appeals for decades. Finally, 40 years later, the charge was dropped. She said it was a miracle, according to her attorney.
The Ponti Boys
At the top of Sophia’s greatest achievements is the birth of her sons, a major challenge as she was forced to bed rest for the entirety of both pregnancies. It was a sacrifice she took on wholeheartedly. Motherhood was her greatest role, more important even than her friend Oscar.
After marrying Carlo in 1966, they welcomed Carlo Ponti Jr. in 1968. Edoardo Ponti arrived in 1973. Sophia would have had babies earlier, but she suffered two traumatic miscarriages before Carlo Jr. was born. It was a heart-wrenching experience made worse by a doctor who said she would never carry a child to term.
Carlo Ponti Jr.
Sophia’s eldest son took after her mother with a love of the piano. He grew up loving music and graduated from the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. He became a conductor and has led symphonies around the world. Carlo founded the Los Angeles Virtuosi Orchestra and serves as its artistic and music director.
He was born and raised in Switzerland but now he calls Los Angeles home. He and his wife married in 2004 and have two children.
Eduardo is Sophia’s youngest son. He followed in his mother’s footsteps and found a career he loves in Hollywood. He is a writer and director and sometimes an actor. He’s known for the films “The Nightshift” and “Between Strangers.” Eduardo produced a documentary about his mother’s life called, “Sophia Loren on A Special Day.”
He also directed his mother’s 2020 movie, “The Life Ahead,” which premiered on Netflix. He has two children with his actress wife Sasha Alexander, known for “NCIS.”
It goes without saying that Sophia loves her grandkids. She has four adorable grandchildren. She told “Today” in 2016 that they are the most beautiful grandkids in the world. A proud grandma, no doubt. She says that she is rich to have these children in her life and that being a grandmother makes her a happy woman.
She lives for her family. Dotingly, she gushes that the children are all blondes, which is Italian for not-looking Italian.
When Sophia was 64, after publishing her cookbook, “Recipes and Memories,” she found herself checked into a hospital for heart problems. Doctors found an irregular heartbeat and she realized that she must be much more cautious about her lifestyle.
She said she wants to enjoy her family and her life for a long time, and so that is what she is doing. The “Dateline NBC” interview included a question about whether she’ll retire. She answered in the negative, categorically. “Never,” she said.