WASHINGTON, September 20, 2014 – Still breathtakingly beautiful. Still an icon of class and sex appeal. Sophia Loren turns 80 on Saturday, September 20, 2014.
Loren has commanded the entertainment world over more than six decades and 100 films. She was the femme fatale to some of Hollywood’s biggest leading men including Cary Grant, Paul Newman, Charlton Heston and Marlon Brando.
She is an award-winning actress with an Academy Award, Grammy and numerous Golden Globes among others. Many may not remember that Loren was actually a comedic actress of note, sharing her broad smile, bright eyes and laugh with the audience.
She was born Sophia Scicolone, illegitimate and into poverty in Pozzuoli near Naples, Italy in 1934. The town and people of Pozzuoli suffered during World War II, enduring the bombings, the starvation, the terror of the war.
In her 1979 biography, “Sophia, Living and Loving: Her Own Story,” she describes hiding from the air raids, huddling in the dark rat infested train tunnels she describes as being full of “sickness, laughter, drunkenness, death and childbirth.”
As a girl, the thin and probably malnourished child was called ‘stuzzicadenti,’ or toothpick. At 14, the girl became a woman and instead of taunts, she began to hear wolf-whistles when she walked down the street.
Her mother, Romilda (a look-a-like often mistaken for Greta Garbo) entered her daughter into the Queen of the Sea and Her Twelve Princesses contest, and like a scene from “Gone With the Wind” created Sophia’s gown from the living room’s pink curtains.
She won one of the 12 princess roles, winning $35 and a ticket to Rome where she began modeling and her career was launched.
Her childhood in Pozzuoli during a time of intense violence and poverty gave her the real life experience behind the role that led to her first Academy Award for “Two Women” (1960) directed by Vittorio De Sica.
Director Dino De Laurentiis, who partnered with De Sica, once said, “For any young sexy girl like Sophia, it was not easy… to be the mother of the child in such a dramatic part… It was perfect the combination between De Sica and Sophia, and they did a sensational movie.”
Loren received an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Two Women, the first ever awarded for a non-English speaking role.
De Sica first movie with Sophia was in “The Gold of Naples,” where she first shared her infamous laugh, walk, and joy with the camera.
Like a true Italian, Loren is known for her love of food, once saying “Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.” She has published multiple cookbooks including “In Cucina Con Amore” (In the Kitchen with Love) in 1971 and “Recipes & Memories,” (1999) filled with personal anecdotes and recipes of traditional Italian cuisine.
Celebrating this milestone, Loren opened an exhibition of her life and career at the Soumay Museum in Mexico City supporting the release of “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow – My Life,” a 300 page book filled with items from what she terms her “trunk of memories.” The book’s title references her film role in “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.”
At the Spazio 5 cultural center in Rome, there is a photography exhibit with more than 40 portraits of Loren, shot by Carlo and Maurizio Riccardi in tribute to the Academy Award-winning actress.
The exhibit features moments from the actress’ life, including Loren having cocktails with Marcello Mastroianni to celebrate the wrap of their film “Marriage Italian Style.”
There are also photographs of Loren’s triumphs in her home country, including her many wins at the David di Donatello awards. Armando Editore will publish an accompanying book.
In his tribute to Loren before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Oscar-winning Italian actor Roberto Benigni says that you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Sophia Loren walking, either bare-legged and pregnant on the stony streets of Naples in “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” or walking through the war-ravaged Italian countryside while balancing a suitcase on her head in “Two Women.”
“It’s like watching all of Italy walking—there’s the Tower of Pisa, here’s the Pitti Palace, there’s the Uffizi … the gondolas of Venice,” Benigni said.
One of the most famous bedroom scenes is Loren’s “strip” in “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” Although the dialogue is in Italian, the scene is fully understandable. In this scene she appears with Mastroianni, whom Loren describes as her soul mate. Loren plays Mara, a call girl with a heart of gold, and Mastroianni is Augusto, a hopelessly besotted rich man’s son.
“Mastroianni is fully dressed, sitting on her bed, a pop song playing on the record player, Loren starts to undress, negligée slithering to the floor, never taking her eyes off Mastroianni, until she is down to her teddy, stockings, and garters. He lets out a howl of pure joy that makes the watcher – man or woman – smile.”
“No scene ever gave me more pleasure,” she recalled in her biography. “Marcello and I had finally found a script that let us open up, with insouciant, Neapolitan give-and-take.”
The Soumay Museum exhibit was the idea of Mexican Billionaire Carlos Slim, said to be the world’s richest man. It includes items from Loren’s wardrobe collection, books, movie memorabilia, video clips of her movies, awards and Loren’s most prized possession – her Oscar for “Two Women.”
From that vault are pictures, letters and memorabilia from Hollywood’s most iconic leading men and women, friends and costars, like Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn and Richard Burton, who described her as “beautiful brown eyes set in a marvelously vulpine, almost satanic face. Stupendously intelligent. Beat me at Scrabble twice. In English yet . See her move, swaying like rain.”
Loren met her husband of nearly 60 years, Carlo Ponti, as a beauty contestant. The Italian film director cast her in “Anna” (1951) and from there guided her career until his death in 2007.
Their marriage was a bit of a scandal for the couple. Ponti was already married when he met Loren, obtaining a “Mexican Divorce” – a process that was quick, and inexpensive, marrying Sophia Loren by proxy.
The divorce was not recognized in heavily Catholic Italy, and Ponti was told he would be charged with bigamy and that Loren would be charged with “concubinage” if they returned to Italy.
The story of their marriage takes many twists and turns, including eventually having the marriage annulled, moving to France with Ponti’s first wife Giuliana, where they were able to obtain a divorce and Ponti and Loren could be married anew.
Loren and Ponti then became French citizens under the French President Georges Pompidou.
Before they went to France, the Pontis traveled to Hollywood where Ponti co-produced several films and Loren’s talent, and beauty were recognized.
In the book Loren talks about her leading men, cutting about Marlon Brando’s advances during the filming of “A Countess from Hong Kong” (1967).
“All of a sudden he put his hands on me. I turned in all tranquility and blew his face, like a cat stroked the wrong way and said, ‘Don’t you ever dare to do that again. Never again!’,” she writes. “As I pulverized him with my eyes he seemed small, defenseless, almost a victim of his own notoriety. He never did it again but it was very difficult working with him after that.”
Then there was Cary. Loren met Grant, 30 years her senior, in 1956 when she was only 22. Loren was already with Ponti when Grant asked Loren to marry during the filming of “The Pride and the Passion.”
The book includes images of his love notes including one that says “Forgive me, dear girl. I press you too much. Pray – and so will I – until next week. Goodbye Sophia. Cary.”
In a 2012 interview with Vanity Fair, Sophia Loren offers some advice to young actresses: learn to kiss.
“Learn how to kiss. Now they kiss in another way,” she said, “like they are devouring each other.” She demonstrated. “They should see how people like Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant kiss in ‘Notorious.’ Do they eat each other’s faces? No!”
“Two Women” in its entirety