An Academy Award-winning Hollywood icon, Sophia Loren dazzled audiences with her Italian charm starting in the 1950s and lasting until this day. Loren, who is regarded as one of the most successful women in the world, is among the immensely rare breed of movie stars who remained married to her husband until the very end. It’s not necessarily to be expected from a star of her magnitude, though not many stars of her stature exist. Loren’s life is also marked by intrigue and mystery – some of which will remain so forever. But other fascinating details about her life paint a mystifying image of the spaghetti-loving star. Read on for a behind-the-scenes take on Sophia Loren’s life story.
Life wasn’t always so glamorous for Sophia Loren. The iconic Italian actress was born under nontraditional circumstances in Rome in 1934, as Sofia Villani Scicolone. Her father, a construction engineer reportedly of noble Italian descent, was known to spend much of his time seducing young actresses.
One of those actresses was Loren’s mother, Romilda Villani. Neither of them knew their daughter would one day conquer hearts around the world through her command of the big screen that they both so loved. Neither did anyone know then that Loren would eventually go on to have an explosive career and have many famous men competing for her affection.
After Sophia Loren was born, her mother moved back to her home town of Pozzuoli, on the coast of the Gulf of Naples, and a far less affluent city in Italy. She took her young daughter with her, and her father, Riccardo Scicolone, remained in Rome.
Sophia Loren’s parents actually had another child together, but were never married. “That pig was free to marry me, but instead he dumped me and married another woman,” Loren’s mother has said. On her path to fame though, the young Loren would overcome some of the most challenging years of her life.
Loren’s mother also happened to be a glamorous woman who apparently resembled famous American actress Greta Garbo. In her youth, Loren’s mother was offered to travel to the United States to play Garbo’s body double, an opportunity that would seem surreal to any teenage girl.
Her traditional Italian parents disapproved, claiming she was too young to be shipped off to Hollywood. But still Romilda Villani never gave up on acting, nor would she let her own daughter pass up on similar opportunities in the future.
Sophia Loren would eventually grow into one of the most iconic actresses in the world. Her name today conjures up an image of someone very artfully unique, but she wasn’t always idolized and respected as the graceful talent we now recognize her to be.
Sophia Loren was very different in nature when she was younger and her wet nurse constantly reminded her of that. In fact, while living in Pozzuoli, no one would have dared to imagine that she would evolve into one of the biggest stars in history.
Life in Pozzuoli was not easy for Sophia Loren. She was raised in severe poverty, sharing a bedroom with eight people at her grandparents’ home and living with other relatives. Loren’s father was totally out of the picture, leaving Loren and her mother without child support or a father figure.
Conditions eventually got so bad in the struggling city that Loren’s mother would sometimes take water from the car radiator to feed to her daughters. Soon, world events out of their control would change their lives forever. However, Loren would amazingly overcome them all.
In addition to struggling with poverty, Loren faced the wrath of World War II when the fighting reached Pozzuoli. The city is located on the Bay of Naples, which unfortunately was a frequent bombing target of the allies during the war.
During one aerial raid, Loren was knocked to the ground and simultaneously struck by shrapnel. To this day, she has a scar from the wound that split open her chin. But none of it would hold her back from achieving stardom.
It wasn’t only Sophia Loren’s wet nurse that dismissed her natural potential in her youth. Other children in school even dubbed her “toothpick” because of the effects of poverty on her. But at age 14, however, everything started to change.
Loren completely transformed from a frail little girl into a graceful young woman. “It became a pleasure just to stroll down the street,” she has recalled. It wouldn’t take more than a year for Loren to utilize the new her to make her big move.
In 1950, Sophia Loren left Pozzuoli with her mother to return to her native Rome. The two planned to try their hands at making a living off acting, and the move would prove to be pivotal for the 15-year-old Loren.
Loren competed for the Miss Italy title that year. Although she didn’t win the top prize, it was the start of her career in show business. A year later, Loren would land her first role as an extra in Quo Vadis. Loren had no idea how quickly things would progress from that moment.
While pursuing acting gigs, Loren also showcased the new her, modeling for various Italian publications called fumetti, which are essentially comic books that use real photos to tell stories instead of drawings. It was a way to make some cash and get her name out there.
During her first shoot, she received negative and disheartening feedback. And, although she was a shy and quiet girl, Loren was resilient – she wouldn’t be discouraged. Nothing would prevent her from becoming one of the world’s biggest and most iconic stars.
By 1952, after playing various extra roles and modeling on the side, Sophia Loren landed a small role in the film La Favorita. Many actors start with small roles, but this one was significant because it was the first film for which the Italian icon born Sofia Villani Scicolone would adopt her signature stage name, “Sophia Loren.”
The name would prove to be her good luck charm – not too long after she adopted it, she would land the opportunity of a lifetime. Soon enough, all of her hard work and toil would begin to really pay off.
In 1953, just three years after moving to the big city, Sophia Loren delivered the performance of a lifetime in the Italian film Aida, playing the title character. It was then that industry leaders and casting directors alike couldn’t help but take notice.
It was smooth sailing from there for Loren – the young woman proved to be incredibly talented in the art of acting, and another role in The Gold of Naples cemented her as a rising star in Italian film. She wouldn’t stay in Italy for long, though.
It didn’t take long for Sophia Loren to make a name for herself in Italy. After she did, the big directors and producers in Hollywood turned their attention toward Rome – they don’t miss much, and Loren was a talent that couldn’t be passed up on.
In 1957, the young actress would head to the United States to star in her first Hollywood film – and it was a big one. Even before she would reach American audiences in her first film in English, Loren would dazzle one of her costars.
In Sophia Loren’s first Hollywood film, The Pride and the Passion, she starred alongside Cary Grant and the one and only Frank Sinatra. But, in this case, the more interesting costar was Grant. He would provide fodder for one of the juiciest details of Loren’s acting career.
The Hollywood hunk instantly took a liking to the 22-year-old Loren, who was 30 years his junior. He began to pursue her with a passion and eventually began to fall in love with her. What he didn’t know was that she had already been seeing someone else.
By the time Sophia Loren met Cary Grant on set, she was already involved romantically with another man she had met back in Italy at age 15. That man was big-time Italian producer Carlo Ponti, who was 22 years her senior.
The two had met while she was still acting in Italy, but weren’t officially married because strict Catholic divorce laws in Italy made it difficult for Ponti to divorce his first wife. Meanwhile, Cary Grant remained indisputably charming. Who would she choose?
Sophia Loren was in awe of the seductive Cary Grant, what some would perhaps describe as an infatuation. After all, he was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, the prime exemplification of success for every actor in the world, and a remarkably handsome man.
But as a Virgo – Sophia Loren has liked to joke about her zodiac sign – she has always been a practical woman. She was also a woman who placed strong value in family. In Ponti, she saw something Grant couldn’t offer.
As successful as Sophia Loren was, she never saw herself as someone who would become one with the Hollywood world, she has said. She was Italian, and she wouldn’t fit into Cary Grant’s life the way she’d wanted to fit in a man’s life.
In Carlo Ponti, Loren saw stability and security. Since she’d met him, she has said, she had always felt at home around Ponti. “He gave me confidence. He taught me many things,” she recalled of their relationship. But Grant was persistent.
The charming Cary Grant courted Sophia Loren with a persistence that doesn’t exist in the modern world, buying her intimate dinners for two on set, showering her with compliments and delivering her flowers – all while she was still seeing Ponti.
Eventually, the star got on one knee and proposed to the young Italian actress. It was a tough decision to make, she has said. But she rejected Grant’s proposal. Later on, something surprising happened that made her think again about her decision.
On the day Sophia Loren and Cary Grant finished shooting their second film together, Houseboat, in 1958, Grant sent her a Bouquet of yellow roses. She was leaving the set with Ponti, and she bragged to him about the gift.
If he were to get jealous, she thought, she would know for sure that he loved her. And, he did – very much so. From then on, it was only Ponti for Loren. But there would be other landmines for Loren to avoid in the U.S. One was a near-death experience.
The same year Sophia Loren filmed her first movie with Grant, she was also working on Legend of the Lost with John Wayne and Rossano Brazzi. She was lucky to have had her Italian costar Brazzi around when she woke up in the middle of one night dizzy and lightheaded.
As it turns out, she was asphyxiating from fumes coming from the gas stove in her small hotel room. She crawled to the door, opened it and passed out. Luckily, Brazzi happened to be in the hall and saved her. Phew! Though not quite as dangerous, Loren inspired another much-talked about incident when she first came to America that is instantly recognizable to this day.
It was around the same period that Sophia Loren arrived in the United States that she was photographed doing something very peculiar at a party organized for her by Paramount. It was a grandiose party. “All of cinema was there,” Loren recalled to ABC News in 2014.
Of course, where actors come together for such important events, so does the press. At some point during the party, actress Jayne Mansfield walked up to Loren’s table wearing something particularly provocative. That’s when Loren gave her the side eye, and photographers were quick to catch it. But what was that side eye all about?
During that iconic 1957 party, fellow bombshell Jayne Mansfield walked right up to Sophia Loren’s table, and wearing a particularly revealing number, Loren recalled. In recent years, Loren has explained why she was so concerned when Mansfield sat down beside her.
“And now, she was barely… Listen. Look at the picture. Where are my eyes? I’m staring at her nipples because I am afraid they are about to come onto my plate. In my face you can see the fear. I’m so frightened that everything in her dress is going to blow — BOOM! — and spill all over the table.” It was one of Loren’s more humorous moments. However, her next big film wasn’t quite as light-hearted.
In 1960, Sophia Loren returned to home sweet Italia, where she would once again immerse herself into Italian film. There, she would make Oscar history starring in the World War II movie Two Women, a heart-wrenching film that opens with a brutal air raid.
Mirroring her own childhood in many ways, Loren played a mother desperately trying to raise her daughter in war-torn Rome. Loren won an Oscar for her performance, becoming the first actress ever to win the award for a non-English-language film. But the success didn’t end there.
By the 1960s, Sophia Loren enjoyed being one of the biggest international movie stars in the world. She continued to star in Italian and American films – and French films – winning praise and dazzling audiences all across the world.
One of those films was Married, Italian Style in 1964, for which she earned another Oscar nomination for Best Actress. But unlike other stars of her time, Loren didn’t let the fame go to her head, as you’ll soon learn.
Despite her tremendous international success, Sophia Loren never forgot where she came from or what she wanted, and what she had always wanted was a family. It was one of her considerations when deciding to choose Carlo Ponti over Cary Grant.
While other actors of her generation were embroiled in one scandal after another, Loren was living happily with her husband, Ponti. In December 1968, the two had a child together. For the Italians, family comes first. And Loren’s Hollywood career would soon take a drastic turn.
For many actors, making it in Hollywood means staying there forever – or, at least, until old age prevents them from getting solid roles. Not so for Sophia Loren. The star moved back to her native Italy during the 1970s, and in 1973, there she gave birth to a second son.
To Loren, family time didn’t mean becoming a full-time housewife. She continued to act in Italy, though she was planning something else too. As you’ll soon learn, Loren was going to make history again, and this time not in a movie.
Though Sophia Loren was still acting in the 1980s, she decided to take a step away from her vigorous film schedule to spend time raising her boys with her husband. Some would say she was right early on for thinking she’d never totally adapt to Hollywood, where actors’ careers often come before everything else.
It’s during quieter periods in life that people sometimes have the clarity of mind to figure out their next step. Indeed, it was during Sophia Loren’s break from the big screen that she would come up with the idea that would make a revolutionary stride for all women in entertainment.
The film icon and international sex symbol Sophia Loren decided she wanted to think outside the box in 1981, and outside the box she found a knack for business. That’s when she became the first female celebrity ever to release her own perfume.
Not too long after that, she released her very own eyewear line. She was on a roll, and it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. But Loren had another hidden talent that came out later in life – the movie star was a writer. You’ll never believe what Loren did with her writing.
In 1994, Sophia Loren Published a book titled Women and Beauty. Though her fondness for writing only became public then, it turned out she had secretly written in a diary her entire life. She used to read it over, she told The Telegraph, and tear out any pages she didn’t want anyone to ever read.
Eventually, she started burning the pages she wrote in her diary on a yearly basis. Some things, Loren says, should remain private forever. Indeed, it appears maintaining some degree of mystery is something that helped her keep even the most intimate parts of her life as healthy as can be.
Today, the legendary Sophia Loren continues to appear in films and make public appearances. But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of her career is her marriage to Carlo Ponti – which lasted until his death in 2007 – along with the beautiful family that the two started.
According to Loren, the secret is keeping things low key and remembering that work isn’t everything. “Show business is what we do, not what we are,” she has said. Replace “show business” with any other career, and it’s probably a valuable piece of advice for everyone to take into consideration. And one other piece of advice?
Many years ago, Sophia Loren was interviewed by a newspaper, and the reporter asked how it is that she maintained her physique. According to the paper, her answer has gone down as one of the most epic lines in showbiz history.
She was cited as saying it all came down to eating a lot of spaghetti. The quote blew up, and soon everyone was sure the Italian star actually believed the carb-packed food was the secret to beauty. However, she has clarified that she was slightly misinterpreted. “I never said that. I think the quote was, ‘Everything I am I owe to spaghetti.’ How rude,” she joked in an interview with The Telegraph.
Sources: The Telegraph, ABC News, Biography.com