September 20, 1934– Sophia Loren:
“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”
She is Italy’s Greatest Cinema Icon, an eternal Diva, and I wish to nominate her to the status of Gay Icon. See if you agree. Loren’s exciting life has taken her from being a street urchin to becoming one of the planet’s most glamorous film stars. She had the pleasure of enjoying the special company of Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, and Richard Burton, along with her Italian soulmate Marcello Mastroianni.
Loren’s story plays just like an Italian film, with her extraordinary rise to stardom as a poor teenager discovered and swooped away by a rich, famous film producer who later marries her and helps make her Italy’s greatest export after pasta.
She was born in Roma as Sofia Costanza Brigida Villani Scicolone, later changed the spelling of her first name to “ph” and adopting the last name Loren because she found it pretty. She was the daughter of a performer wannabe whose lover, Sophia’s father, refused to marry her.
She grew up poor in Pozzuoli, near Napoli. Her mother eventually took her back to Roma, where Loren earned a small income for both of them by modeling in layouts of pulp magazines and winning prizes in beauty pageants. At one contest in the early 1950s, she was spotted by film producer Carlo Ponti, who found her the first screen roles and then devoted the rest of his own life to her career. Loren and Ponti were married for five decades, until his passing in 2007 at 94-years-old.
Loren had no formal acting training. Pushed by her mother, her fabulous career began as a fluke when she met director Vittorio De Sica and told him she had never been offered a single job after going on hundreds of auditions. Loren:
“I said to him, every time I am auditioning, people never hire me because I’m shy. They think my mouth is too wide, nose too long, there’s something wrong with my face. He told me he didn’t want me to audition, this conversation was just fine. I didn’t know what to say to this wonderful man. I nearly fainted on the spot.”
She made The Gold Of Naples (1954) with De Sica and it became her big break as an actor. The same year she did a comedy Eccato Che Sia Una Canaglia (Too Bad She’s Bad), the first of many films which Loren made with her perfectly matched star, Mastroianni. She immediately found steady work and made many films, including Boy On A Dolphin (1957) with Alan Ladd, Legend Of The Lost (1957) with John Wayne, and The Pride And The Passion (1957) with Grant and Sinatra.
“I have never been beautiful. I’ve never been a beautiful doll. In fact when I started, people didn’t want to hire me because I wasn’t photogenic.”
Loren’s stardom became truly international when she was given a contract with Paramount Pictures in 1958. For the studio she made the screen version of Eugene O’Neill’s drama Desire Under The Elms (1958) with gay actor Anthony Perkins, the sweet and sour comedy Houseboat (1958) opposite Grant, and appeared as a blond in gay director George Cukor’s unlikely Western, Heller In Pink Tights (1960).
“I didn’t change my face at all. They just got better at photographing it.”
Loren has starred in 100 films, so far, in several languages, projects of every genre: Comedies, Historical Dramas, even Musicals, including the thriller Arabesque (1966), Robert Altman’s romp Prêt-a-Porter (1994) and the delicious Matrimonio All’Italiana (1964) for De Sica.
Loren worked with the best of leading men: Sinatra, Grant, Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Clark Gable, Paul Newman, and with Marlon Brando in Charlie Chaplin‘s final film, A Countess From Hong Kong (1967).
Most significantly, Loren starred in De Sica’s Two Women (1960) a stark, gritty story of a mother who is trying to protect her daughter in war ravaged WW II Italy. The pair are gang-raped inside a church as they travel back to their home city following the end of the bombing. Originally cast as the daughter, Loren fought against type to be cast as the mother. Loren won Cannes Film Festival‘s Best Performance Award and an Academy Award, the first for a non-English language performance and the first for an Italian. She skipped the ceremony because she was too nervous and discovered she had won via telephone by friend Cary Grant.
Loren has won a Grammy Award, five Golden Globes (so to speak), a BAFTA Award and a special honorary Academy Award for her contribution to World Cinema in 1991. In 1995, she received the Academy’s Cecil B.DeMille Lookalike Award for Lifetime Achievement in Film.
She acted only occasionally in the 1980s, turning down the role of Alexis Carrington in the camp television series Dynasty (1981-89). Yet, she agreed to doing 10 episodes of CBS’s Falcon Crest in 1984, but she changed her mind at the last moment and the role went to Gina Lollobrigida, instead. Loren said that she wanted to devote more time to raising her sons.
In 2004, Loren appeared in Peperoni Ripieni E Pesci In Faccia (Too Much Romance, It’s Time for Stuffed Peppers) written and directed by Lina Wertmüller. I know nothing about it, but I wanted to share the title with you. It sounds delicious.
Loren has recorded six albums during her career, including a best-selling collection of comic songs, Peter & Sophia, with actor Peter Sellers in 1960. They had just worked together on The Millionairess, an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw‘s 1936 play. The album was conceived and produced by The Beatles’ legendary producer Sir George Martin. It even produced a hit single, Goodness Gracious Me, which was in the Top Ten on the Pop Charts.
Sellers was so infatuated with Loren, he split with his first wife, although Loren has always maintained that their relationship was strictly a friendship.
Loren posed nearly nude in the annual Pirelli Calendar in 2007. She was 72-years-old.
Her most recent role was as the only character in La Voce Umana (2014), from a 1930 play by gay writer Jean Cocteau, directed by her handsome son Edoardo Ponti, a noted stage director. Her other yummy son Carlo Ponti Jr. is a famous orchestra conductor.
“I’m starting to count the hours, count the seconds; everything is important when you reach my age. Every so often you have to explode back into life.”
In 1992, Loren famously spent 17 days in an Italian jail as part of a plea bargain over a failure to file an income-tax return. At the time, she blamed it all on her accountant.
Loren is still ravishingly beautiful. She resides in Geneva and Roma.
“Beauty is not important. You have to be interesting, someone who is different to other people. Otherwise you just turn up and look beautiful, and there’s nothing more to you.”
After Ponti died in 2007, she was asked if she were ever likely to marry again, Loren replied: “No, never again. It would be impossible to love anyone else.”
In 2014. she published a well written, juicy memoir For Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow: My Life.