Discover more about Italian actress who was named by the American Film Institute as the 21st greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema.
What is Sophia Loren’s real name?
Her real name is Sofia Villani Scicolone but she is known professionally as Sophia Loren
How old is Sophia Loren?
Sophia was born on 20th September 1934 and is currently 86 years old.
Sophia Loren's early life
The Italian 'world' that had shaped Sophia was a tough one.
Her actress mother Romilda was a working class Neapolitan who looked so like Greta Garbo, she won a contest to go to America, but her mother wouldn't let her go. Instead, Romilda met Riccardo Scicolone, a charming but feckless wannabe actor, with whom she had a tempestuous relationship and two children. He refused to marry or take responsibility for his family and she was forced to return to her parents house near Naples where young Sophia shared a bedroom with eight others and grew up poor, hungry and often frightened in war-time Italy.
She never forgot having to drink water taken from a car radiator or hiding in railway tunnels during bombing raids. Sofia was a sickly, skinny child whose nickname was Stuzzicadenti, ie, toothpick. So when she blossomed, almost overnight into the beautiful young woman who Carlo Ponti saw in the beauty contest (her grandmother had made her a suitable dress from the living room curtains as they had nothing else) she saw her way out of poverty. Her mother saw it too – transferring all her ambition to her daughter's career and moving them to Rome with her beauty contest winnings.
Sophia Loren’s early career
Sophia had a proper sense of her worth. When she first tried to get into films, she was advised to get a nose job and lose weight – she refused to do both.
In 1957, young Sophia Loren was in Hollywood on the advice of her film producer mentor and boyfriend, Carlo Ponti. He sent her a telegram with just two words, “Learn English” and Sophia – 25 and very determined, did just that.
Carlo Ponti, described as twice her age and half her height (he was 22 years her senior and 5-ft 5ins), was bald, bespectacled and still married to his first wife. He had been involved with Sophia since he spotted her in a beauty contest when she was just 15. Sophia's father had deserted her mother and refused to marry her, and Carlo Ponti became an older man Sophia could finally trust. He not only guided her film career in Italy – where she learned her craft through a series of low-budget comedies before she hit Italian stardom in The Gold of Naples – he was respectful, a friend as well as a lover. But in Hollywood, she discovered that mentors could also be devastatingly attractive...
Sophia Loren and Cary Grant
Sophia was cast opposite Cary Grant, 28 years her senior, in the period drama, The Pride and the Passion. Although he had initially wanted Ava Gardner to play the part of the Spanish peasant girl, he was soon enchanted by Sophia – her blazing beauty, down-to-earth charisma and her determination to succeed. Just like Carlo, he looked out for her career, writing, “It is probably the most important year of your life. Spend it thoughtfully, dear face. In these next months you will create the lasting impressions by which you will be judged and remembered all your life.”
The enchantment was mutual and they soon shared a romance. In their next film together, the charming romcom Houseboat, the chemistry between them is clear. But Cary Grant, who had finally fallen deeply in love at the age of 53, wanted more than a fling and proposed marriage (he was unhappily married to his second wife, Betsy Drake at the time).
Sophia Loren and Carlo Ponti
Sophia had a huge decision to make and it wasn't an easy one. She later said. “I had to make a choice. Carlo was Italian, he belonged to my world. I knew it was the right thing to do for me.”
And while Carlo Ponti obviously fulfilled a deep need for a father figure, he was also somebody she knew understood her – and the type of career and life she wanted. That meant respect as an actress, not just a film star – and finally having a respectable Italian family. America and Cary Grant were just too much of a gamble – but he stayed her friend and champion for the rest of his life.
First of all, Carlo Ponti had to get a divorce – not so easy in Catholic Italy. It was eventually arranged in Mexico where the couple were also married by proxy as they were on different continents at the time. However, the Vatican refused to to recognise the marriage and they were forced to live together in France and Switzerland as they would have been arrested in Italy for co-habiting.
Sophia Loren's film career
But while Sophia's dream of marital respectability wasn't going to plan, her film career was. While she continued to make films in Hollywood, none of them would be described as classics. America didn't know what to do with her. She remembered, “Italians were either waiters or gangsters. All they saw was a foreign actress. They tried to change me.” But just as she had refused to have a nose job, she refused to be turned into an Italian version of the busty bombshell.
Back home in Italy, she was able to take risks, as Italian cinema entered its golden age. In 1960, the war-time film Two Women, directed by Vittorio De Sica, in which she plays a working-class woman trying to protect her daughter became the role of her life – helped by her feeling she was telling her mother's own story. She said, “Before I made Two Women I was a performer. Afterwards, I was an actress.” The film was a huge international success. So much so that she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. She was too nervous to go to the ceremony and was in Italy – where it wasn't shown on TV. So the first she knew that she had won the Oscar – the first time it had ever gone to a non-English language film – was when the phone rang. The person at the other end of the line? Cary Grant.
"I'm an actress. It's my passion. It's - I've always lived for acting."
At last she made Hollywood films we continue to enjoy today, El Cid, Arabesque, A Countess from Hong Kong and of course, The Millionairess – in which her co-star Peter Sellers also fell head over heels in love with her. So much so, that he divorced his wife. But as Sophia Loren has made clear, it was an infatuation that was never returned, despite those two fun records they made together, Goodness Gracious Me and Bangers and Mash.
Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield
Know for her publicity stunts, American actress Jayne Mansfield was invited to a dinner at the Beverly Hills Romanoff's restaurant hosted by Paramount Pictures to officially welcome Sophia to Hollywood. A photo taken of the two women received world-wide publicity, the photo depicting Sophia casting a sideways glance at Mansfield's cleavage in her deep, plunging dress.
Sophia told Entertainment Weekly in 2014: "All of cinema was there, it was incredible. And then comes in Jayne Mansfield, the last one to come. For me, that was when it got amazing. She came right for my table. She knew everyone was watching. She sat down. 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."
Sophia Loren's family
When Sophia and Carlo finally married again in France in 1966, this time satisfying the Italian authorities, her film career slowed down. Sophia had had two miscarriages and for the next few years she would concentrate on successfully having her family – two boys Carlo and Edoardo born in 1968 and 1973. Finally she had done it all. She was a respected actress, with her own husband and family. She and Carlo stayed happily married until his death in 2007 from pulmonary complications.
But perhaps it is telling that when she made the TV biopic, Sophia Loren: Her Own Story in 1980, in which she played both her mother and herself, she chose actor Rip Torn to play Carlo. He was tall, didn't wear glasses and had a full head of hair. Who could she be thinking of?
Sophia Loren young
Take a look at this gallery of Sophia's younger days...
Sophia Loren young
A photo of Sophia in the 1957 Napoleonic-era war film The Pride and the Passion.
A still of Sophia and Clark Gable from the 1960 American romantic comedy It Started In Naples.
Here's a lovely family photo from 1960 of Sophia with her mother Romilda, a piano teacher, and sister Maria.
Directed by Anthony Asquith, in The Millionairess (1960), Sophia plays a spoiled London heiress who cannot marry unless her prospective husband is able to turn £500 into £15,000 within a three-month period.
Sophia and Charlton Heston in a poster for El Cid, a 1961 epic historical drama film.
In intermissions while shooting films, Sophia liked to play a game of chess. In this photo from 1966, she played chess with Marlon Brando.
Looking very glamorous in the 1966 film Arabesque about an international intrigue involving a university professor, an Arab prime minister, a ruthless businessman, a beautiful spy, and hieroglyphics.
How gorgeous does Sophia look in this headshot from 1968?
Sophia Loren now
Following an 11-year break from acting, the Hollywood legend returned to acting to star in a Italian-language drama film, The Life Ahead.
Directed by her son, Edoardo Ponti, the 86 year old plays a Jewish woman and Holocaust survivor named Madame Rosa who helps raise the children of prostitutes.
Speaking to deadline, she said 'I jumped at the opportunity to make it. I loved portraying Madame Rosa. She is tough, she is fragile, she is a survivor. In many ways she reminds me of my own mother.'
Facts about Sophia Loren
In 2007 she posed, aged 72, for the famous Pirelli calendar
When Sophia Loren made Boy on a Dolphin with diminutive Alan Ladd, the 5ft 9in actress had to do walking scenes in a trench.
She and Marlon Brando, with whom she made A Countess From Hong Kong, had a frosty relationship after he made a pass at her and she told him, “Don't you ever dare do that again”
Sophia Loren quotes
"After all these years, I am still involved in the process of self-discovery. It's better to explore life and make mistakes than to play it safe. Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life."
"Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life."
"Sex appeal is fifty percent what you've got and fifty percent what people think you've got."
"It is a great advantage for a system of philosophy to be substantially true."
"There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age."
"You have to enjoy life. Always be surrounded by people that you like, people who have a nice conversation. There are so many positive things to think about."
"A mother has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child."
"A woman's dress should be like a barbed-wire fence: serving its purpose without obstructing the view."
"Getting ahead in a difficult profession requires avid faith in yourself. That is why some people with mediocre talent, but with great inner drive, go so much further than people with vastly superior talent."
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