Curvy brunette, sexy, strong and with an inimitable personality. In the collective imagination, Sophia Loren is the model of Mediterranean beauty par excellence: a source of great inspiration for generations of women. Ambassador of Italian beauty in the world and one of the best-loved movie stars in the history of international cinema, Sophia Loren, a name on the Walk of Fame, celebrates her 88th birthday.
With a career spanning seventy years, two Oscars and 5 Golden Globes, the actress was born Sofia Costanza Brigida Villani Scicolone in Rome on 20 September 1934 to mother Romilda Villani, piano teacher, and father Riccardo Mario Claudio Scicolone, businessman in the real estate sector. Her father acknowledged paternity of Sophia, but always refused to marry Romilda, who brought up her daughter and took care of her education alone.
She was noticed at a beauty contest at a very young age by Carlo Ponti, who later became her husband—by proxy, in Mexico in 1957—amid huge controversy in Italy, since the producer was already married and divorce was not yet allowed. It was Ponti who offered her her first contract and advised her to use a stage name: Sofia Lazzaro became Sophia Loren.
With this name, she shot her first successful films alongside Alberto Sordi, interpreting Cleopatra and her double in Mario Mattoli's Two Nights with Cleopatra in 1953. The following year, she filmed The Gold of Naples, an anthology film directed and starring Vittorio De Sica, with Totò, Silvana Mangano and Eduardo De Filippo and Miseria e nobiltà, adaptation of the work by Vincenzo Scarpetta, alongside Totò.
De Sica was adorable, a good man. Unique. He believed in me
Talking about De Sica, Sophia recounted an anecdote focused on the hunger suffered as a young girl. In an interview with Repubblica, she said: "I have to thank my husband and De Sica. I started from nothing. My mother was a poor lady, we were starving and we moved to Rome. Without people who believe in you, you go nowhere.
I met Carlo Ponti, my future husband, and he introduced me to Vittorio De Sica. I carry him in my heart. He was going to do The Gold of Naples, we were in De Laurentiis' office, I didn't dare say a word. I knew he liked me from the way he talked to me: 'Since I'm leaving for Naples I'll give you an audition right away; if all goes well, you can be the pizza maker.' I started to cry. 'Come to the set tomorrow.' So I did. De Sica was adorable, a good man. Unique. He believed in me.”
With De Sica, she shot a total of eight films, often starring with Mastroianni, constituting one of the most famous and enduring partnerships in the history of cinema. On Totò, in her autobiography Sophia Loren. Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My life, she talks about their first meeting: “Hesitant, I approached him to introduce myself: ‘Scicolone Sofia, it’s a great honor…’ He was sweet, he smiled at me and offered me some of his precious time. 'What's a little urchin like you doing here? Where are you from?.’ 'I'm from Pozzuoli, I'm here to make movies…' 'Ah ... the movies,' he sighed, giving me one of his famous faces.
For a moment, his ironic, irresistible melancholy was all for me. I drank it in, like a glass of fresh water, and I felt stronger. If Totò was giving me even a tiny bit of attention, it meant that anything was possible. That all the best was already here. But the Principe was more than just words. In the end, guessing what I had tried to hide, he put a hundred thousand lire in my hand. I think he read the hunger in my eyes: for food, for work, or perhaps more simply for cinema. This fed my mommy and me for a long time, as if we had won the lottery.’
I think he read the hunger in my eyes: for food, for work, or perhaps more simply for cinema
The first iconic interpretation was in Scandal in Sorrento in 1955, again starring with De Sica. The film by Dino Risi, fourth highest grossing of 1955/1956, in which Loren is a fishwife who tries to seduce Marshal Carotenuto (De Sica) to get him to let her stay in his rented house, features the iconic scene in which Loren and De Sica dance the mambo.
The 1960s were the period of her consecration as a global movie star. In reality, she had already made it in Hollywood by the second half of the 1950s, starring alongside Cary Grant, John Wayne and Anthony Quinn.
For Black Orchid, a 1958 movie with Grant, she won her first David di Donatello and the Coppa Volpi in Venice. At just 26 years old, she was already the icon of Italian cinema in the world, but it was in 1961 that the role of her life arrived.
In 1960, directed once again by De Sica, she played the role of Cesira in Two Women, based on the novel La Ciociara by Moravia, a perfect interpretation, which earned her the Oscar for best actress, the first awarded to an actor in a movie in a foreign language.
In addition to the Oscar she won in 1962, she also took home the Palme d'Or at Cannes, a Bafta, a David di Donatello and the Nastro d'Argento all for the same film, and she was featured on the cover of the April issue of TIME in the same year.
Her successes with De Sica, and her partnership with Mastroianni, were repeated in 1963 and in 1964 with Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow and Marriage Italian Style, which earned her a second nomination at the Oscars in 1965.
Both the work of Eduardo De Filippo: Adelina, the first episode of the film in 1963, was written by the great Neapolitan playwright, while Marriage Italian Style is the movie adaptation of his play Filumena Marturano. Another film that links Loren to De Filippo is Saturday, Sunday and Monday transposition of the 1990s directed by Lina Wertmuller based on Eduardo's work of the same name.
The last movie by the trio Loren, Mastroianni and De Sica was Sunflower in 1970, while in 1974 she played Adriana de Mauro in the dramatic movie The Voyage, Vittorio De Sica’s very last work. She worked again with Mastroianni in Ettore Scola's 1977 masterpiece A Special Day, which won the Golden Globe for best foreign film and won Sophia her sixth David di Donatello, second Nastro d'Argento and first Golden Globe.
In 1982, following long-running issues with the Italian tax authorities, Sophia Loren was arrested on charges of tax fraud. The actress remained in jail for 17 days and it wasn’t until 2013 that the Court of Cassation found her not to blame, attributing responsibility instead to her tax advisers.
In 1991, she received the Oscar for Lifetime Achievement and, three years later, Robert Altman cast her in his movie Prêt-à-porter, where, 30 years on, she re-enacted the famous striptease from Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow.
In 1999, it was Sophia Loren who presented the Oscar for best foreign film to Roberto Benigni. We all remember the scene in which, at the actress’s cry “And the Oscar goes to ... Robberto!” (with two bs), the actor reached the stage of the Academy by walking along the backs of the seats. In the new millennium, the actress shot Between Strangers directed by her son Edoardo Ponti and, two years later, Too Much Romance... It's Time for Stuffed Peppers by Lina Wertmuller.
In 2001, the Neapolitan actress (she has repeatedly and proudly stated: “I am not Italian, I am Neapolitan”) returned to television with the dramas Francesca e Nunziata, again by Lina Wertmuller, with Claudia Gerini and Raoul Bova, and La terra del ritorno (2004), with Sabrina Ferilli.
In 2009, after several years of absence on the set, Rob Marshall asked her to play the mother of the lead character in Nine, the 2009 film inspired by Federico Fellini's 8 1/2. In 2011, for the first time in her career, she did the voiceover for the Disney-Pixar animated film Cars 2, where she played Mama Topolino. Her most recent role dates back to 2020, when she starred in The Life Ahead, directed by her son Edoardo Ponti.
In total, in the course of her career, Sophia Loren has won 2 Oscars, 5 Golden Globes, 1 Golden Lion, 1 Grammy Award, the Coppa Volpi in Venice, the Prix Interpretation Feminine in Cannes, the Golden Bear in Berlin, a Bafta, 10 David di Donatello and 3 Silver Ribbons, which make her the most awarded Italian actress in the world and a timeless movie star.
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