Sophia Loren biography 2022

Actress Sophia Loren

Sophia Loren biography

Sophia Loren was born Sofia Villani Scicolone on September 20, 1934, in a low-poverty part of Rome, Italy.

Her father, Riccardo Scicolone, refused to marry her mother, Romilda Villani but allowed Sofia and her younger sister Maria to take his surname.

When she was four, her mother moved north with her daughters to a poor suburb of Naples called Pozzuoli. This was shortly before the outbreak of World War II.

Between the ages of five and ten, Sofia suffered the dread and hardships of the war as Naples became one of the most frequent Italian targets of the bombing campaigns. Romilda tried to provide for her family by playing piano in local rundown cafes, but they often went without food due to a lack of money and war.

As a schoolgirl, Sofia was teased about being born illegitimately and her skinniness, for which she earned the nicknames "Stuzzicadente" (toothpick) and "Stechetto" (stick). She escaped into the world of cinema, spending much of her free time watching movies and feeling that she was destined to become a film actress.

By the time she reached fourteen, she had developed into a stunning woman. Her figure would be her ticket out of the slums of Italy. Her mother entered her in "The Queen of the Sea" beauty pageant, where she was selected as one of twelve runner-ups "Princesses of the Sea," out of more than 200 contestants.

With the war now over, American film production companies had been filming in Rome. Romilda, a frustrated actress, moved back to the Italian capital with Sofia, hoping to find some work in the movies. The year was 1950, and mother and daughter landed jobs as extras in such films as Bluebeard's Six Wives and Quo Vadis (1951).

Sofia also worked as a model for the comic-strip style photo magazines known as the fumetti. She often portrayed gypsy vamp characters, photographed in seductive poses. During this period, she went by the name of Sofia Lazzaro.

In 1951, Sofia got her first big break. She placed second in the Miss Rome beauty contest, where she met film producer Carlo Ponti, one of the event's judges. Ponti had been credited with discovering Gina Lollobrigida. In 1952, she was given her first big part in La Favorita. Sofia also became Ponti's mistress. He was 24 years her senior and was married with two children.

Ponti helped Sophia, who was now re-christened Sophia Loren, land the lead role in the film version of Verdi's Aida in 1953. In 1954, the 20-year-old Sophia was cast by actor/director Vittorio De Sica in The Gold of Naples. De Sica saw beyond her physical endowments and recognized Loren's potential as a formidable acting talent. He advised her not to take any acting lessons, as it would come to her naturally by just doing it. Sophia later said of De Sica, "He was my school, my teacher, my mentor, my everything. I really owe it all to him."

Also, in 1954, director Alessandro Blasetti teamed Sophia and De Sica with Marcello Mastroianni in Too Bad She's Bad. The trio produced such magnetic on-screen chemistry that they were reunited for 1955's The Miller's Wife.

Sophia had become a European star by this time and was ready to take on America.

She received publicity before arriving in Hollywood through "The Battle of the Bosoms" between her and Gina Lollobrigida.

She made her American screen debut in 1957's Boy On A Dolphin. An attention-getting scene in the film was Loren emerging from the ocean in a see-through, wet, clingy dress.

While making 1957's The Pride And The Passion with Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant, she and Grant fell in love, and he proposed to her. She had grown frustrated waiting while Ponti attempted to have his marriage annulled by the Catholic church. As a result of Grant's proposal, Ponti went through Mexican divorce courts and had his marriage dissolved. He and Sophia were married, but not without more frustration. The Vatican publicly denounced Ponti's move, and he was charged with bigamy in Italy.

Her film career continued to rise, largely unaffected by marital woes. She re-teamed with the jilted Grant for 1958's Houseboat and picked up the first of her acting awards for 1958's The Black Orchid at both the Venice and Cannes Film Festivals. More English-speaking roles followed in 1960, with the comedy The Millionairess and the Western Heller In Pink Tights, where she reunited with her Black Orchid co-star, Anthony Quinn.

In 1961, Loren delivered what became her defining role in Vittorio De Sica's Two Women, a.k.a. La Ciociara. As Cesira, an Italian rape victim during World War II, Sophia won the Best Actress award from the New York Film Critics Circle, the British Film Academy, and once again at Cannes. At the 1961 Academy Awards, Loren became the first person ever to win an acting Oscar for a foreign language film. (The feat would not be repeated until Roberto Benigni's win for Life Is Beautiful in 1998).

While Loren's film career was riding an all-time high, her personal life was dealt a blow when she and Ponti were forced by Italian law to have their marriage annulled in 1962. She continued to work under De Sica's direction for 1962's Boccaccio '70 and Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow a year later, which reunited her with Mastroianni once again. She also took home the Golden Globe for Female World Film Favorite in 1963 and 1964 (and received it again in '68 and '76).

The sensual beauty was again nominated for an Oscar for her performance in 1964's Marriage Italian-Style, but lost out to the sweet innocence of Julie Andrews as "Mary Poppins."

In 1966, Loren and Ponti became French citizens and were legally married. In 1969, she and Ponti became parents to son Carlo Jr., who became a pianist and conductor. Brother Edoardo was born in 1973 and became a filmmaker.

Sophia Loren continued to appear in Italian and U.S. productions through the remainder of the 1970s, notably 1976's The Cassandra Crossing and yet again with Mastroianni in 1977's A Special Day and 1978's Blood Feud. Loren released her autobiography, Sophia: Living and Loving, in 1979.

She played both her mother and herself in the made-for-TV movie based on her autobiography, Sophia Loren: Her Own Story, in 1980, the same year she was presented with an Honorary Oscar as "one of the genuine treasures of world cinema."

In 1982, she spent 18 days in an Italian prison after being convicted of tax evasion. She took some time off from moviemaking to spend time with her sons during the 1980s, appearing in American TV movies such as 1984's Aurora and 1986's Courage.

In 1994, Loren returned to the big screen in Robert Altman's Ready To Wear, where in her final appearance with Mastroianni, she recreated the famous striptease scene from Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. That same year, she was awarded the Silver Bear, a Lifetime Achievement award at the Berlin Film Festival, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In 1995, Loren co-starred with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in Grumpier Old Men and won the Cecil B. DeMille Award, presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. More career achievement awards followed in the latter half of the '90s, including the NATO/ShoWest Lifetime Achievement in 1996, the Venice Film Festival Golden Lion in 1998, and the David Di Donatello Prize in 1999.

Her Recipes and Memories, a best-selling cookbook, was published in 1998. Recent film appearances include 2001's Francesca e Nunziata and her first collaboration with son Edoardo as director, Between Strangers, which played at the 2002 Venice Film Festival.

last updated October 2022

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