Sophia began her film career in the early 1950s playing bit
parts in mostly minor Italian films, but she had an early brush
with Hollywood in 1951 when she and her mother worked as extras
in the blockbuster Quo Vadis, which was filmed in Rome. Around
this time, she also worked as a model in the fotoromanzi (weekly
illustrated romantic stories) billed as "Sofia Villani" or
"Sofia Lazzaro' and took part in regional beauty contests, were
she won several prizes and was discovered by her future husband,
the much older film producer Carlo Ponti, whom she married on
September 17, 1957, 3 days before her 23rd birthday. They would
have 2 sons together, Carlo Ponti, Jr., and Edouardo Ponti.
Under Ponti's management, Sofia Scicolone changed her name to Sophia Loren and, after more early film roles that emphasized her voluptuous physique (she even appeared topless in the films Two Nights with Cleopatra and It's Him, Yes! Yes!), her acting career took off upon meeting Vittorio De Sica and Marcello Mastroianni in 1954.
By the second half of the 1950s, her star began to rise in Hollywood, with films such as 1957's Boy on a Dolphin and The Pride and the Passion,(in which she co-starred with Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant, the latter to whom she became romantically attracted for a time). Sophia became an international film star with a five-picture contract with Paramount Studios. Among her films at this time: Desire Under the Elms with Anthony Perkins (based upon the Eugene O'Neill play), Houseboat (a romantic comedy again co-starring Cary Grant), and George Cukor's Heller in Pink Tights (in which she appeared blonde for the first time in her career).
Sophia demonstrated considerable dramatic skills and gained respect as a dramatic and comedy actress, especially in Italian projects where she more freely expressed herself, although she gained profiency in the English language. In 1960, her acclaimed performance in Vittorio De Sica's Two Women earned her a multitude of awards and, along with the Cannes, Venezia and Berlin festivals' best performance prizes, the distinction of being the first actor to win a major category Academy Award (Best Actress) for a non-English language performance.
Belying the typical portrayal of the beautiful actress as
vacuous and emptyheaded, Sophia was known for her sharp wit and
insight. One of her most frequently-quoted sayings is her quip
on her diet, "Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti."
During the 1960s Sophia was one of the most popular actresses in the world, and continued to make popular films in both America and in Europe, acting with all the leading male stars of the time. In 1964 her career came, to an effect, full circle when she received $1 million to join the all-star cast of The Fall of the Roman Empire, directed by the same man who had directed Quo Vadis early in her career. Some of her best-known films of this period are Peter Ustinov's Lady L with Paul Newman, Charles Chaplin's final film, A Countess from Hong Kong with Marlon Brando, and The Millionairess with Peter Sellers, with whom she recorded a best-selling album of comedic songs and also reportedly from whom she had to fend off romantic advances.
After becoming a mother of two sons her career slowed down and Sophia moved into her 40s and 50s with acclaimed roles in films such as the last De Sica movie, The Voyage, with Richard Burton and Ettore Scola's A Special Day with Mastroianni.
In 1980, she had the rare privilege of portraying herself (as well as her own mother) in a made-for-television biopic adaptation of her autobiography bestseller Sophia: Living and Loving titled Sophia Loren: Her Own Story. (Rita Brown and Chiara Ferrari played younger versions of the actress. She made headlines in 1982 when she served an 18-day prison sentence in Italy on tax evasion charges, a fact that didn't damage her career or popularity.
In her 60s, Sophia was selective in her films and ventured into various areas of business (cook books, eyewear, jewelery and perfume - Sophia was the first movie star to launch a personal fragrance) but made very well-received appearances in Robert Altman's Ready to Wear and the 1994 comedy Grumpier Old Men playing a femme fatale opposite Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.
In 1991, Sophia received an honorary Academy Award for her contribution to world cinema and was declared "one of the world cinema's treasures".
Sophia Loren was portrayed by Sonia Aquino in the 2004 biopic The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, as well as by Silvia Vrij in a 1980 film entitled Dirty Picture
This Sophia Loren Biography Page is Copyright © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub