Sophia Loren: beautiful, romantic, brutally honest.
The 86-year-old Oscar-winner and star of “Two Women” and “It Started in Naples” is back on-screen after a 10-year hiatus in the new Italian film “The Life Ahead” (in select theaters Friday, on Netflix Nov. 13). But don’t let her comeback role as an ailing local nanny fool you. Loren’s 70-year career in cinema has been one of glamour, sexy relationships with smoldering stars, a brush with the law and decades-old beefs that are still gossiped about (and inspiring hot celebrities) today.
The Italian actress is still such a spitfire that when asked about Marlon Brando at AFI Fest in 2014, she shrugged and said, “Eh.”
Despite her reputation as a stunner, though, the gorgeous star got her start, like Judy Garland before her, by being told she wasn’t pretty enough for showbiz. That slight came from none other than her future husband.
At 17 years old, Loren met the famed Italian producer Carlo Ponti, who was 22 years her senior, during a pageant he was judging in 1951. The pair got off to a rocky start. While she was doing a screen test for him, a camera man shouted, “She’s impossible to photograph. Her face is too short, her mouth is too big, her nose is too long.”
Rather than siding with his eventual wife, whom he wed in 1957, Ponti poured gasoline.
“Sophia, have you ever thought about . . . you know, softening your . . . your . . . dominant profile?,” Loren recalled him saying in her 2014 memoir “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life.” The teenage actress was irate at what was being implied.
“Carlo, if you’re suggesting that in order to make movies I’m going to have to slice off a piece of my nose, well then I’m going back to Pozzuoli because I have no intention of getting a nose job,” she said. Loren claims she never has gone under the knife.
And why would she? Her looks were good enough for Cary Grant, after all. The English-American actor, who starred in “His Girl Friday” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch A Thief” among countless others, was cast in the 1957 film “The Pride and the Passion” alongside Loren and Frank Sinatra. The trio first met during a cocktail party at the Castellana Hotel in Madrid.
The dashing Grant approached Loren wearing a tux and said, “Miss Lolloren, I presume? Or is it Miss Lorgenigida? You Italians have such strange last names, I can’t seem to get them straight.”
Forgetting the flub, the two began regularly eating dinner together and driving around Spain in his red MG, becoming more and more emotionally entwined. This was no innocent courtship: She was 22, he was 52. Loren was about to wed Ponti, and Grant was already married to his third wife Betsy Drake. (Not to mention, there has also been ongoing speculation about Grant’s sexuality.)
Regardless, Loren was “torn between two men and two worlds,” and on the last night of filming she writes that over dinner Grant dropped a bomb. “Will you marry me?,” he asked.
This week, Loren backtracked the comments she made in her memoir, telling Radio Times “Cary Grant was a very handsome man and a wonderful actor, but he didn’t propose.”
Although the relationship never wandered down the aisle (or into the bedroom), Grant didn’t stop thinking about her. When Loren moved to the United States shortly after the film shoot ended, he kept sending her large bouquets of roses, in full view of Ponti.
In April 1957, Loren took her first trip to America, where she could be closer to Ponti, who she wed that September. She was greeted in grand fashion by a sea of photographers and dominated the headlines.
Right away, she headed to her first Hollywood party, thrown by Paramount at Romanoff’s in Beverly Hills, where newspapers covered her for a much more revealing reason.
Loren was the guest of honor at the soiree, a feat when the guest list also included Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Then, subverting the male gaze, in walked Jayne Mansfield, the busty blond star of “This Girl Can’t Help It,” and an early Playboy Playmate.
She strutted over to Loren’s table “perhaps not completely sober,” Loren sharply wrote. “Suddenly I found one of her breasts in my plate,” and she shot the American actress a judgmental glare. At that moment, a crafty paparazzi snapped a picture that has become an enduring meme.
“The image went around the world,” Loren wrote. “I refused to autograph it.”
The actress once again memorably explained herself to Entertainment Weekly in 2014, living up to her outspoken reputation.
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“I’m staring at her nipples because I am afraid they are about to come onto my plate,” Loren said. “In my face you can see the fear.”