Sophia Loren is one of the most famous actresses in film history. Born on September 20, 1934, in Rome, the screen legend is known for such films as Aida, The Gold of Naples, The Pride and the Passion, Two Women, Marriage, Italian Style, A Countess from Hong Kong, Grumpier Old Men, Nine, and The Life Ahead. Famed for her beauty and celebrated for her brilliant acting, Loren is an international star whose contribution to film cannot be overemphasized.
Loren’s talent brought her fame and fortune, but her success was very much an uphill journey. Loren worked hard to escape poverty and establish her film career, first in Italy and then on the international stage. Today, she is admired not only as one of the most important figures of Hollywood’s golden age, but also as an indomitable force and an inspiration
Loren has starred in films for most of her life, but her evolution from a struggling actress into an irrefutable icon isn’t the only stunning transformation she’s undergone.
Sophia Loren grew up in poverty
As noted by Vanity Fair, Sophia Loren was born Sofia Villani Scicolone in a charity ward in Rome. Her father, Riccardo Scicolone, refused to marry her mother, Romilda Villani, so Loren was raised by her mother and her family in Pozzuoli, a small town outside of Naples. The family was poor; Loren never had her own bed, and slept with other family members growing up.
The family’s situation was particularly difficult during WWII. Villani scrounged for food for Loren and her younger sister — also fathered by Scicolone. Loren was so thin that her classmates nicknamed her “Sofia Stuzzicadenti,” meaning toothpick.
However, it was a happy time for Loren, whose family did their best to shield her from their hardships. She explained to Dolce that her family often ate “la pannzella,” which means “the food of the poor people,” a dish consisting of stale bread soaked in cold water, drizzled with olive oil, and topped with tomatoes, onions, and basil. “When [my grandmother] made it, it meant that there was no money in the house, but as a child, I did not know that,” Loren recalled, adding she wished she “could always eat it.”
Sophia Loren got her start as a pageant queen
By the time she was 14, Sophia Loren was getting attention from men, according to Vanity Fair. To that end, her mother entered her in a childhood beauty contest called Queen of the Sea and Her Twelve Princesses. Loren’s grandmother sewed her an evening gown made out of curtains, and Loren was chosen as one of the 12 princesses out of more than 200 contestants. Loren’s prize was $35, a ticket to Rome, and wallpaper.
It was the start of Loren’s career; she quickly found work in Rome as a model, changing her name to Sofia Lazzaro. Loren’s eyes, though, were set on a career in film. “I’d wanted to be an actress since I was 10 years old,” she told Dolce.
Loren began to land small roles in films, beginning with an uncredited part in the 1950s film Tototarzan. A series of small roles — several as an uncredited extra — followed in films like Cuori sul mare, Il voto, Lebbra bianca, Io sono il capataz, and Milano miliardaria. Loren wasn’t content for her career to be in the background, though — she was determined to become a star.
Sophia Loren wasn’t considered beautiful enough to be a movie star
Sophia Loren faced a major hurdle in her journey to become a star: camera operators didn’t think she was pretty enough to be a leading lady. She was told that her nose was too long, and was encouraged to undergo plastic surgery — but Loren refused. “I said, ‘Listen, I don’t want to touch nothing on my face because I like my face,’” she told The Hollywood Reporter.
Indeed, Loren was determined to make it with the face she was born with and threatened to go back home to Pozzuoli if she was forced to alter her appearance. It was the right move, as Loren’s looks would go on to become admired all over the world. “Her mouth is too large, her nose is too long, her chin and her lips are too broad but the total of all her parts is ravishing,” wrote Loren’s biographer, A.E. Hotchner (via the Orlando Sentinel).
Loren did, however, change the spelling of her first name from Sofia to Sophia, as the original spelling was too Italian. Her new last name, Loren, was modeled after the name of Swedish actress Marta Toren.
Did Sophia Loren have an affair with Cary Grant?
Over the next few years, Sophia Loren continued to act. In 1953, she landed her first starring role in the film adaptation of the opera Aida. More leading roles followed in films like A Day in Court, Two Nights with Cleopatra, The River Girl, The Sign of Venus, and Scandal in Sorrento.
In 1957, Loren filmed her first American film, The Pride and the Passion, alongside leading man Cary Grant. Grant was smitten with Loren, who was also taken with her. And while it has been widely reported that Grant proposed on set, Loren denied this in an interview with Radio Times (via The Guardian). “Cary Grant was a very handsome man and a wonderful actor, but he didn’t propose,” she revealed.
While Grant didn’t propose, their relationship still proved to be a crossroads for Loren’s; she was engaged to film producer Carlo Ponti, but also cared for Grant and found herself torn. She eventually chose Ponti, telling Express that Grant “belonged to another world in America.” She explained, “I felt that I would never fit in there. I would never have a future there because of my nationality.”
Sophia Loren’s marriage forced her into exile
While Sophia Loren chose Carlo Ponti over Cary Grant, their romance wasn’t exactly straightforward. Ponti was over two decades older than Loren, and was already married when he became involved with the budding star. It’s Ponti who is credited with discovering Loren, noticing her in the audience of a beauty contest he was judging.
Ponti took charge of Loren’s career, and Loren became his lover when she was 19. While Loren loved Ponti, she admitted part of his appeal was as a father figure. “What I wanted to have was a legitimate family, a legitimate husband, children, a family,” she told Vanity Fair, citing the lack of a relationship with her own father. Ponti struggled to obtain a divorce in Catholic Italy but managed to get one in Mexico, where the couple was married by proxy.
Still, Italy refused to recognize Ponti’s divorce, charging him with bigamy and Loren with concubinage, and they were forced to leave Rome. Fortunately, in 1962 they were able to return after it was found their proxy marriage hadn’t been legal. They were eventually legally married in France in 1966, staying together until Ponti’s death in 2007.
Sophia Loren starred in several Hollywood films, but her heart remained in Italy
After filming The Pride and the Passion with Cary Grant, Sophia Loren continued to land Hollywood roles in films like Houseboat, That Kind of Woman, and A Breath of Scandal. While Loren could have set herself up in Los Angeles, her heart was never in America. As she explained to The Hollywood Reporter, it was her dream to act in Hollywood, but living there was another story. “I had a wonderful time learning a lot about the business, but of course, when you go back to where you were born, you always give the best,” she said.
Loren never felt at home in Hollywood. The actress told Dolce that things may have turned out differently if she’d started her career there instead of Italy but, as it was, she “always felt like a stranger” there.
It was more than her love for her home country that kept Loren from putting down roots in America, though. As she explained to The Guardian, it would have been nice to “know people in America,” but she also dreamed of getting married and raising a family.
Sophia Loren was shocked when she won an Oscar
Sophia Loren won her first Oscar for her role in 1961’s Two Women, an Italian film about a widowed mother and her daughter who flee Rome during Word War II. Loren delivered a captivating performance, but was convinced that she didn’t actually have a shot at winning the prestigious award. She explained to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that she thought that even if she did win, she would “faint and fall.” So, she stayed at home in Rome instead of attending the ceremony.
Loren’s win was the first for a foreign language film and the first win for an Italian actress. It was Cary Grant who broke the news to Loren, calling her after she was announced as the best actress winner. Loren recalled being so stunned that she dropped the phone and began to jump in excitement. “It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life, what a pleasure, like falling in love,” she recalled
As noted by The San Diego Union-Tribune, Loren was nominated for another Oscar in 1965 for Marriage Italian Style, and received an honorary Oscar in 1991 for her many performances over the years.
Sophia Loren suffered two devastating miscarriages before giving birth to her first child
Becoming an actress was Sophia Loren’s great passion, but it wasn’t her only one. She also wanted to raise a family, a dream that was threatened after a doctor told her she was unable to have children. Loren told Alain Elkann Interviews that she “always disagreed” with his assessment. Loren eventually did become a mother, but it was an uphill struggle
Loren struggled with infertility, as she suffered a miscarriage in 1963 and another in 1967, as noted by Vanity Fair. Loren learned that she needed estrogen shots, as she had a hormonal imbalance, and underwent fertility treatments to become pregnant a third time; she remained on complete bed reset until delivering her son, Carlo Hubert Leone Ponti Jr., 1968. She did the same when pregnant with her second child, giving birth to Edoardo Ponti four years later.
After becoming a mother, Loren took on fewer roles, although she continued to act steadily for decades. Having a family, Loren once said in a press conference (via Segmento), was the “dream of [her life] adding, “It’s me and my children and grandchildren — yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”
Sophia Loren successfully branded her name
Sophia Loren’s enduring popularity over the years is not solely due to her acting career or her famed beauty. Loren also successfully branded herself and her name. She was the first celeb to launch her own perfume, and even won a prize for the scent in 1981, as noted by the Weekly World News.
Loren is also a successful author. The young girl who grew up eating “the food of the poor people” developed a passion for the culinary arts and released her first cookbook, In the Kitchen with Love in 1971. In 1998, she released Sophia Loren’s Recipes and Memories. Loren also authored a memoir, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life.
While Loren revealed quite a lot in her memoir, the prolific diarist — who writes every day but burns her diary every year — revealed to The Telegraph that she left out some of the juicier details of her life. “The book is a story of my life read as a story,” she said. “Anyway, why should I give it all out?”
Sophia Loren isn’t afraid of aging
Sophia Loren will forever be remembered as one of the most beautiful women in the world. While it would be natural for her to want to undergo cosmetic procedures to retain her youthful looks, Loren prefers a more natural approach to aging. She told Dolce that she would prefer to “stay young,” but she knows eternal youth is “impossible” and is happy with how she’s aged. “You have to accept your age,” she shared, adding that everyone ages and that she refuses to “fight it.”
Loren also said that she’s happy to have started her acting career in the ’50s when the acting industry wasn’t “so age-obsessed.” Loren is critical of “this American image of having all these facelifts and implants,” saying that it “doesn’t look natural at all,” although she does understand the pressure put on actresses to slow the aging process.
For Loren, the true secret of youth is internal. “It is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of the people you love,” she told Haute Living, adding that “tap[ping] this source” is the way to truly “conquer aging.”
Sophia Loren is excited about how much the film industry has changed
Sophia Loren has transformed over the years and so has the film industry. Loren has watched those changes with excitement, noting that in many ways, things are better today than they were at the start of her career. While Loren told The Sydney Morning Herald that she never experienced harassment as so many actresses have, she’s been thrilled to see women take a stand as part of the #MeToo movement. “I am so proud of the women who stood up to such horrible and unacceptable mistreatment,” she told The Irish Times, calling such behavior “inadmissible,” adding that it “has been going on for way too long.”
Loren is also excited to see how much more diverse the industry has become. As an Italian actress in Hollywood in the ’50s, Loren was a trailblazer. Today, she says, actors “of all genders and ethnicities” have more opportunities, and this is a good thing. “Cinema is a reflection of society, all voices need to be heard,” she said.
Sophia Loren came out of retirement to work with her son
While Sophia Loren never officially retired, she’s become more selective of the parts she takes as she’s gotten older. She’s only starred in a handful of roles in the 21st century in films like Between Strangers, Too Much Romance… It’s Time For Stuffed Peppers, Nine, and the 2010 TV movie My House Is Full of Mirrors, in which she portrayed her mother, Romilda Villani. That was Loren’s last big role for years, aside from voicing a character in the 2014 short Human Voice.
After a decade of semi-retirement, Loren returned to the screen to star in Netflix’s The Life Ahead, a 2020 film about a Holocaust survivor who befriends a 12-year-old immigrant from Senegal. Loren won’t star in a film for just anyone these days – The Life Ahead was directed by her son, Edoardo Ponti, and is the third collaboration between mother and son. “Working with my son is one of the joys of my life,” Loren told The Irish Times.
Ponti was equally full of praise for his mother. “The energy and passion with which she approaches every scene is marvel to watch,” he told Closer Weekly.
Sophia Loren has no regrets about her career
After decades in Hollywood, it would be understandable if Sophia Loren had regrets about how her career has played out. However, the silver screen legend is happy about how everything has gone, and wouldn’t change a thing. While Loren admitted to W that she’s sure had her “weak moments” when she did things she’s “not really very happy about,” her career has been so long and successful that she can’t pinpoint one moment she truly regrets.
As Loren explained to Dolce, living such a long and successful life can make it “very difficult to judge who you have become and what you have experienced.” Still, Loren is positive that she’s “lived a very full life” and doesn’t believe that she “could have lived with any more passion.”
Loren does have one regret in her personal life, though — that she never got to wear a white wedding dress. She told Radio Times that she’s done her best to live her life without regrets, but wearing a white gown is one thing she always wanted. “That was the dream of my life, which is still inside me,” she said