In this edition of Celluloid Sirens, we get familiar with Sophia Loren. Loren was born Sofia Villani Scicolone in Rome, 1934. Her mother Romilda Villani was a piano tutor and actress, whose resemblance to Greta Garbo nearly saw her go to Hollywood as a body double. Unfortunately, her strict family forbade it.
Romilda became involved with construction engineer Riccardo Scicolone, father to Sophia and her younger sister Maria. According to reports, he was someone who played virtually no role in family life. Loren only met him 3 times.
The Second World War threw their existence into further turmoil. But Loren didn’t take long to arrive on the world stage. As a teenager, she and her mother went back to Rome with show business on their minds. Sophia entered the Miss Italy contest and began drawing attention.
She worked as a model, though amazingly her initial feedback was negative. A 2014 Telegraph piece describes how:
“Loren was told that her facial proportions were wrong. That her nose was too big.”
The mean-spirited snapper didn’t put a dent in her determination and:
“…she never dreamt of changing anything. She knew who she was.”
Her first encounter with Hollywood was in 1951’s Ancient Roman epic Quo Vadis, starring Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr. Shot in Italy, it gave Loren a taste of life in front of the camera, albeit as an extra.
She went on to have a long career in both American and European cinema. Highlights included anthology film La Favorita (1952, when she took on her professional name), romantic comedy It Started In Naples (1960), and further historical intrigue with The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964).
The Oscars came calling, thanks to her role as an Italian mother in Two Women (1960). This marked the first time a non-English movie netted a Best Actress gong.
She was nominated again, three years later, for Marriage Italian Style. She also appeared in plenty of American films in the 50s and 60s, like Desire Under the Elms with Anthony Perkins; The Pride and the Passion and Houseboat with Cary Grant, and Arabesque with Gregory Peck.
Arguably her best-known Hollywood film was The Pride and the Passion (1957). Set during the Napoleonic Wars and based on a C.S. Forester novel, it was her big American debut. Loren was cast opposite A-Listers Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra. Ol’ Blue Eyes became a friend, as did Grant. However, Grant’s intentions were more than platonic.
When she was filming 1957 adventure Legend of the Lost with John Wayne she nearly perished in her hotel room. A faulty gas stove could have asphyxiated her, were it not for the quick thinking of co-star Rossano Brazzi, who pulled her to safety after she blacked out trying to crawl into the corridor.
Loren, now 86, has continued to act even in her later years, and she has remained beloved by her fans.
Maybe it’s because she’s the kind of Hollywood legend who talks about staring at Jayne Mansfield’s chest on the record, or maybe it’s because she’s just that good of an actress.