Sophia Loren is a contradiction: An international seductress and a loving wife. A comedic talent and a dramatic, award-winning actress. A girl who pulled herself up from poverty to embrace decadence. Either way, Loren’s career proves she’s more than just a pretty face. Here are 42 facts about Sophia Loren.
Sophia Loren Facts
1. The Birth of Venus
Sophia Loren was born Sofia Villani Scicolone on September 20, 1934, in Rome, Italy. Little Sophia’s home life was nothing short of heartbreaking. Though her parents had a second daughter in 1938, their relationship was strained. Loren’s father absolutely refused to marry her mother, and he mostly cut himself out from their lives.
2. He Who Shall Not Be Named
Loren was named “Sophia” after her paternal grandmother, but this name had little meaning after her father abandoned the family. Her other grandmother wanted nothing to do with the man or his hollow familial tributes, and she staunchly avoided calling Loren “Sofia” entirely, instead calling her by the nickname “Lella.”
3. Stage Mother
Loren’s mother Romilda Villani was a classic beauty, but her life was filled with tragedy. As a young girl, she seemed full of promise, evening winning a 1932 Greta Garbo look-alike contest. Her title came with an opportunity to work in Hollywood, yet Villani’s mother refused to let her go. She became pregnant soon after, putting an end to her dreams of stardom.
4. Marquee Lights
Loren’s no-good father, Riccardo Scicolone, was of noble lineage; Loren is technically a marquess, the Marquess of Licata Scicolone Murillo.
5. Waiting Room
Without any of their father’s support, Loren and her sister grew up in Pozzuoli, a tiny village nearby the larger Naples, living with their mother and grandmother. Loren’s grandmother ran a pub from their living room, and the teenaged Sophia earned her keep waiting tables and washing dishes for the family business.
During the second world war, Pozzuoli was the frequent target of Allied bombings, and little Loren did not escape the danger unscathed. One day she was stuck right in the middle of an air raid, with shrapnel flying everywhere. It hit her full in the face, and she still carries a small scar on her chin from the ordeal.
7. Bullied Beauty
Growing up, mean and jealous children taunted the leggy Loren by calling her “toothpick.”
8. Life’s Rich Pageant
The scar didn’t hurt Loren’s looks any. Though she was teased for being tall and skinny as a child, Loren soon grew into a beautiful young woman and began participating in beauty pageants. In 1950, judges named her “Miss Elegance” at the Miss Italia pageant, and she came within a hair of winning the whole thing as “Miss Italia.”
9. See You in the Funny Pages
Sophia Loren also came runner up in the Queen of the Sea beauty contest. She won $35, several rolls of wallpaper, and, most importantly, a ticket to Rome. While visiting Rome, Loren was offered a job as a model. She was soon getting regular work posing for fumetti, serialized comic soap operas that ran in the daily papers.
10. The Name Game
The young girl changed her name to “Sophia Loren” as a nod to the Swedish actress Mӓrta Torén.
11. Paying for the Privilege
At 17, Loren enrolled in acting classes. Before the year was out, she had already landed a small role in a movie, and she had vengeful plans for her first paycheck. When she received it, the first thing she did was march up to her father, pay him 1 million lire, and demand he allow her sister to use his last name “Scicolone”—a right he had denied her since birth.
12. Crowd Control
Unlike many other actors of her era, Loren has never performed in any theatrical productions. She suffers terrible stage fright and will only act on camera.
Loren continued to play minor parts until she finally one the lead role in Aida in 1953. From there she made a series of major pictures with legendary Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni. Her success in Italy soon caught the attention of American producers, and Loren was offered a five-picture deal with Paramount Pictures.
14. Speak and Spell
Loren started out painfully small in Hollywood. She made her American film debut as an extra, and her first speaking role came in The Pride and the Passion, starring alongside Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra. Loren could still barely speak English and had to read her lines off cue cards, with the words written out phonetically.
15. A Little Italy
Loren renounced her Italian citizenship in 1965, but she was granted honorary citizenship by her hometown of Pozzuoli.
16. Always a Bridesmaid
A young Sophia Loren starred alongside Cary Grant in 1958’s Houseboat. The film concludes with a lavish wedding scene between Loren and Grant. Sadly, Loren wanted nothing more than to have a traditional marriage and family, but this scene was actually the only time she enjoyed taking part in a proper ceremony.
17. More Than Just a Pretty Face
In 1960, Loren starred in the acclaimed Italian-language war drama Two Women. It significantly boosted her credibility as a serious actress, but it was a hard-won success. Loren lobbied tirelessly to be cast as the mother in the film—ridiculously enough, the movie’s producers wanted her to play the 12-year-old daughter.
18. House Party
Her performance in Two Women won Loren the Best Actress Oscar in 1960, but it was actually an incredibly difficult time in Loren’s life. She couldn’t even attend the ceremony because of her crippling stage fright; she was worried she might faint. It was her old friend Cary Grant who called her at her home in Paris to let her know she’d won.
19. Speaking in Tongues
Loren’s Best Actress Oscar in 1960 marked the first time an Academy Award was offered for a performance in a foreign language film.
20. Quite an Achievement
Loren would receive just one more Academy Award nomination: Best Actress for her role in 1964’s Marriage, Italian Style.
21. The Millionairess
Loren followed up Two Women with the sweeping historical epic El Cid, and the newly-successful Loren let out her inner diva on set. Now a megastar, Loren commanded a hefty $1 million for her performance. This was revolutionary: Up to that point, only the great Elizabeth Taylor had earned a million for a single movie.
22. Her Name in Lights
El Cid had a massive budget and a massive advertising campaign. A billboard dominated the New York skyline, and people could see it from incoming ocean liners—but when she saw it, Loren was absolutely furious. The billboard listed the name of her co-star Charlton Heston above her own. It was not what the superstar was expecting.
23. For the Record
To help build publicity for her 1960 film, The Millionairess, Sophia Loren and her co-star Peter Sellers recorded a series of duets. Two of those songs, “Goodness Gracious Me” and “Bangers and Mash” made it into the top 20 on the British pop charts.
24. Let’s Just Be Friends
During filming of The Millionaress, Loren’s legendary beauty caused tragedy on set. Sellers fell madly in love with Loren and even left his wife just for the opportunity to date the Italian siren. Loren, however, did not return his affections. She even stated that any imagined spark between them was “a sad delusion.”
25. Tooting Your Own Horne
Loren was cast opposite Peter O’Toole in the musical Man of La Mancha. For the singing parts, producers overdubbed O’Toole’s voice and wanted to do the same with Loren. However, her dubber Marilyn Horne was a bit of a diva herself: She wanted equal billing to Loren. That just wouldn’t do. Horne was let go, and Loren sang her own part.
26. You Sound Different
Obviously, Loren spoke fluent Italian. Even so, when most of her American movies were translated for Italian audiences, Loren’s voice was overdubbed by Italian actresses Lydia Simoneschi and Rita Savagnone.
27. Baby Pictures
The world went crazy went Loren had her first child. Media attention was so high after the birth that a press conference had to be held in the hospital’s amphitheatre. Loren, still on bed-rest, was wheeled into the theatre, infant in arms, while her husband and the doctors took questions from the frantic crowd.
28. The Sweet Smell of Success
In 1981, Loren launched her own perfume, Sophia. She was the first celebrity to sell her own signature scent.
29. What’s Cookin’, Good Lookin’?
Loren is also a talented chef; she has written three cookbooks.
30. Face the Music
In her memoir Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, Loren remembers how difficult it was for her to break into acting, even as a legendary beauty. She says that when she did an early screen test, the producers absolutely eviscerated her looks. “Her face,” they said, “is too short, her mouth is too big, and her nose is too long.”
31. Seeing Double
Loren’s autobiography, Sophia Loren: Her Own Story, became a bestseller, and was turned into a television movie in 1980. Loren played herself, as well as her own mother.
32. No Country for Old Men
In 1995, Loren starred in Grumpier Old Men, a sequel to the 1993 comedy Grumpy Old Men. A third film in the series would have seen the characters travel to Rome where they would run into Loren’s character’s ex-husband, played by Marcello Mastroianni—but tragedy struck. Mastroianni died the following year, and the plan was abandoned.
33. Coming out of Retirement
At 84 years of age, and after more than a decade away from the camera, Loren is returning to acting with The Life Ahead. Loren stars as a Holocaust survivor who befriends a young Senegalese immigrant. It’s also a family affair. Loren’s son Edoardo Ponti directed the film, which is set for release in March, 2020.
34. Leave Them Wanting More
When Loren was living in Switzerland, she was neighbors with none other than Audrey Hepburn—and one day, the two shared a very bizarre lunch. According to Loren, the smaller Hepburn didn’t set out nearly enough food on the table for the Italian screen goddess, and Loren was forced to go home early so that she could scarf down a salami sandwich.
35. The Original Side Eye
One of most infamous photos of Sophia Loren shows her at a party seated beside a grinning Jayne Mansfield while giving the blonde bombshell, who is wearing a very low cut dress, an extremely dirty side-eye. People have wondered about the true meaning behind the look for years, and she finally revealed the whole story.
Delightfully, it’s exactly what you think. The party that evening was supposed to be Loren’s official welcoming into Hollywood, but Mansfield apparently sauntered in late, sat down beside her, and tried to steal the spotlight with her, er, assets. As Loren explains it, “[In the photo] I’m so frightened that everything in her dress is going to blow—BOOM!—and spill all over the table.”
36. Con Artists?
In 1977, Loren’s husband Carlo Ponti got embroiled in scandal. The Italian government accused him of smuggling and tax evasion, and he faced up to four years in prison. Even Loren herself was implicated after she moved several of Ponti’s valuable paintings from Italy to France. The government only cleared the charges years later, in 1990.
37. That’s Amore
While on the set of The Pride and the Passion, a young Loren got entangled in a legendarily tragic love story. Her co-star Cary Grant was over the moon about the Italian beauty, and he begged Loren to take him to bed—even though he was married at the time. At first, Loren accepted his advances, but then she dealt him an absolutely cold-hearted betrayal.
38. Quit Playing Games With My Heart
For much of the time she was with Cary Grant, Loren was already planning to marry Italian film producer Carlo Ponti. After getting what she wanted from the star, Loren quickly left Grant in the cold.
39. Marriage, Italian Style
Loren married Ponti in 1958, but even this brand new relationship had a dark side. Not only was Ponti 22 years her senior, he had already been married once before. As a matter of fact, he was still married. Ponti and his wife had been separated for years, and though he had obtained a divorce in Mexico, this divorce wasn’t valid in Italy.
Eventually, all these bedroom trysts caught up to her in a cataclysmic way. In 1962, the Italian government actually issued a warrant to arrest both Loren and her husband Ponti. The warrant charged Ponti with bigamy, and accused the actress of “being a concubine.” The couple had to have their marriage annulled to avoid the charges.
Throughout the 1970s, Loren was exiled from her native Italy. The separation was incredibly heartbreaking for the starlet, who loved her country and missed her family. She would often get so homesick that Ponti would drive her to the top of Switzerland’s St. Gotthard Pass so she could look out over the Italian landscape.
42. Happily Ever After
Loren and Ponti continued to live defiantly as husband and wife, eventually renouncing their Italian citizenship and moving to France. The French government granted Ponti his divorce, finally allowing Loren and Ponti to legally marry. They had two sons—Carlo and Edoardo—and remained married until Ponti’s death.