They called her the Italian bombshell—wonderfully blessed with a stunning figure, a striking face and a fiery spirit to match. But after a string of on-screen successes, moviegoers from Rome to Los Angeles came to appreciate something else—her brilliance at playing a gorgeous seductress in one film, and then a woman humbled by life’s struggles in the next.
In truth, Sophia Loren was both—and in many ways, still is.
Though decades have passed since her acting debut in 1951, Sophia was every bit her younger self while on stage at Proctors Theatre, March 13, for a Q&A about her life’s work. Charming and wonderfully witty, she offered up one-liners and quips that left her fans in awe, and host Joe Donahue blushing.
But the brave, bold woman we grew to love, was once a poor, wisp of a girl, the illegitimate child of an absentee father, struggling to survive in war-torn Naples. They called her “stecchetto,” or “toothpick”—She was famished, but so many were.
By 14, her figure had blossomed, and people took notice. Her mother moved her to Rome, where she won beauty titles and modeling gigs, and soon earned bit parts in Roman cinema, followed by her first starring role in the 1953 production of Aida, based on Verdi’s opera.
Though forever her dream, acting became far more than that—a way to lift herself, her mother and her younger sister out of poverty—and prove that a skinny girl from Pozzuoli could make waves.
“I wanted to have fun. I wanted to do everything, and I had fun because I needed to have fun. Because I had suffered so much in my life.”
Musing on everything from love to her God-given gifts, Sophia, now 81, offered fans a rare glimpse into her past:
“When I had a little money, I sneaked into the films with my sister. We would stay three, maybe four hours… What we went through the war, it was so terrible. Seeing the beautiful clothes and homes—you go back to life again.”
“When I started to want to be an actress it was very different for me because it was during the war. I was [very young]. I remember I wrote ‘Sofia Scicolone will be a grand actress’ in my notebook. It was always on my mind.”
Her “peculiar beauty”—
“[Early on] they wanted me to have surgery. It was something that upset me very much. I wanted them to appreciate me as I was… I didn’t have a very precise face. My nose was too long, my mouth was too big. The body was okay—That’s what I think they liked most.”
“I have a very small waist. I have nice [décolletages]. Nice hips and very long legs. I’m nicely shaped.”
Her rumored love, Cary Grant—
“We were making a film together… I was 23, Cary was about 53. You should have seen him when he was walking. He was handsome. He had everything… He was very fond of me [and] I was very fond of him, but my heart was in Italy… But it never finished with Cary, we became like friends.
Her husband, Carlo Ponti—
“I fell in love with my husband. It was a wonderful relationship. He was the love of my life, Carlo.”
Her two sons—
“The most beautiful moment of my life was when I embraced my first son in my arms. Because I had become a mother. Because I wanted so long to be a mother.”
Her favorite director, Vittorio De Sica—
“He liked very much my accent and my name. I thought I was going to faint because to do the first part [in The Gold of Naples] with Vittorio De Sica who was the best. It was really incredible… I worked with him 20 years of my life, and we made together 25 films.”
Her longtime costar, Marcello Mastroianni—
“We worked together all our lives… Good man, good actor—Fantastic actor. Full of fun. You would laugh all the time with him.”
Her Best Actress Oscar for Two Women—
“Because I was [nominated] with a foreign film, I [thought] they’re not going to give me the Oscar so I better stay at home. So I didn’t go. At six o’clock in the morning the telephone rang. It was Cary Grant saying, Sophia, you won. I fainted. I was the happiest woman in the world.”
“It’s never enough what you want, there’s always more. I always think the next time I’m going to do much more, much more. It never ends.”
“The public is very affectionate to me. They always treat me like somebody from home, like family… I am part of their family, like they are part of my family.”
Evidenced by the reception she received at Proctors—standing ovations, call-outs in Italian and love letters from the audience—and the air kisses from Sophia herself, this family still has a lot of love for each other.