There’s a reason Sophia Loren was selected as one of AFI’s 25 American Screen Legends of All Time, despite her not being American. Her voluptuous beauty, sharp wit, and tremendous presence on-screen have elevated her to an iconic status that defies nationality.
Born in Rome, September 20th 1934, she entered the world as Sofia Villani Scicolone. Her parents, Romilda and Riccardo, never married and after the birth of their second daughter, Maria, Riccardo abandoned the family. Left with nothing and no way to support them, Romilda moved the family to Pozzouli to live with her parents. During WWII, Pozzouli was a target for air raids and bomb strikes because it was a harbor town housing a munitions plant. One particular air raid caught Sofia in crossfire, and she was hit by a shrapnel and gravely wounded. This injury prompted Romilda to move the family to Naples, where they would hide out until the end of the war. After the war ended, the family moved back to Pozzouli where Loren’s grandmother manufactured and sold moonshine Sherry.
When she was 14, Loren entered her first beauty contest, which she did not win. The contest opened up a new world to her, and gave her contact to acting teachers and theater schools. She began training as an actress and worked as an extra on low-budget Italian films.
Her career as an actress began to take shape and Sofia Villani Scicolone bloomed into Sofia Loren. The first evidence of this name came in the film La Favorita, in 1952. Her performances garnered critical acclaim in Italy and American production companies took notice (I’m sure that’s not all they noticed). She signed a 5 picture contract with Paramount, giving her exposure on the international stage.
Loren’s exotic looks, voluptuous figure, and fierce talent broke the mold in bottle-blonde Hollywood. She quickly gained favor and critical acclaim. In 1965, she received a hefty $1M to appear in Fall of the Roman Empire. Loren won her first Oscar for her performance in Two Women, directed by Vittorio de Sica. Sophia Loren became the first women to win an Academy Award for a foreign language film. The film raked up an addition 22 awards.
Loren’s personal life was quiet compared to many of her contemporaries (eh-hem, Joan Crawford). She met her future husband, Carlo Ponti, at 15. Despite a formidable age difference, and his being legally married to his first wife, the two found a way to be together – and never were apart. Loren and Ponti had two sons, Carlo and Edoardo. When Carlo died in 2007, Loren was quoted saying: “It would be impossible to love anyone else.”
Loren has won over 50 international awards to date, and is nothing short of a living legend.