Born September 20, 1934 in Rome, Italy, Sophia Scicolone and her younger sister, Maria, were raised by their maternal grandmother in the slums of Pozzuoli, their construction engineer father having refused to divorce his wife and marry the girls’ piano teacher mother.
Encouraged to enter a beauty contest at 14, the young would-be actress was discovered by producer Carlo Ponti who became her mentor and started putting her in films in small roles at the age of 16 where she was alternately billed as Sophia Lazzaro and Scicolone. In 1953, Ponti changed her name to Sophia Loren to broaden her appeal. Loren and Ponti were married by proxy in Mexico in 1957 with lawyers standing in for them as Ponti was not legally divorced from his first wife. The marriage was annulled in 1962 to avoid bigamy charges in Italy. They were remarried in France in 1966 after Ponti obtained a divorce there. They had two sons, Carlo Jr., born in 1968, and Edoardo, born in 1973.
International stardom came for Loren in 1957 with the release of three Hollywood films, Boy on a Dolphin opposite Alan Ladd and Clifton Webb, The Pride and the Passion opposite Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra, and Legend of the Lost opposite John Wayne and Rossano Brazzi. In 1958, she starred opposite Anthony Perkins and Burl Ives in Desire Under the Elms, William Holden and Trevor Howard in The Key, Cary Grant in Houseboat and Anthony Quinn in The Black Orchid, the latter released in 1959.
In 1960, Loren made That Kind of Woman opposite Tab Hunter, and in 1960 Heller in Pink Tights opposite Anthony Quinn, It Started in Naples opposite Clark Gable, The Millionairess opposite Peter Sellers and, A Breath of Scandal opposite John Gavin and Maurice Chevalier. She then returned to Italy to make Two Women for which she won numerous awards including an Oscar following its 1961 U.S. release.
Loren remained in high demand throughout the 1960s in such films as El Cid opposite Charlton Heston, both Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow and Marriage Italian Style opposite Marcello Mastroianni, Operation Crossbow opposite George Peppard, and A Countess from Hong Kong opposite Marlon Brando. Her highest profile films of the 1970s were the disappointing Man of La Mancha opposite Peter O’Toole and the critically acclaimed A Special Day, once again opposite Mastroianni.
Loren stayed pretty much out of the limelight during the 1980s, but renewed interest in her surfaced with her 1990 honorary Oscar. She was nominated for a 1994 Golden Globe for Ready to Wear, yet again opposite Mastroainni, and was Walter Matthau’s love interest in the 1995 hit, Grumpier Old Men. She was again in the spotlight as Daniel Day-Lewis’ mother in the 2009 film version of Nine.
Directed by her son, Edorado, Loren is once again generating Oscar talk for her performance in The Life Ahead at a still vibrant 86.
THE BLACK ORCHID (1959), directed by Martin Ritt
Made before Houseboat, the hugely successful comedy Loren made opposite Cary Grant, with whom she later admitted to an affair, but released later, this slice-of-life drama won Loren her first acting award – Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival. The story revolves around the relationship between grieving widow Loren and slightly older widower Anthony Quinn, Loren’s husband having been a small-time mobster who was murdered by the mob. The couple must overcome the objections of her young son (Jimmy Baird) and his grown daughter (Ina Balin) with a pending marriage of her own.
TWO WOMEN (1961), directed by Vittorio De Sica
De Sica’s classic about a World War II widow and her lonely daughter was originally meant to be a Hollywood production directed by George Cukor with Anna Magnani as the mother and Loren as the daughter, but when Magnani objected to Loren’s casting, Cukor refused to make the film. It was all set to be made in Italy with De Sica directing Magnani, but when Magnani became ill and unable to make the film, it was she who suggested then 25-year-old Loren for the part of the mother if she wouldn’t mind playing older. Loren leaped at the chance and won a slew of awards including an Oscar for her riveting performance.
EL CID (1961), directed by Anthony Mann
Loren became the first actress paid $1 million for one film for her portrayal of the wife of the legendary Spanish hero, played by Charlton Heston who was so jealous of Loren that he refused to look her in the eye even in his deathbed scene, claiming to be looking instead at the future. Nominated for Golden Globes for Best Picture and Director, the film received Oscar nominations for Art Direction, Song, and Score. The lavish film sports a marvelous supporting cast including Raf Vallone, Genevieve Page, John Fraser, Gary Raymond, Hurd Hatfield, Frank Thring, Michael Hordern, and Herbert Lom. Loren never looked better.
A SPECIAL DAY (1977), directed by Ettore Scola
Loren had won a second Oscar nomination for 1964’s Marriage Italian Style opposite Marcello Mastroianni, the fourth of their eventual eleven films together. This time it was Mastroianni’s turn to receive an Oscar nomination, his second, for his portrayal of a persecuted gay journalist during Hitler’s visit to Italy in 1938. Loren plays the tired housewife he meets in their apartment complex while a parade honoring Hitler and Mussolini is passing by.
Both Loren and Mastroianni won Golden Globes, Italy for their performances and Loren also won a David di Donatello Award, Italy’s equivalent of an Oscar.
THE LIFE AHEAD (2020), directed by Edoardo Ponti
Loren plays Madame Rosa, the title character of the 1977 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, a role played to perfection in the earlier film by Simone Signoret. With its locations moved from Pigalle to the Italian seaside, Loren is equally compelling as the retired prostitute taking care of the children of younger working prostitutes. Ibrahima Gueye is the 12-year-old boy she is currently most emotionally involved in setting on the straight and narrow. Directed by her son Edoardo Ponti, Loren, already a two-time Oscar winner, including one for career achievement, could be looking at another nomination.