Sophia Loren was born as Sofia Scicolone at the Clinica Regina Margherita in Rome, Italy, on September 20, 1934. Her father Riccardo was married to another woman and refused to marry her mother Romilda, despite the fact that she was the mother of his two children (Sophia and her younger sister Maria Scicolone). Growing up in the slums of Pozzuoli during the second World War without any support from her father, she experienced much sadness in her childhood. Her life took an unexpected turn for the best when, at age 14, she entered into a beauty contest where she placed as one of the finalists. It was there that Sophia caught the attention of film producer Carlo Ponti, some 22 years her senior, whom she eventually married in 1966 once he finally obtained a divorce from his first wife. Perhaps he was the only father figure she ever had. Under his guidance, Sophia immediately enrolled in acting classes in 1950 and was soon playing bit parts in several films per year. In these early films, she was credited as “Sofia Lazzaro” because people joked her beauty could raise Lazzarus from the dead.
By her late teens, Sophia was playing lead roles in many Italian features such as La favorita and Aida. In 1957, she embarked on a successful acting career in the United States, starring in Boy on a Dolphin, Legend of the Lost, and The Pride and the Passion that year. She had a short-lived but much-publicized fling with co-star Cary Grant, who was 31 years her senior. She was only 22 while he was 53, and she rejected a marriage proposal from him. They were paired together a second time in the family-friendly romantic comedy Houseboat. While under contract to Paramount Pictures, Sophia starred in Desire Under the Elms, The Key, The Black Orchid, It Started in Naples, Heller in Pink Tights, A Breath of Scandal, and The Millionairess before returning to Italy to star in Two Women. The film was a period piece about a woman living in war-torn Italy who is raped while trying to protect her young daughter. Originally cast in the role of the daughter, Sophia fought against type and was re-cast as the mother, proving herself as a genuine actress and displaying her lack of vanity. This performance received international acclaim and was honored with an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Sophia remained a bona fide international movie star throughout the sixties and seventies, making films on both sides of the Atlantic, and starring opposite such leading men as Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Gregory Peck, and Charlton Heston. Her notable American films included the classic epics El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire, the spy adventure Arabesque, the musical Man of La Mancha, and the disaster film The Cassandra Crossing. She gained a wider respect with her Italian movies such as Marriage Italian Style) and A Special Day. During these years she received a second Oscar nomination and won five Golden Globe Awards.
From the eighties onward, Sophia’s appearances on the big screen came few and far between. She preferred to spend most of her time with her husband, and raising sons Carlo Ponti Jr. (born 1969) and Edoardo Ponti (born 1973). After starring in a biopic based off her autobiography (Sophia Loren: Her Own Story), she ventured into other areas of business and became the first actress to launch her own fragrance and design of eye wear. In 1982 she voluntarily spent nineteen days in jail for tax evasion.
In 1991 Sophia received an Honorary Academy Award for her body of work, and was declared “one of world cinema’s greatest treasures.” Later that year, Sophia experienced a great loss when her mother died of cancer at age 77. Her return to mainstream films in Prêt-à-Porter (“Ready to Wear”) was well-received, although the film as a whole was not. She followed this up with her biggest U.S. hit in years, the comedy Grumpier Old Men in which she played a sexy divorcée who seduces Walter Matthau. Over the next decade Sophia appeared in a few small productions abroad, as Between Strangers (directed by Edoardo) and Lives of the Saints. Still beautiful at 72, she posed scantily-clad for the 2007 Pirelli Calendar. Sadly, that same year she mourned the loss of her spouse, Carlo Ponti, who died at age 94. In 2009, after far too much time away from film, she re-emerged in the musical Nine opposite Daniel Day-Lewis.
These days Sophia divides her time between Switzerland and Los Angeles where she is close to her sons and their families (Eduardo is married to actress Sasha Alexander). Despite her position as showbiz royalty, she relishes her discrete, low-profile lifestyle, claiming throughout the years “Showbusiness is what I do, not what I am.” With a career that has already spanned six decades and been honored with 50 awards, Sophia Loren remains one of the most beloved and recognizable figures in the international film world.