Sophia Loren, born Sophia Scicolone, is one of the most famous Italian actresses in the world. She was born in Rome on September 20, 1934. Her father abandoned the family and Sophia grew up poor in Pozzuoli, near Naples. Her mother was an extremely charming woman who, thanks in part to her resemblance to Greta Garbo, briefly attracted the interest of the movie industry. Loren won a beauty pageant in Naples when she was 14 and moved to Rome in order to try her hand in show business. At 16 she was an extra in the film, Quo Vadis? Her photogenic qualities and shapely body helped her to become a highly requested actress.
In 1950 she placed second in the Miss Italy pageant, where it is rumored that film producer Carlo Ponti first noticed her. The two became lovers; Carlo proposed a seven-year contract and had her act in a series of movies that launched her on a brilliant career. In 1953 she changed her name to Sophia Loren. In 1954, she acted in the episode Pizza on credit in the Vittorio De Sica film, The Gold of Naples. The well-known American photojournalism magazine Life put her on its cover in 1955, cementing her reputation and career. The following year, Loren began working in important Hollywood productions. In 1957, Ponti married Loren in Mexico.
Loren began to work in Hollywood with famous directors including Charlie Chaplin and George Cukor. Despite the fact that she made rather forgettable films, Loren nonetheless captured the American popular imagination. Back in Italy, Loren found herself at the center of a scandal. Ponti already had a wife, and was accused of bigamy. Loren was implicated, and a complicated legal case followed that would end only in 1966 with a civil wedding. But Loren’s personal turmoil didn’t interfere with her public success. In 1960 De Sica chose her as the protagonist of Two Women. She received an Oscar and an award for best female performance at the Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal of Cesira, a widow who is raped during World War Two. Her working relationship with De Sica continued with movies like Sunflower and Marriage Italian-Style, in which she played spontaneous and forthright characters.
In 1963 she starred in the De Sica film Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow and caused a sensation, performing a striptease in front of Marcello Mastroianni that would become a cult scene. American director Robert Altman reprised the scene ironically in his 1994 film Ready to Wear. At the end of the 1960s, Loren began to work less. She had had two children with Ponti: Carlo Jr. and Edoardo. Edoardo later cast his own mother in his 2002 film, Between Strangers. Loren’s last serious movie was A Special Day by Ettore Scola. She and Mastroianni played a marginalized couple, a housewife and a homosexual, during the Fascist era. In 1991 she received an Oscar for career achievements, to which she added a Golden Lion for career achievements in 1998. Loren became an icon of the Mediterranean look. Even today, she remains a symbol of Italian cinema all over the world.