Italy’s screen icon
With a curvaceous figure, dark doe-like eyes and a beautiful mane of wavy auburn hair, Sophia Loren quickly became a symbol of Italian elegance, sophistication and sex appeal in the 1950s and 1960s.
Born in Rome in 1934 to a single mother, Sofia Villani Scilicone was raised in the southern city of Naples. Her gorgeous looks led her to beauty pageants and, while she never won the Miss Italy title, in 1950 she was crowned Miss Elegance, a title created by the judges to celebrate her unique grace.
Many people have credited the great Italian film producer Carlo Ponti with Sofia Loren’s movie success. The two met and fell in love when Sophia was still a teenager who had performed only in bit parts in films. Despite her lack of experience, Ponti recognized her talent and offered her an extended contract.
Yet, while Ponti’s help brought Loren larger parts, stardom ultimately came with roles that allowed her to show off her strong personality and exceptional natural beauty. Perfect examples are “The Gold of Naples [L'oro di Napoli]” (1954), directed by Vittorio de Sica, where Loren starred along side the great Italian comic Totò, and “Too Bad She’s Bad [Peccato che sia una canaglia]” (1954), directed by Alessandro Blasetti. In these films Loren returned to her Neapolitan roots in roles that cast her as a savvy natural beauty with plenty of spirit.
That same year, Loren proved that she wasn’t just the queen of Italian comedy when she starred in the drama “The River Girl [La donna del fiume].” A couple years later she also moved into international film where she worked with leading men as diverse as Cary Grant, John Wayne, Peter Sellers and Paul Newman. Her most important roles came in the 1960s with Two Women [La ciociara, 1960] and “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow [Ieri, oggi e domani, 1963].” Directed by Vittorio De Sica, “Two Women” brought Loren international acclaim that included an Oscar, the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the cover of Time magazine.
While today Loren is known worldwide and continues to win awards for her lifetime of cinematic achievement, for many of us she is also an Italian girl of humble origins whose success goes hand in hand with the incredible transformation of Italy after the devastation of the Second World War. From beauty queen to queen of 1950s Italian comedies and on to international superstar, Loren has brought Italian talent and a touch of la dolce vita to the studios of Hollywood.