On this day in 1934, Sofia Villani Scicolone, later known to the world as the actress and screen siren Sophia Loren, is born in Rome, Italy. Loren, who was raised in poverty in Naples, rose to become Italy’s most famous film star and an international icon of beauty and glamour.
As a teenager, Sofia began entering beauty contests, and she eventually caught the attention of the Italian movie producer Carlo Ponti (1912-2007). In the early 1950s, Ponti (who later produced Federico Fellini’s 1954 La Strada and 1965’s Doctor Zhivago), started using her for small roles and by the mid-1950s, the dark-haired beauty (now known as Sophia Loren) was a star in Italy. She earned international notice in the 1957 English-language films Boy on a Dolphin, co-starring Alan Ladd, and The Pride and the Passion, co-starring Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant and directed by Stanley Kramer (The Defiant Ones, Judgment at Nuremberg, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner).
In 1957, Loren married the divorced Ponti by proxy in Mexico, which caused a scandal in Italy, a heavily Catholic country where divorce was illegal. Loren continued to make movies in Italy and America, co-starring with a long list of Hollywood’s top leading men. She appeared with Clark Gable in 1960’s It Started in Naples, Peter Sellars in 1960’s The Millionairess and Charlton Heston in 1961’s El Cid. In 1962, Loren won a Best Actress Academy Award for her role as a widowed mother trapped in a love triangle with her teenage daughter in the Italian film Two Women (released in the United States in 1961). Her Oscar win made her the first actress ever to win that honor for a foreign-language film. She was nominated for a second Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Matrimonio all’Italia, or Marriage Italian Style, which co-starred Marcello Mastroianni. Released in the United States in 1964, Marriage Italian Style was also nominated in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. Among Loren’s other film credits in the 1960s were Lady L (1965) with Paul Newman, Arabesque (1966) with Gregory Peck and A Countess from Hong Kong (1967), co-starring Marlon Brando and helmed by Charlie Chaplin in his final time in the director’s chair.
After giving birth to her two sons, Loren stepped back from the spotlight and began acting less frequently. In 1994, she appeared in Robert Altman’s Pret-a-Porter, and in 1995 she was featured in Grumpier Old Men alongside Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon and Ann-Margret. In 2002, Loren starred in Between Strangers, directed by her younger son, Edoardo Ponti.