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The Dark Origins of Sophia Loren

Legendary actress Sophia Loren, whom you might remember as the star of 1954s The Gold Of Naples really connected with her role in that film. She identified as a Neopolitan first and foremost and as an Italian second. Even though she was born in Rome in 1934 but she was raised in Pozzuoli, a quaint coastal town just a few miles west of Naples.

The seductive Hollywood icon is one of the most recognizable Italian actresses of all time. Her career spanned over sixty years and she even won an Oscar for her role in Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women. In fact, she was the first actress to ever win an Academy Award for a foreign-language role.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, an 84-year-old Loren recalled how beautiful and fulfilling her career had been so far. She went on to share how difficult it can be to judge who you have become and what you have experienced after you have accomplished so much and reached levels that you never thought were possible.

While the world might see her as a sex symbol in the same category as say, Bridgitte Bardot, Loren is definitely in the top of her class when it comes to her acting ability. She is just as comfortable in highly dramatic roles as she is in lighthearted comedy. It’s her versatility, attention to detail, and unwavering professionalism that has set her apart from the rest.

To say that her career has been prolific is putting it lightly. Even at 86, she still takes on the occasional acting role. She’s not the kind of person that you can expect to hang up the towel when things start to get a little hairy. As long as she is capable of continuing on, she will. She always has been that way. It’s that relentless perseverance that has defined her as an actress since she was a teenager. In truth, her life has been nothing short of magical. Stay tuned to find out how she went from obscurity to superstar status seemingly overnight.

Sophia Loren Didn’t Have A Glamorous Childhood

Far from it. Loren grew up in extremely modest circumstances. She was born in a charity ward for unwed mothers in Rome in 1934. Her father was already out of the picture by the time she was born. Loren grew up in poverty with her grandparents and mother, Romilda Villani, in Naples.

A total of 8 people lived in her grandparent’s cramped apartment. The situation only got more uncomfortable when World War II began. They were literally starving back in those days. They were barely getting by on rationed bread and spent their evenings in hiding from the constant air raids.

Food was so scarce that Loren became very thin and some of her classmates began to poke fun at her by calling her Sofia Stuzzicadenti – which translates as ‘toothpick’.

When she turned 14, she started developing her infamous good looks and her mother took notice. After entering her daughter into a beauty contest, Loren managed to impress the judges and was chosen to be one of the 12 princesses selected to go to Rome.

Loren was blown away that she had actually managed to make an impression on the judges. After all, she was wearing a dress made out of her grandmother’s pink curtains while the other contestants all were decked out with real designer gowns, lavish jewels, and colorful flowers. But she had something that they didn’t have – that is charisma and star power.

She Always Dreamed Of Acting

No, she didn’t grow up in any sort of glamorous or glitzy manner, but Loren always knew that she wanted to act – even from an early age. Her mother bore a striking resemblance to actress Greta Garbo, so when she would take her to go see Garbo’s movies, no doubt the wheels started spinning in Loren’s head. She always knew that she wanted to be up on the big screen someday and she wouldn’t give up until she made that dream a reality. She told Variety magazine once that if she didn’t become an actress then she probably would have died.

Her mother at first didn’t understand her daughter’s obsession with movie stars but maybe that’s because her own dreams were squashed when she was a young girl. Villani looked so much like Garbo that people would even stop her on the street asking for an autograph. When she was 17, Villani even won a Garbo-look-alike contest which would have earned her the opportunity to do a screen test with MGM in Culver City, but her mother forbid her from going.

When Loren won her first beauty contest at 14, that was the moment Villani committed herself to her daughter’s career.

“Everything that I dreamed of for myself has happened to Sophia.” she shared with author A.E. Hotchner in 1979.

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And make sure you keep watching. In a second, we’ll touch on some of Loren’s love interests but first, let’s see how she got her name.

Sophia Loren Changed Her Name To Sound Less Italian

After winning that beauty contest and getting sent to Rome when she was a teen, Loren got work modeling for comic-strip styled soap operas featured in the local newspapers and magazines. Acting through still images gave her the opportunity to familiarize audiences with who she was. And the public was definitely paying attention. By the time she was 16, Sogno Magazine had re-branded her as Sofia Lazzaro. They felt like the name sounded classier than her birth name, Sofia Scicolone.

That name change proved to be only temporary, however, because soon enough, the young actress found herself a new name that she would stick with for the rest of her life, Sophia Loren. The producer of a film called Africa Under the Seas asked her to change her name to something that sounded less Italian.

Loren was chosen because it was reminiscent of a Swedish actress popular at the time named Morta Toren, and Sophia is the Greek-spelling of her first name.

Sophia Loren Embraced Her Looks

Sure, she might have won a beauty pageant once, but that doesn’t mean that she had the conventional looks that everyone pined over. In 1951, a cameraman even complained about her looks during a screen-test. He thought that she was ‘impossible to photograph’, because her face was too short, her mouth too big, and her nose too long. Somewhat awkwardly,y her future husband, Carlo Ponti was at that same shoot.

According to her memoir, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life, Ponti even asked her at that shoot if she had ever considered ‘softening her dominant profile’ as he put It. Loren was livid! She knew that he was subtly suggesting that she consider having plastic surgery but she shut him down quickly.

“If you’re suggesting that…I slice off a piece of my nose, then I’m going back to Pozzuoli.’ Loren scoffed.

Loren has apparently never had any cosmetic surgery, but that never hurt her career in the least bit. Cameramen simply had to learn to adapt their approach to ensure that there were no unflattering shadows. Loren never understood why someone would feel the need to change their body and become someone else if they are already happy on the inside.

Sophia Loren Had Some Top-Notch English Teachers

In 1957, Loren moved from Italy to America. She had previously starred in several popular Italian films but wanted to branch out. She was told that she had a film role alongside Cary Grant, Alan Ladd and Frank Sinatra once she made it to America.

Upon her arrival to the states, she found her way to the set of The Pride and the Passion. The first thing that she did once she showed up was tell Grant and Sinatra that she didn’t speak any English. Not surprisingly, Grant and Sinatra took the time to patiently teach her. It took some time, but the duo managed to effectively teach her how to speak the language.

Loren and Grant ended up hitting it off and became very close friends. Grant wanted to protect her from being typecast as a sex symbol. He even stood up for her when Al Hirschfeld, a cartoonist, made a sketch of her in with a plunging neckline standing beside a very phallic cannon. He had an immense amount of respect for her and wasn’t about to let people walk all over her just because she was an attractive female.

Did Grant Even Propose To Loren?

Cary Grant and Sophia Loren were very close friends while on the set of The Pride and the Passion despite the fact that they had a 30-year age difference between them. They might have even been more than friends. As the two got closer and closer, Cary began to open up to her revealing his more vulnerable side. As things progressed, they began to realize that the feelings that they shared began to be intermixed with love.

So what was the hangup? For one thing, Grant was married to his third wife at the time and Loren was gallivanting about with Carlo Ponti. He was not only her manager but he was also a married man at the time as well. Ponti was still determined to marry her and ultimately he would.

Cary Grant might have had an opportunity to marry the actress but he simply never acted on it. Even though Loren ended up marrying Ponti, she never got the opportunity to have the traditional wedding ceremony that she always dreamed of. Ironically, the only time she ever slipped into a white wedding dress was for in a scene in the film Houseboat opposite Cary Grant.

She Supports The #MeToo Movement

Like many of her peers, Loren was objectified by prominent men in the entertainment industry. There was this one time that Noel Coward said that she should have been ‘crafted out of chocolate truffles so the world could devour her, and it seemed like the overall consensus of her at the time was that she was nothing more than a busty bombshell, but she was obviously so much more than just that.

On another occasion, Marlon Brando, grabbed her inappropriately while on the set on one of his movies. All that Loren had to do was give him one piercing look in his direction and he knew he had messed up. She also attributes her safety in the industry to her husband Carlo Ponti’s status. She was very young and to top it off, she barely spoke English. She could have been easily taken advantage of but Carlo was there to keep her safe.

In recent times, Loren has been an outspoken supporter of the #MeToo movement. This is in stark contrast with some of her contemporaries. In 2018, a collective of 100 french women including film star Catherine Deneuve, actually penned a letter defending what they called men’s ‘freedom to pester women’.

In contrast, Loren has expressed her full support of women who have stood up to such horrible treatment and she is quoted as saying that such abuse is ‘inadmissible and has been going on for way too long’.

Like we already mentioned at the beginning of this video, Sophia Loren is still acting and has no plans on slowing down anytime soon. In 2021, she took part in a documentary film called “What Would Sophia Loren Do?” which documents the daily life of the Italian-American actress in New York City.

Well, this is the end of another Facts-Packed video, but that also means that it’s time for you tell us how you feel? Which Hollywood sex symbol from yesteryear stands out to you as the bigger star, Brigitte Bardot or Sophia Loren? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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