Sophia Loren is one of those people who doesn’t need an introduction, so I’m just going to skip the boring intros with the whole “she was a screen goddess” yada yada and get to the good stuff. From her relationships – some public, some secret – to her stint in jail to being the victim of a jewelry heist, this is the less-known yet more interesting side of Sophia Loren.
Believe it or not, the Italian actress is now 86 years old (July 2021), which means she’s had decades of juicy stories accumulating about her. Her life was noteworthy from early on, too, like how when she was a young girl, she was nicknamed “Toothpick” during the famine years of WWII. But boy, did she grow into herself and show all those school kids who’s boss.
One of the most famous photos – if not THE most famous – is this one of Sophia Loren giving cut eye to Jane Mansfield. From the looks of it, Loren is hating on her blonde table buddy, but as it turns out, the photo is quite deceptive. Loren explained that the photo was taken at a Paramount Studios cocktail party where she was the guest of honor.
As the story goes, after The Pride and the Passion (her first American film, in which she co-starred with Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra), Loren became a worldwide icon. She took her husband Carlo Ponti to the Beverly Hills Hotel for the event at Romanoff’s restaurant. Just as Loren was being bombarded by photographers, Mansfield strutted in.
The blonde bombshell showed up decked out in her dangerously low-cut dress. She simply sat down at Loren’s table and “started talking.” She was about to experience what might just be the first heavily publicized wardrobe malfunction – what people dubbed a “publicity stunt.”
“She knew everyone was watching,” Loren recalled in her memoir, explaining that as Mansfield “got more and more worked up, suddenly I found one of her breasts in my plate.” Loren said that she was purposely looking right at her chest because she was basically waiting for it to happen. “In my face, you can see the fear.” A reporter was at the right place at the right time, and boom, the photo went viral long before the internet was ever invented.
She only spent 17 nights in prison, but she was sentenced to 30. Why? Tax evasion, of course. Although it took place in 1980, she voluntarily surrendered in 1982 while in Italy. She was given the choice of never going back to Italy again, where her family was living, or serving a prison sentence. She decided to go with the prison sentence, was released after 17 days, and was then put under house arrest.
Loren claimed that her deceased tax accountant made the error, and she’s been fighting it ever since. It only took about 30 years, but as of 2013, a Rome-based court ruled that Loren was right when she calculated her taxes back in 1974. Better late than never, right?
You would think that a star who keeps a diary is good news for us More juicy gossip, right? Well, in Loren’s case, we aren’t so lucky as to read deep into her thoughts because she burns her diary every year. In 1994, she published a book called Women and Beauty, and only then did she share the fact that she has kept a life-long secret diary.
She told The Telegraph that she would read it over and tear out any pages she didn’t want anyone to ever read. Eventually, though, she decided to just burn it instead, and it grew to become a yearly thing. The way she sees it, some things should remain private forever. It only begs the question: Which pages did she rip out?
During the filming of 1960’s The Millionairess, Loren was staying in a small cottage at the Country Club in Hertfordshire, England. One evening, while she was shooting scenes with Peter Sellers, a thief known as “The Cat” broke into her room and stole all her jewels, including three sets of diamonds, emeralds, and rubies.
The robbery took place when servants (three of them) were in the house. Loren went so far as to make a television appeal for the return of her lost jewels, and the Scotland Yard (the British police) ran an investigation. The cast and crew found out, and during a break in the shooting, Sellers handed Loren a small package.
In the package was a beautiful brooch, which her fellow actors pitched in to give her as a means to console her. Now, you might be thinking, ‘Oh no, the rich girl lost her pretty jewels,’ but as it turns out, Loren was sentimental about her jewelry because it represented something important to her…
Loren grew up quite poor, and the jewels symbolized her struggle for success. According to Vanity Fair, Loren (whose real name is Sofia Villani Scicolone) was “born in a charity ward for unwed mothers in Rome” in 1934. Riccardo Scicolone, her father, wasn’t in the picture. He left his daughter to grow up in crushing poverty with her mother and grandparents in Naples.
Her grandparents’ home was no lap of luxury – there were eight people crammed together in the tiny apartment. And the situation only got worse when World War II reared its ugly head. Loren’s family were like many others at the time – starving, living on rationed bread, and hiding from the nightly air raids.
Since food was scarce, Loren’s classmates teased her by calling her “Sofia Stuzzicadenti,” meaning “Sophia toothpick.” By the age of 14, the future star started coming of age and developing her now-famous looks. Her mother, who noticed just how beautiful her daughter was, entered 15-year-old Loren into the Miss Italia 1950 beauty pageant.
But the problem was that Loren had nothing to wear. So, her grandmother came to the rescue and somehow managed to put a gown together made out of their pink curtains. Despite the makeshift gown, Loren was chosen as one of the three finalists and won herself a ticket to Rome.
It was clear at that point that Loren could make heads turn, but from a young age, the girl wanted nothing more than to act. One of her influences was her own mother, Romilda Villani, who happened to look a lot like Greta Garbo. She took her daughter to see Garbo’s films, which really impacted the young Hollywood hopeful.
Acting was her passion. “If I hadn’t become an actress, I think I would have died,” Loren told Vanity Fair. Funnily enough, her mother – who introduced her daughter to Hollywood – didn’t understand Loren’s obsession with movie stars. It might have been a matter of hidden jealousy since her own dreams of acting were squashed when she was younger.
Apparently, Villani looked so much like Garbo that she was stopped on the street and asked for autographs. In fact, she even won a Garbo look-alike contest at 17. Villani had the chance to go to a screen test at MGM, but her mother (Loren’s grandmother) forbade it.
Loren took her ticket to Rome and found work there as a model for “comic-strip-styled soap operas” (as Vanity Fair described them) in newspapers and magazines. Slowly but surely, Loren was building an audience through her photographs. And the public was paying attention.
By the time she was 16, the magazine Sogno had changed her name to Sofia Lazzaro as they felt it sounded “classier” than Sofia Scicolone. But the name Lazzaro only made a brief appearance; she quickly made another name change, this time to the one that stuck: Loren.
A producer of a low-budget film called Africa Under the Seas suggested she change it to Loren. The producer wanted something “not so Italian.” Why Sophia? Because it’s the “non-Italian spelling” of the name. Why Loren? Well, it was inspired by the name of a popular Swedish actress, Märta Torén.
Loren didn’t seem to mind the changes. As recent as 2020, she told Variety, “That’s who I am. I am Sophia Loren… Better than nothing.” Her name was just one thing that the industry was telling her to change. They also wanted her to change her face…
At the beginning of her film career, in the early 1950s, one cameraman complained during a screen test that “She’s impossible to photograph. Her face is too short; her mouth is too big; her nose is too long.” Loren said she ignored the people who made such comments.
“When I believe in something, it’s like war,” she asserted. Loren met Carlo Ponti, her future husband, on the set of that film as he was the producer. He heard the cameraman’s complaints and didn’t really come to his future wife’s defense.
Loren wrote in her memoir, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life, that Ponti tiptoed around the issue. “Sophia, have you ever thought about … you know, softening your … your … dominant profile?” he said to her at the time.
She told him proudly, “Carlo, if you’re suggesting that in order to make movies, I’m going to have to slice off a piece of my nose, well then I’m going back to Pozzuoli.” Loren reportedly never had any cosmetic surgery done, and the cameramen had to adapt their techniques to shoot her, adjusting lighting and such.
In the early to mid- ‘50s, Loren was starring in one Italian flick after another. But by 1957, she decided to make the leap and move to America. Since she had made a name for herself in Italy, an American production company called asking for her.
Loren was offered a role in an upcoming film with Cary Grant, Alan Ladd, and other popular actors. They weren’t lying. The film indeed starred Grant, along with another legend by the name of Frank Sinatra. Loren was about to make her first American film: The Pride and the Passion.
Loren absolutely wanted the job, but there was one major issue: she didn’t speak a word of English. Loren recalled telling Grant and Sinatra right away that she didn’t speak the language and needed help. The Hollywood legends agreed to help teach her English and did so patiently.
“They were beautiful,” Loren recalled. She described how difficult it was for her and how kind they were in the process. While both men taught her English, it was Grant who bonded with Loren in a special kind of way. The Italian beauty seemed to really have an effect on him.
Loren and Grant became close friends, and he went so far as “to protect her from being pigeonholed as a sex symbol.” He reportedly stood up for Loren when cartoonist Al Hirschfeld made a sketch for their movie, which featured Loren in a plunging neckline, standing beside a phallic cannon.
Yes, Grant and Loren were an unlikely pair since there was a 30-year age gap between them. But love is blind, right? As time went on, the two became more than just co-stars and friends. The truth is they fell in love with each other, and Grant found himself in a real pickle…
Grant was married at the time to his third wife, Betsy Drake, and Loren was sneaking around behind the scenes with Ponti, who was her manager at that point — and a married man, I should add. As Loren recalled, Ponti was determined to marry her, and so was Grant.
She knew that Grant wanted to be with her, but contrary to popular belief, he never actually proposed, as she revealed in a 2020 interview with Radio Times. While she did love Grant, Loren decided that she was meant to be with Ponti. She went ahead and married her manager, but she never got the traditional white wedding she always dreamed of.
Loren was (technically) married twice to one man, and that was Carlo Ponti. When they met, he was 37, and she was only 16. The producer noticed her sitting in the audience when he was judging a beauty contest. At the time, Ponti was a father of two but had long been separated from his first wife.
However, they weren’t legally divorced. He became Loren’s manager, and by the time she turned 19, he was her lover, too. Considering the circumstances, the pair began seeing each other secretly. Loren stayed by his side during the three years that they were engaged.
Loren and Ponti married by proxy (two male lawyers stood in for them) in Mexico in 1957. The Vatican condemned the marriage, and both Ponti and Loren were exiled and “condemned as public sinners.” The couple then had to get their marriage annulled in 1962 to avoid bigamy charges.
At 23, Loren was banished from her home country and forced to leave with Ponti, “knocking about in rented villas and chalets on the French Riviera and in Switzerland,” as she recalled. In 1965, when they became French citizens, their marriage was approved, and Ponti finally obtained a divorce from his first wife. He and Loren finally and legally tied the knot in 1966.
Despite the rocky and scandalous start of their relationship, the couple stayed together for five decades until Ponti died in 2007 at the age of 94. Their marriage lasted a long time, but it was riddled with tragedies. “My life is not a fairy tale,” Loren told Vanity Fair in 2012.
When Loren and Ponti were considered “sinners” in the eyes of the Vatican and exiled from their home country, they returned to Italy even though they were under threat of arrest if they were seen living together. So, to work around the issue, they would rent rooms using pseudonyms.
Even after they were legally married, the problems continued. Their villa in San Marino, which they restored in 1960 and spent millions on, was raided by Italian authorities in 1977. It happened after Ponti announced that he would be moving his business outside of Italy.
In those days, it was illegal to take large sums of money out of Italy without the government’s approval. By 1979, Ponti was convicted of smuggling $10 million in cash and art out of Italy. He was then fined $26 million, and the couple’s home was confiscated, too. Then there was Loren’s arrest in France (the tax evasion mentioned above).
Loren was nominated for an Oscar in 1962 for Two Women, but she never went to the ceremony. As it turns out, she didn’t want to go because she was afraid she would be too upset if she didn’t win. And so, she waited at home.
This was a time long before live telecasts were broadcast of the Academy Awards, so while she waited, she went to make sauce to calm herself down. That year, she was up against Audrey Hepburn for Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Natalie Wood’s Splendor in the Grass. Loren ended up winning that night.
Remember the famous Marilyn Monroe quote/misquote – the one she most likely never uttered? You know, the “if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best” quote? Well, Sophia Loren has a wrongfully attributed quote of her own.
According to Google, her most famous quote is, “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.” But if you ask Loren, it’s simply not true. In fact, she told The New York Times in 2015: “Non è vero! (It’s not true).” In 2020, she explained that she never said it – that she doesn’t eat too much spaghetti because “you get fat” if you do.
She went on to say that she likes pasta but eats it in moderation. “I always try to stay fit and pretty,” she explained, “but I’m not a fan of deprivation.” Okay, so she doesn’t credit spaghetti to her voluptuous figure, but she’s still Italian at the end of the day.
Loren actually wrote two cookbooks that became bestsellers. In her opinion, cooking is about bonding with the ones you love. She told Kitchn, “You come out with things that haven’t been spoken before. There’s a harmony in the kitchen; you can talk about delicate things.” The woman has a point!
Loren nearly died in 1957 when she was shooting Legend of the Lost, which was the same year as The Pride and the Passion. She co-starred with John Wayne and Rossano Brazzi and stayed in a small hotel equipped with a gas stove.
One night, she woke up with a bad headache and felt confused, like she was going to faint. She had no idea that she was basically choking from the gas stove’s fumes. “I managed to crawl on my knees to the door and open it, but then I collapsed.” Her co-star, an Italian actor, named Rossano Brazzi, was in the hall and helped her.
Like many other actresses of the time, Loren was objectified by her peers. For instance, the director and actor Noel Coward declared that the actress should have been “sculpted in chocolate truffles so the world could devour her.”
At the beginning of her career, Loren was initially perceived as not much more than just a “busty Italian bombshell.” But the world didn’t realize how fierce Loren was. Loren told The Telegraph about the incident when Marlon Brando “grabbed” her on set. As soon as he did, she glared at him.
“He was afraid of me!” Loren said of Brando. “He didn’t dare do anything else after that. Just one look — that was all it took.” But not all the credit can go to Loren alone. While she is a very strong and opinionated woman, her husband had her back and protected her in the industry, thanks to his status.
Loren has been a supporter of the #MeToo movement in recent years. Loren declared: “I am so proud of the women who stood up to such horrible and unacceptable mistreatment.”
The leading lady is now 86 years old, lives in Geneva, Switzerland, and is still acting! In fact, Academy Award buzz was heard over her latest role: 2020’s The Life Ahead, which was directed by her own son, Edoardo Ponti. She joked around in an interview with The Telegraph, saying she’s the most “tireless actress in cinema.”
She bragged about being able to work 20 hours a day and not get tired. Apparently, she has a lot of energy and is “only interested in moving forward.” In 2021, she took part in a short documentary called What Would Sophia Loren Do?
Loren and Ponti had two sons together: Carlo and Edoardo. She’s also a grandmother to four grandkids. Edoardo was inspired by his mom when it came to choosing his career path. He worked as a director with many famous faces, including Malcolm McDowell and Gerard Depardieu.
Her eldest son Carlo Jr. also followed a creative path as well, just not in the film industry. He became one of the most prominent conductors in the United States. The Life Ahead is actually the third time Loren and Edoardo have worked side-by-side. They also did 2002’s Between Strangers and 2014’s Voce Umana (Human Voice) together.
In Loren’s memoir, she included a few chapters about Cary Grant and their unconsummated love affair. In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, she said that the purpose of the book was to give her life story – how she lived through the war and made it out successful.
She explained that while she and her family were literally starving, what she craved all of her life was her absent father. Her father was never married to her mother. Instead, they had a stormy on-and-off relationship before having Sophia.
Loren’s father, Riccardo, came from a good family but was an “aristocratic loser,” as The Morning Herald put it. According to their story on Loren, Riccardo gave his name to his first child, but Loren had to use her first paycheck in order to buy it for her younger sister, Maria.
It doesn’t take a psychologist to consider the reason for her attraction to older men as having stemmed from the lack of a male father figure in her life. Both Ponti and Grant were much older than her, which only makes sense once we realize the daddy issues Loren had.
Loren explained that when she was a young girl, around six years old, her father would come to see her when her mother sent him telegrams, reading, “Sophia’s very sick. Come.” To Loren, it didn’t matter why he came – all she wanted was a father, because all her friends had one.
She didn’t want to be left out – the “Toothpick” without a papa. “I wanted to be like them, to be normal,” she explained. When asked if her father’s absence led her into the arms of older men as mentors, Loren quickly disagreed.
“I was never attracted to men like that.” The Morning Herald wrote of her nostrils flaring in that moment, in disgust of her father. The way she saw it was that she wanted to learn, and since she lived in a small town, there just weren’t any opportunities for her to have experiences with younger men.
Loren recalled the first time she met Ponti, and how she felt “at home” right away. She trusted him and felt calm with him. He gave her confidence and taught her many things. He was protective of her and both “looked and sounded like he would take care of me, which no other man had done.”
In 1957, when she and Ponti were already an item but couldn’t be official yet, she started falling for Grant. But why didn’t she end up going for him? She said they were very different men, and it was a difficult choice.
She felt as though Grant belonged “to another world in America” – a place where she would never fit in. Because of her nationality, she didn’t see a future there, in that world, with Grant. Once the film wrapped up, they exchanged numbers and he told her he would call. And he did.
Grant visited Loren on the set of the 1960 Italian film, Two Women, and when she was filming in New York, he came to her house, when she was already married with a son. The pair also co-starred in 1958’s Houseboat, and on the day it wrapped, he sent her a giant bouquet of yellow roses.
She was leaving the country with Ponti on a plane and boasted about the roses. She admitted that she did it to make him jealous – to test him. And it worked, but not in her favor. Ponti was so upset that he hit her. “Very softly,” she points out.
Loren always wanted to be a proper wife, have a family and “be normal.” Getting married was a step in the right direction, but then they had trouble getting pregnant. Unfortunately, she experienced multiple miscarriages, and a doctor told her she would never be able to have children.
Luckily, however, she met another “wonderful” doctor who realized that the miscarriages were occurring due to a lack of estrogen. Once he gave her medication, she got pregnant. Her sons are now fully grown adults and she’s never been prouder of them.
Loren has made over 90 films since her first uncredited role back in 1950. She’s basically one of the last remaining links to Hollywood’s Golden Age, but what’s kept her around for so long isn’t her obvious beauty – it’s her work ethic and competitive spirit.
Her latest movie – the collaboration with her son – was actually her idea. The film is based on a book Loren believed had cinematic potential. She immediately contacted her son about adapting it into a film and possibly working together on it. She ended up playing Madame Rosa, a former prostitute in Italy and Holocaust survivor.