Sophia Loren: Her Life and Career

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W.C. Fields, Mack Sennett, and Frank Capra at the 10th Academy Awards ceremony at the Biltmore Hotel.

Sophia Loren in a scene from "Nine" (2009). Photo: David James/The Weinstein Company

One of the world’s most iconic movie stars, Sophia Loren has built a formidable acting career, effortlessly moving back and forth between major Hollywood films and Italian-based productions. She made history in 1961 as the first performer to win an Academy Award for a foreign-language role with “Two Women,” in which she stars as a strong-willed mother who braves an assault to save her daughter. In the following decades, the highly esteemed and popular actress has enjoyed a prolific career alongside a remarkable array of co-stars.

Born in Rome in 1934, Loren grew up in Pozzuoli, her mother’s hometown, during the turbulence of World War II and was even struck by a piece of shrapnel during the frequent bombings of a nearby munitions plant. After the 14-year-old Loren was selected as a finalist in a beauty contest in Naples, her mother enrolled her in a drama school. The family moved to Rome soon after, and Loren and her mother appeared as extras in the 1951 Hollywood epic “Quo Vadis.” The subsequent two years found her in a string of minor roles in Italian-language films, with her big break coming in “The Gold of Naples” (1954) for renowned director Vittorio De Sica. The next year, in “Too Bad She’s Bad,” Loren was teamed for the first time with actor Marcello Mastroianni, with whom she would appear 13 more times onscreen. In one of the more memorable scenes in her career, she performed a scintillating striptease routine for him in “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” (1963), a scene they reprised to comedic effect in Robert Altman’s “Ready to Wear (Prêt-à-Porter).”

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Sophia Off Screen

Portrait of Sophia Loren, undated.

Loren’s English-language career began in 1957 with “The Pride and the Passion,” co-starring Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra, and “Boy on a Dolphin,” opposite Alan Ladd. That same year she married producer Carlo Ponti, with whom she had sons Carlo Jr. and Edoardo. As the 1950s progressed, she held her own opposite a roster of prestigious leading men, including John Wayne (“Legend of the Lost”), Clark Gable (“It Started in Naples”) and Charlton Heston (“El Cid”). Her multi-picture deal with Paramount resulted in one of her most charming roles (opposite Cary Grant once again) in the family comedy favorite “Houseboat,” as well as the powerful Eugene O’Neill drama, “Desire under the Elms.”

As one of the 1960s’ most popular actresses, Loren shone in numerous star-studded movies, such as the stylish spy thriller “Arabesque” (opposite Gregory Peck); the last film that Charles Chaplin directed, “A Countess from Hong Kong” (with Marlon Brando); and the 1977 action spectacular “The Cassandra Crossing.” Her later career includes such memorable roles as the feisty love interest for Walter Matthau in “Grumpier Old Men” and Daniel Day-Lewis’s mother in the film adaptation of the musical “Nine.”

Loren’s versatility as a comedic and dramatic actress has attracted numerous internationally noted directors, including Carol Reed (“The Key”), Martin Ritt (“The Black Orchid”), Sidney Lumet (“That Kind of Woman”), George Cukor (“Heller in Pink Tights”) and Anatole Litvak (“Five Miles to Midnight”). Her collaborations with her fellow Italians, Vittorio De Sica and Lina Wertmüller, have produced some of her most respected work.

Loren earned her second Academy Award nomination in 1964 for her leading performance in “Marriage Italian Style,” and in 1990 received an Honorary Award from the Academy as “one of the genuine treasures of world cinema who, in a career rich with memorable performances, has added permanent luster to our art form.”

Did You Know?

  • Sophia Loren has recorded over two dozen songs and had two U.K. Top 20 hits with her comedy duets with Peter Sellers, “Goodness Gracious Me” and “Bangers and Mash.”
  • In 1992, she was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Fellow Italians Giorgio Armani and Riccardo Muti have also served as Goodwill Ambassadors.
  • She always does her own hair and nails and refuses to go to beauty salons.
  • Drew Barrymore is her goddaughter.
  • She was offered leading roles in two 1980s primetime soap operas, “Dynasty” and “Falcon Crest.”
  • In 2004, she was a GRAMMY® co-winner for Best Spoken Word Album for Children for “Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf/Beintus: Wolf Tracks,” which also featured Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev.
  • She was one of the carriers of the Olympic flag in Turin at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games.
  • She is an avid cook and has written two popular cookbooks, In the Kitchen with Love (1972) and Sophia Loren’s Recipes and Memories (1998). She also collaborated with A.E. Hotchner on Sophia: Living and Loving: Her Own Story, a bestseller that was adapted into a successful TV movie in 1980 – with Loren playing both herself and her mother.

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Sophia On Screen

Presenter Sophia Loren with Alan Jay Lerner, left, co-winner, Music (Song) (“Gigi“), and winner, Writing (Screenplay--based on material from another medium) (“Gigi“), and Frederick Loewe, co-winner, Music (Song), backstage at the 1958 (31st) Academy Awards ceremony.

Selected Filmography

  • “Nine” (2009)
  • “Between Strangers” (2002)
  • “Grumpier Old Men” (1995)
  • “Ready to Wear (Prêt-à-Porter)” (1994)
  • “Aurora” (1984)
  • “Firepower” (1979)
  • “Brass Target” (1978)
  • “Blood Feud” (1978)
  • “Angela” (1978)
  • “A Special Day” (1977)
  • “The Cassandra Crossing” (1977)
  • “The Voyage” (1974)
  • “Man of La Mancha” (1972)
  • “Lady Liberty” (1972)
  • “The Priest's Wife” (1970)
  • “Sunflower” (1970)
  • “Ghosts – Italian Style” (1967)
  • “More than a Miracle” (1967)
  • “A Countess from Hong Kong” (1967)
  • “Arabesque” (1966)
  • “Judith” (1966)
  • “Lady L” (1965)
  • “Operation Crossbow” (1965)
  • “Marriage Italian Style” (1964)
  • “The Fall of the Roman Empire” (1964)
  • “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” (1963)
  • “Five Miles to Midnight” (1962)
  • “Boccaccio '70” (1962)
  • “Madame” (1961)
  • “El Cid” (1961)
  • “Two Women” (1960)
  • “The Millionairess” (1960)
  • “It Started in Naples” (1960)
  • “A Breath of Scandal” (1960)
  • “Heller in Pink Tights” (1960)
  • “That Kind of Woman” (1959)
  • “Houseboat” (1958)
  • “The Black Orchid” (1959)
  • “The Key” (1958)
  • “Desire under the Elms” (1958)
  • “Legend of the Lost” (1957)
  • “The Pride and the Passion” (1957)
  • “Boy on a Dolphin” (1957)
  • “Scandal in Sorrento” (1955)
  • “Too Bad She's Bad” (1955)
  • “Two Nights with Cleopatra” (1954)
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