Surely one of the most iconic screen goddesses of all time has to be the incomparable Sophia Loren. Now in her seventh decade, she has had a long and distinguished career stretching back to the Fifties, when she first became known through films such as Boy on a Dolphin (1957) and went on to star in movies such as El Cid (1961) and The Fall of the Roman Empire (1963). Liz Kenny takes a look at one of the most glamorous women to have ever appeared on screen.

Sophia’s innate glamour is in stark contrast, or direct defiance, to her deprived roots. She was born in 1934 in Rome, Italy, an illegitimate child whose father refused to acknowledge her, and grew up amongst the ruins and poverty of post-war Italy. Her mother Romilda, a piano teacher, was herself a frustrated actress who once won an Italian Greta Garbo lookalike competition organized by MGM studios, though being only 17 her parents refused to let her go to Hollywood.

Perhaps to compensate for what she missed out on, she entered Sophia into beauty contests, where she picked up titles like ‘Princess’ in the Queen of the Sea Pageant. Not bad for a  skinny kid nicknamed ‘toothpick’ at school.

Looking back at her early years Sophia said “When I began my career my nickname was Giraffe because I was so tall and awkward. No one thought I was especially beautiful, but everyone knew right away that I was proud[…] and gradually they came to see it as beauty.”

It was at a Miss Roma beauty contest that she first met her soon to be husband, Carlo Ponti, a film producer 22 years her senior. He organised her screen tests, arranged for acting lessons and effectively took on the role of her manager. The two became lovers but there was a problem, Carlo was already married and at that time in Catholic Italy, divorce was forbidden. They obtained a divorce in Mexico, and then married, but the Italian authorities refused to acknowledge their union.

2To save Carlo from bigamy charges Sophia had the marriage annulled. After much legal wrangling, they were finally able to marry in April 1966 and remained together until his death in 2007.

More than just a beauty queen, Sophia actually had the talent to back it up. She won an Oscar for Vittorio di Sica’s Two Women in 1961, in which she played the role of a mother in war-torn Italy, something she naturally found a personal connection to.

Amongst her better known films are The Millionairess with Peter Sellers, Arabesque (worth watching for the wardrobe designed by Christian Dior) with Gregory Peck, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, with its infamous stripping scene and It Started in Naples with Clark Gable. Her other leading men include Marlon Brando, Tyrone Power, Anthony Quinn, John Wayne and Cary Grant, who was so awestruck that he proposed, though Sophia declined.

3The one thing missing from Sophia’s life was children. She suffered two miscarriages before giving birth to her first child Carlo Jr in 1968. She spent the entire pregnancy in a Swiss hotel to be close to her Doctor, so worried was she about losing another baby. She went on to successfully deliver another son, Eduardo in 1973 and described motherhood as “the greatest role of my life”.

Life hasn’t all been domestic bliss, in 1982 she was sentenced to 30 days in jail for tax evasion in Italy, though was released after only 18. One can only imagine what her fellow cellmates thought as she walked through the door.

Sophia’s most enviable attribute seems to be her innate sense of self esteem and confidence which adds to her undeniable beauty. In her book Women and Beauty she writes: “[…]No matter what others think, you must be convinced that, in your own way, you are beautiful, a collection of perfect features, perfectly assembled, call to mind the cold proportions of a Greek statue, not a warm, desirable, beautiful woman[… ]nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is so. We must all deep in our hearts, learn to believe that we have a special beauty that is like no other, and is so valuable that we must learn to cherish it.”

It’s this kind of attitude that saw her invited to pose for the 2007 Pirelli calendar at the age of 72, alongside, and with equal billing, stars such as Penelope Cruz and Naomi Watts.

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