Dr. Ravi Chaturvedi
The wind of time has swept away the generation of celebrity actors and actresses from the memory of Hollywood cine lovers. However, one who still makes headlines is the heroine of yesteryears Sophia Loren. She was recently in news as the Hollywood legend is returning to acting to star in a new Italian-language drama film directed by her son Edoardo Ponti, after a hiatus of more than a decade.
The 86-year-old celebrity heroine plays the role of a Jewish woman holocaust survivor named Madame Rosa, who helps raise the children of prostitutes. About her new avatar in the film set for release on Netflix on November 13, she said, “I jumped at the opportunity to make it. In many ways Madame Rosa reminds me of my own mother.”
Sofia Villani Scicolone Dame is professionally an Italian actress. A recognizable star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, she was named by the American Film Institute as the 21st century’s greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema. Due to her striking natural beauty, she is counted among the world’s all time most attractive women. At 86 years, Loren defies age by keeping her youthful energy and makes stunning appearances every time she walks down the red carpet. Loren spent more than five decades in the spotlight playing roles in more than 100 movies.
Her actress mother Romilda was a working class inhabitant of Naples, who looked like glamorous Greta Garbo. She won a contest to go to America but her mother wouldn’t let her go. Instead, Romilda met her man in Riccardo Scicolone and had two children from him. Since he refused to take family responsibility, she was forced to return to her parents near Naples where young Sophia shared a bedroom with eight others and grew up poor, hungry and often frightened in war-time Italy. During World War II, things got even worse as the city was a frequent British bombing target. In the middle of one raid, Loren was knocked to the ground by shrapnel and injured her chin.
She never forgets having to drink water from a car radiator or hiding in railway tunnels during bombing raids. Sofia was a sickly, skinny child whose nickname was Stuzzicadenti (toothpick). So when she blossomed, almost overnight into the beautiful young woman, who Carlo Ponti saw in the beauty contest (her grandmother had made her a suitable dress from the living room curtains), she saw her way out of poverty. Her mother saw the gateway opening and focused on her daughter’s career and moved to Rome where she won beauty contests.
Her life changed in 1951 after she enrolled in the national film school and received her first role as an extra in Quo Vadis where she left a lasting impression.
While she continued to make films in Hollywood, none of them would be described as classics. America didn’t know what to do with her. She remembered, “Italians were either waiters or gangsters. All they saw was a foreign actress. They tried to change me.” But just as she had refused to have a nose job, she refused to be turned into an Italian version of the busty bombshell.
Her role in the war-time film Two Women in 1960 pitch forked her on the world movie stage where she played a working-class woman trying to protect her daughter and that became the role of her life. The film was acclaimed internationally, leading to her nomination for a Best Actress Oscar. She was too nervous to go to the ceremony. To convey the news when the phone rang, the person on the line was Cary Grant.
While Sophia was climbing up the ladder in the Hollywood, she had to make the difficult decision of marrying either an iconic actor Cary Grant (worked with him in Pride and the Passion film) who was immediately charmed by her beauty or her mentor Carlo Ponti (much older than her). In another hit, The Millionaires her co-star Peter Sellers also fell head over heels in love with her and went on to divorce his wife. But Sophia made clear that she never reciprocated his advances. She and Marlon Brando were teamed for A Countess From Hong Kong film where they had a frosty relationship. The situation reached boiling point after he made a pass at her and she told him, “Don’t you ever dare do that again.” But she decided to stay with her friend and champion for the rest of her life Carlo Ponti.
Though she rose to fame thanks largely to her voluptuous looks, the Italian superstar more than proved her acting talent with a series of international hits and an Oscar win for Best Actress. But many of her films remain classics – El Cid (1961), Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963), A Special Day (1977), Two Women, Marriage Italian Style, Ready to Wear, Nine, Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf, It Started in Naples. Arabesque, The Fall of Roman Empire, Houseboat, A Special Day, A Countess from Hong Kong and The Millionairess.
Sophia sums up her life, “I’m an actress. It’s my passion. It’s – I’ve always lived for acting.”
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