The Untold Truth Of Sophia Loren

Acting legend Sophia Loren once starred in 1954's The Gold of Naples, and off-screen, she's just that, too. According to The Guardian, "Loren has always defined herself as a Neapolitan first and an Italian second." Born in Rome in 1934 but raised in Pozzuoli, a coastal town just west of Naples, the sultry Hollywood icon is easily one of the most identifiable Italian actors of all time. With her career spanning an impressive six decades, she was even awarded an Oscar for her role in Two Women — "the first performer to win an Academy Award for a foreign-language role" (via

Speaking about her career to The Sydney Morning Herald at the age of 84, Loren mused, "It's been wonderful, extraordinary in every sense. [...] When you have accomplished certain things and reached levels you could never even dream of, it is very difficult to judge who you have become and what you have experienced." So, what has the Houseboat actor experienced? While the world sees her as up in the ranks with fellow sex symbols such as Brigitte Bardot, Loren is a true pundit when it comes to her craft, or, as The Guardian puts it, she is "as comfortable in heated melodrama as she was in freewheeling light comedy."

Prolific in every sense of the word, Sophia Loren — who is still acting — has lived a colorful life.

Sophia Loren didn't have a glamorous life growing up

Considering Sophia Loren has been a screen legend since the '50s, it's hard to imagine the star living in anything besides complete opulence, but she came from extremely modest beginnings. According to Vanity Fair, Loren (then Sofia Scicolone) was "born in a charity ward for unwed mothers in Rome" in 1934. As revealed by The Irish Times, Riccardo Scicolone, her father, was out of the picture, "leaving Loren to grow up in grinding poverty with her grandparents [and mother, Romilda Villani] in Naples."

With a total of eight people crammed in her grandparents' apartment, the situation only got worse with the start of World War II. As Vanity Fair writes, at this time, "they were starving, living on rationed bread, [and] hiding from the air raids at night." Because food was so scarce, Loren's classmates teased her with the nickname "Sofia Stuzzicadenti," meaning "toothpick."

Finally, at the age of 14, the future star began developing her now-famous looks, and her mother entered her in a beauty contest. With nothing to wear, Loren's grandmother fashioned a gown out of their pink curtains. In awe of the other contestants all in "real gowns, jewels, and flowers," Loren managed to compose herself in front of the judges and "was chosen as one of the 12 princesses" — winning herself a ticket to Rome.

Sophia Loren wanted to act since she was a little girl

Although she may not have exactly grown up in any sort of glitz or glamour, Sophia Loren knew she wanted to act at quite an early age. One of her influences? Her mother, Romilda Villani. According to Variety, Villani greatly resembled Greta Garbo in appearance. As she took her daughter to see Garbo's flicks, there's no doubt the wheels in Loren's head started turning. "I wanted to be on the screen," the star told the outlet. "If I hadn't become an actress, I think I would have died."

While her mother initially "didn't understand her daughter's obsession with movie stars," perhaps it had something to do with her own dreams getting squashed when she was younger. Per Vanity Fair, Villani looked so much like Garbo that she was even asked for autographs on the street. In fact, winning a Garbo look-alike contest at 17 years old meant Villani could have gone to "a screen test at MGM in Culver City," but her mother forbade it.

"Everything that I dreamed of for myself has happened to Sophia. I live in her image," Villani mused to A.E. Hotchner, author of Sophia, Living and Loving: Her Own Story (via Vanity Fair), in 1979. And as Loren won her very first beauty contest at the age of 14, "Romilda dedicated herself to her daughter's career."

Sophia Loren had her name changed so it didn't sound 'so Italian'

After winning her first beauty contest at the age of 14, Sophia Loren was shipped to Rome, where she found work as a model for "comic-strip-styled soap opera[s]" in newspapers and magazines, as revealed by Vanity Fair. As Variety cleverly points out, having to act out "brief melodramas through still photographs" gave Loren a chance to "build awareness with audiences."

Sure enough, the public was paying attention, and by the time she was 16, her name was changed to Sofia Lazzaro by Sogno (a magazine), as they felt it sounded "classier" than Sofia Scicolone. That change didn't last long, however, and the actor suddenly found herself with a new alias, one that she'd carry throughout the rest of her career: Sophia Loren. According to Vanity Fair, it was "the producer of a low-budget film called Africa Under the Seas" who requested the change, as they wanted something "not so Italian." So, why "Loren," and why bother changing the spelling of her first name, as well? As the mag points out, "Sophia" is the "non-Italian spelling" of the first name, while "Loren" was "inspired by the name of a popular Swedish actress at the time, Märta Torén."

As for the star herself, did she care about all the changes? "That's who I am," Loren proudly told Variety in 2020. "I am Sophia Loren [...] Better than nothing."

Sophia Loren was always comfortable with her looks

Sophia Loren may have been a beauty pageant winner, but that doesn't mean she had the conventional looks that everyone fawned over. In fact, at the start of her film career in 1951, one cameraman complained during a screen test, yelling, "She's impossible to photograph. Her face is too short, her mouth is too big, her nose is too long" (via the New York Post). Ironically enough, on that same shoot was producer Carlo Ponti — who would later become Loren's husband.

So, did Ponti come to the star's defense? Well, not exactly. As Loren tells it in her memoir, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life (via the New York Post), her future beau tiptoed around the issue. "Sophia, have you ever thought about ... you know, softening your ... your ... dominant profile?" he allegedly asked. Her response? "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 has reportedly never had cosmetic surgery. This certainly hasn't seemed to hinder her career, and as Variety points out, "cameramen had to adapt their techniques to shoot her, adjusting the lighting so as not to create unflattering shadows." As the icon wisely put it to AARP, "Why change your body and be somebody else if you are happy inside?"

Sophia Loren had some A-list English teachers

After starring in a plethora of Italian flicks in the early to mid-1950s, Sophia Loren finally decided to move across the pond in 1957. "When I was very well known in Italy, America called the production [company] asking for my name, saying maybe they had a role for me in a picture with Cary Grant, Alan Ladd, many good American actors," the star explained to Variety. Sure enough, the film did star Grant, along with another A-list legend: Frank Sinatra.

Arriving on the set of her first American production, The Pride and the Passion, Loren realized she had one big issue: "I told [Grant and Sinatra] right away, 'I don't speak any English, please help me,'" the actor recalled to Closer. Surprisingly, the Tinseltown pair patiently helped her. "They were beautiful," Loren claims. "I didn't speak one word of English, so it was very difficult for me. But they were really there to help, and in a very nice way."

According to Variety, although the film set ran into some hiccups with the notoriously difficult "My Way" crooner, Loren and Grant hit it off and became close friends. The actor went as far as "to protect her from being pigeonholed as a sex symbol," even standing up for Loren when cartoonist Al Hirschfeld made a sketch for their flick "that featured Loren in a plunging neckline, standing beside a phallic cannon."

Wait, did Cary Grant actually propose to Sophia Loren?

Cary Grant and Sophia Loren became close friends on the set of 1957's The Pride and the Passion, despite their 30-year age difference. In fact, they may have even been more than just friends. "As our familiarity continued to grow, Cary showed me his vulnerable side," wrote Loren in her 2014 memoir, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life. "Both of us realized that the feeling between us was beginning to be laced with love."

So, what was the problem? For starters, Grant was married to his third wife Betsy Drake, while Loren was sneaking around with Carlo Ponti, her manager — and a married man (via Vanity Fair). Nevertheless, as Loren writes, Ponti was determined to marry her, yet so was Grant. According to the Sunflower star, she ultimately decided that her "place was next to Carlo."

After Loren released her book, fans lapped the romance up. Suddenly, in 2020, during an interview with Radio Times (via The Guardian), the actor confessed: "Cary Grant was a very handsome man and a wonderful actor, but he didn't propose." Although Loren did end up marrying Ponti, she was never able to have a traditional white wedding. "I never got married in a white dress," she told the outlet. "That was the dream of my life." As fate would have it, "the only time Sophia got to be the bride-in-white" was during a scene with Cary Grant in their movie, Houseboat (via Vanity Fair).

Rocky beginnings with Carlo Ponti

Sophia Loren's romance with Carlo Ponti was never easy. The pair first met when Loren moved to Rome as a teenager, and the 38-year-old producer first noticed her sitting in the audience as he was judging a beauty contest, as revealed by Vanity Fair. At the time, Ponti was a married man and a father of two kids. He eventually became Loren's manager, and by the time the young star turned 19, he was her "lover," too.

Of course, the duo began seeing each other secretly on a personal level, as "in Catholic Italy, a divorce for Ponti seemed impossible." Remarkably, Loren stayed by his side, and the pair was even engaged for a full three years. Finally, Ponti managed to "[secure] his divorce in a Mexican courtroom in Ciudad Juárez," with "two lawyers [standing] in for Ponti and Sophia." Technically, they were married, but the Vatican wasted no time condemning the marriage. Both Ponti and Loren were subsequently exiled and "condemned as public sinners."

At 23, having been banished from her home country, Loren left with Ponti, "knocking about in rented villas and chalets on the French Riviera and in Switzerland." Per the New York Post, Loren's love for her beau was so strong that the pair remained together for around five decades until the producer died in 2007 at the age of 94.

Sophia Loren's marriage endured many tragedies

"My life is not a fairy tale," Sophia Loren told Vanity Fair in 2012. Her marriage to Carlo Ponti, specifically, was fraught with turmoil. As the magazine explains, in 1962, five years after the couple's marriage by proxy, the exiled duo learned that their marriage wasn't legal since there hadn't been any witnesses. Loren and Ponti returned to Italy, "under threat of arrest if they were seen to be cohabiting." To work around the issue, the A-list pair would rent rooms using pseudonyms. They finally married in France in 1966, but their problems didn't stop there.

The couple's villa in San Marino, which they began restoring in 1960 and spent millions on, "was raided and searched by Italian authorities" in 1977, after Ponti went public with his idea to move his business outside of Italy. At the time, it was illegal to take large amounts of money out of Italy without the approval of the government. By 1979, "Ponti was convicted [...] of smuggling $10 million in currency and art out of Italy." His fine? $26 million and the confiscation of the couple's prized home.

As for Loren? The actor ran into her own tax problems in 1982, which she blamed on her "tax specialist," and spent "17 days in the women's prison [...] taking her meals alone in her cell, while paparazzi camped outside the gates."

Sophia Loren 'feared' Jayne Mansfield's cleavage

Is there any other more recognized photo from the golden age of Hollywood than the now-infamous one of Sophia Loren giving the most epic side-eye at fellow A-lister Jayne Mansfield's cleavage?

As the story goes, after Loren completed The Pride and the Passion with Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra, she was a bona fide worldwide icon. According to Vanity Fair, Loren took husband Carlo Ponti for their first public appearance together in Hollywood, where they checked into the Beverly Hills Hotel and were subsequently invited to an event "in her honor at Romanoff's restaurant." As photographers clambered for a shot of the icon, Mansfield strutted in, complete with her dangerously low-cut dress. Sitting next to Loren, the blonde star endured what was probably the first heavily publicized wardrobe malfunction – an alleged "publicity stunt."

"She knew everyone was watching," Loren recalled in her memoir Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life (via ABC News). "Listen. Look at the picture. Where are my eyes? I'm staring at her nipples because I am afraid they are about to come onto my plate. In my face you can see the fear." The moment, according to Vanity Fair, "would augur Sophia's problems with Hollywood."

Sophia Loren never uttered her famous spaghetti quote

Much how Marilyn Monroe most likely never uttered the now-famous phrase, "if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best" (via Elle), Sophia Loren has also had a quote wrongfully attributed to her name. Heck, even a quick Google search of the star's most famous quotes lists the following: "Everything you see I owe to spaghetti."

"Non è vero! It's not true!" she exclaimed to The New York Times in 2015. "It's such a silly thing." The actor further discussed the quote in 2020, during a chat with The Telegraph. "I never said it. Because if you eat a lot of spaghetti, you get fat! I like pasta, of course, but I eat it in a moderate way, because I always try to stay fit and pretty, but I'm not a fan of deprivation."

She may not praise pasta for her iconic curves, but that doesn't mean Loren doesn't cook some tasty grub — she's Italian, after all. As it turns out, the legendary screen star even wrote two cookbooks that went on to become bestsellers. What's more, to Loren, cooking is about bonding with those closest to you. As 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."

Sophia Loren supports the #MeToo movement

Like many other A-list actresses of her time, Sophia Loren was objectified by her peers, such as the time Noel Coward declared (via The Wall Street Journal) that she should have been "sculpted in chocolate truffles so the world could devour her." As Vanity Fair points out, Loren "was initially perceived as little more than a busty Italian bombshell," yet the star never let anyone take advantage of her.

Speaking to The Telegraph about an incident once where Marlon Brando "grabbed" her on set and she shot a glare in his direction, Loren claims, "He was afraid of me! He didn't dare do anything else after that. Just one look — that was all it took." That being said, she also attributes her sense of safety in the industry to husband Carlo Ponti's status. "I was very young, and at that time I really needed someone to help me. Carlo was the right person," she recalled.

In recent years, Loren has been a supporter of the #MeToo movement. According to The Irish Times, this is a welcome change to the star's contemporaries, such as Catherine Deneuve, who penned a letter, along with 100 other French women, "defending men's 'freedom to pester' women." As Loren declares, "I am so proud of the women who stood up to such horrible and unacceptable mistreatment," adding, "It is inadmissible and has been going on for way too long."

Sophia Loren is still acting

Unlike other silver screen leading ladies who fell out of popularity after their prime, Sophia Loren is, as of this writing, still acting and proving she's just as iconic. If that's not all, there's even Academy Award buzz for her latest role in 2020's The Life Ahead, directed by her son, Eduardo Ponti.

"I love to work, as long as it's something I really care about," the A-list star told Variety while discussing The Life Ahead. She echoed a similar sentiment to The Telegraph that same year, at the age of 86, proudly declaring, "I am the most tireless actress in cinema. I could work 20 hours a day and never get tired. I have so much energy and I'm only interested in moving forward."

And while she's not immersing herself in roles, Loren still manages to inspire others by just being herself. According to Decider, in 2021, the Italian icon took part in a short documentary What Would Sophia Loren Do?, which follows the life of an Italian-American woman in New York, inspired by the famous star "and influenced by the titular question [of the flick]."