Author: Alessandro Gatta
There are but a few actresses that the label icon can be levelled at. Sophia Loren was one. There has been an international dimension to icons who made it big in Hollywood: Greta Garbo (Sweden), Marlene Dietrich (Germany) or Ingrid Bergman (another Swede). During the 1940s and early 50s actresses and film stars still had the utilitarian look following the Second World War until Marilyn Monroe came along bringing sexy to the silver screen, missing since the early 1930s. Sophia Loren came loaded with a unique Latin beauty, a shapely hour glass figure, all the rage in the 1950s and yet a Catholic conservatism as well – despite the many occasions that she played a prostitute.
Sophia was born in Naples, Italy in 1934 when Benito Mussolini was dictator and grew up as a scraggy girl in the bombed out streets of Naples during and after the Second World War. She was a true Neapolitan in every sense and very much close to her family, in particular her grandmother and her mother, Romilda. Romilda was a failed actress herself who had fallen under the Svengali spell of a man who became the neglectful father to Sophia before eventually walking away from her life forever, leaving Romilda to fend for herself. A single mother in Catholic Italy at the time was frowned upon and came to mark both women, yet also draw them closer. Her role in the war-time drama and her only Oscar win, Two Women was clearly driven by her own wartime experiences. As a teenager, Sophia was encouraged by her mother to follow in her footsteps and become an actress, but guided to not make the mistakes that she had made. Following a beauty pageant which she did not win went on to become a Miss Italia finalist in 1950 at the age of 16. She caught the eye of one of Italy’s even then big producers, Carlo Ponti who would go on to be her husband until his death in 2007.
Naturally, thanks to Ponti’s backing Sophia Loren became an overnight star in Hollywood in 1957, appearing in a couple of films with Cary Grant who she not only had a loving affair but they fell madly in love with until she decided to remain with Carlo (the wedding scene in Houseboat, 1958 was particularly poignant to both if them). By the early 1960s she was balancing her Hollywood career with some of her best work, that she made back in Italy and are films that still stand the test of time. She often starred alongside Marcello Mastroianni including such films as Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1962) (including the classic striptease scene) and the wonderful Marriage – Italian Style (1964) as well as later career films as A Special Day (1974), perhaps the last great film for both of them.
Sadly this book by Gatti feels very under developed. As a pocket sized book it feels that somewhere here there is a greater autobiography waiting to come out. A writer who from his writing not only knows Ms. Loren but seems to sycophantically idolise her the book could have developed better and does use its main focus on her early life and charts her rise from street urchin to mega-star. The idolisation is easily done and understandable. The book is a quick read and could have been fleshed out better that does work at its best in the star’s earlier years. The few photos in the book do focus on publicity or star shots that show Sophia as the glamorous star as opposed to family pictures or otherwise. It is a reminder though of what a star Loren was and is as well as some attention given to her image as aloof and is at pains to demonstrate that she is private rather aloof. As an icon her beauty endures.