Monday, 11 May 2009

Sophia Loren

A child of the Neapolitan slums, Sophia Loren rose from a sea of troubles to become one of the cinema's great sex symbols.
In her, the world found an enticing, quintessentially European woman, who was also warm, earthy, even maternal.
As her fellow Italians might say, she was esuberante, radiating enough enthusiasm to fill the Colosseum.
But perhaps her greatest achievement has been the sheer longevity of this allure.

Sophia Loren was born Sofia Scicolone in a Roman charity ward to Romilda Villani, a poverty-stricken woman whose lover refused to marry her - although he later allowed Sophia and her younger sister Maria to use his last name.
Branded by Italian society as illegitimate, the four-year-old Sophia moved with her mother to Pozzuoli, a rundown suburb of Naples, where Romilda played piano in seedy cafes to keep bread on the table.
Work was not plentiful; Sophia was so skinny that her Catholic school classmates nicknamed her Stuzzicadente, the toothpick.

When the war and its deprivations came to Naples - the most frequently bombed city in Italy - Sophia lived a ragged existence that left indelible marks.
There was never enough food, and when the bombs rained down, the family sought shelter in train tunnels. Death and ruin were all around.
The absence of even such a scoundrel of a father as Riccardo Scicolone also left her vulnerable to the taunts of other children.

As her adolescence progressed, Sophia's waif-like form metamorphosed into traffic-stopping curves.
Her tall, lush body and exotically beautiful face became her ticket out of penury, her escape from the nightmare.
Those huge liquid eyes, that pillowy mouth and extravagant body, wrapped in a pink dress her mother had sewn from a window curtain, earned her second place in a beauty contest. Abandoning her teacher-training studies,
the fifteen-year-old journeyed to Rome with Romilda, herself a frustrated actress, to try for a movie career.
The two found minuscule parts in the 1951 epic Quo Vadis, but the thirty-three dollars they earned did not last very long.
Denied a modeling job by the very attributes that would later make her an international star, Sophia turned to 'acting' in the fumetti photo magazines with comic-strip-style stories featuring soap-opera plots and balloon dialogue.
Her character was most often that of a gypsy vamp, and her poses on one occasion earned her the attentions of the Italian police censor.
Still attempting to break into more legitimate show business, Sophia placed as a runner-up in the 1950 Miss Italy contest.
Later that year she took second place in the Miss Rome competition, but won a much bigger prize than the official one, for film producer Carlo Ponti was one of the judges.
Instantly struck by her quirky beauty,
he remained undaunted by her disastrous screen tests.
He did suggest, however, that perhaps something might be done about her oversized nose and hips. But the supremely confident teen ignored him.
"Everything I have,” she later boasted playfully to the American press, "I owe to spaghetti."

None of this affected Loren's burgeoning career. Houseboat (1958), with the abashed but still smitten Grant was a solid hit.
Nor did she abandon Europe, making fifteen Italian onscreen romances with Marcello Mastroianni, most notably Marriage Italian Style (1964).
She reached the zenith of her career with her performance in De Sica's 1961 Italian production La Ciociara, known in the States as Two Women.
For her portrayal of a wartime rape victim, she earned an Academy Award.

After several miscarriages, the actress finally bore two sons, Edoardo and Carlo, Jr., and for some time she made only promotional appearances, for her perfume, Sophia, and her line of eyewear.
Her subsequent movies, such as The Cassandra Crossing (1977), declined in quality, but she continued to attract attention. In 1982 she was back in the press when the Italian authorities forced her to serve nineteen days in prison for tax evasion.
Upon her release, 'La Simpatica' went back to work, making more TV movies. In 1994,
she co-starred in Pret-à-Porter - her last comedy with old friend Mastroianni and the next year, in Grumpier Old Men.
Loren was as sexy in both as she had been in her first film, forty years earlier.
She had explained her secret in 1990: "I still like me, inside and out.
Not in a vain way - I just feel good in my skin."


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