Her father, engineer Riccardo Scicolone, was married when he began an affair with her mother, Romilda Villani, a piano teacher/artist/actress. He never helped raising Sofia Villani Scicolone, but he did allow her and her sister Maria to use his surname. He was never an active part of Sofia and Maria s lives. Later in life, Ms. Loren actually had to pay him to acknowledge her younger sister publicly.
Although Sofia was born in Rome, Italy, she grew up in poverty in the war - torn town of Pozzuoli outside of Naples. As she grew, she went through all of the awkward changes that young people encounter. She bore the nicknames "La Stuzzicadiente" (toothpick) and "Stechetto" (stick) through these changes. Because of the impoverished conditions in her life, she was always small and underweight. On top of that, she was teased about the size of her nose. In spite of all of this, she knew that she could be an actress one day and she set out to do just that. She made a solemn vow to fulfill her dream. Her mother, who harbored dreams of acting herself, encouraged her oldest daughter to pursue those.
At the age of 16, Sofia began doing bit parts in Italian movies. She also competed in regional beauty contests and received several prizes. She began posing for illustrations in Italian romance stories called "fotoromanzi". At that time, she used the names Sofia Villani and Sofia Lazzaro. In 1951 she and her mother appeared as extras in the movie "Quo Vadis", which was filmed in Rome. This gave her a small taste of Hollywood and bolstered her determination to be an actress.
Backing up here briefly in the timeline, in 1950, Sofia placed as a runner - up in the Miss Italy contest. Later that same year, she placed second in the Miss Rome contest. Her biggest prize that year, though, came in the form of her future husband, Carlo Ponti - a much older film director/producer. He was a judge of one of her competitions and was immediately attracted to the beauteous Miss Scicolone. Gone was the wafer-thin child. In her place was a statuesque, voluptuous, young woman. The attraction was mutual. She would say later in life, I needed a father, I needed a husband. I was adopted by Carlo and married my father.
Mr. Ponti immediately took control of the direction of Sofia s career. Although her screen tests did not go well, he was not discouraged. In an attempt to get away from the image of a vamp, which she often portrayed in the comic strip style stories of the fotoromanzi - or fumletti - Mr. Ponti arranged for her to take on bit parts which often required little or no clothing. He hoped to capitalize on her well - endowed form to catapult her into more legitimate films.
Sources differ at to who actually changed Sofia Scicolone s name to Sophia Loren in 1952. Some say that it was a producer who was trying to disassociate her from the characters that she posed for in the fotoromanzi. Others say that it was Carlo Ponti himself who renamed her, then offered her a firm contract and made her his mistress.
Theirs was a situation complicated by the fact that Mr. Ponti was married and had two children. He wanted to marry his mistress, but the Catholic Church threatened excommunication and labeled Miss Loren a "concubine". While he tried to resolve the repercussions which would come about with a divorce she went on to make movies and "battle" with her onscreen "rival", Gina Lollabrigida.
Through carefully planned publicity and her role in "Gold of Naples" (1954), Sophia Loren arrived in Hollywood. One of her first roles which brought her to the attention of the American public, was in the 1959 movie, "Boy On a Dolphin". she was scantily clad in an outfit which became transparent and clingy when wet. Of course, her generous physical endowments were very much in evidence when she left the ocean and arrived on the beach. The public either loved it, or hated it, in accordance with their morals, beliefs, etc. Remember, this was the late 1950s. People then were not as "enlightened" as we are today.
In 1957, producers paired the newest Hollywood sex symbol with Cary Grant in "The Pride and the Passion". Mr Grant was "bewitched, bothered and bewildered" and impulsively proposed marriage. This evident and public display of ardor stirred Mr. Ponti into action. He petitioned the divorce courts in Mexico. The dissolution of his marriage and his consequential marriage to Miss Loren were performed by proxy in Mexico. The Vatican, refusing to recognize the divorce, or his marriage to Miss Loren, immediately labeled Mr. Ponti a bigamist. The fallout was a huge scandal and the newlyweds were forced to annul their marriage. They remarried in 1966, however, once Mr. Ponti was able to resolve the brouhaha with the Church.
In spite of her burgeoning success as an actress, Miss Loren had one goal that she had not achieved. She wanted to carry a child and become a mother. She suffered through several devastating and heartrending miscarriages before carrying to term and delivering, her first child in 1969. His doting parents named him Carlo Ponti, Jr. Four years later she gave birth to his younger brother, Eduardo. Her joy exceeded even that of her Academy Award and honors which she received for her role in 1960 in Vittorio De Sica s film, "Two Women". About being a mother she said, "A mother has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child".
Miss Loren remained very popular with movie goers throughout the 1960s. She starred with several leading men of that decade including Marcello Mastroianni, Cary Grant, Richard Burton, Clark Gable, Charlton Heston, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, John Wayne and Peter Sellers. She was popular not only for her beauty, but also for her quick wit, sense of humor and her insight. One of her favorite and often repeated, quotes involved her personal dietary habits. When asked how she maintained her beauty and her figure, she said, Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.