Loren is widely recognized as Italy's most renowned and honored actress. She was the first actress of the talkie era to win an Academy Award for a non-English-speaking performance, for her portrayal of Cesira in Vittorio De Sica's Two Women. Her other awards include a Grammy Award, five special Golden Globes, a BAFTA Award and a Laurel Award. In 1995 she received theCecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievements, one of many such awards.
Her films include: Houseboat (1958), El Cid (1961), Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963), Marriage Italian-Style (1964), and A Special Day (1977). In later years she has appeared in American blockbusters such as Grumpier Old Men (1995), and Nine (2009). In 1994 she starred in Robert Altman's Prêt-à-Porter, which earned her a Golden Globe nomination the same year. She has also achieved critical and commercial success in TV movies such as Courage (1986).
Loren was born in the Clinica Regina Margherita in Rome, Italy, daughter of Romilda Villani (1914–1991) and Riccardo Scicolone, a construction engineer. Scicolone refused to marry Villani, leaving Romilda, a piano teacher and aspiring actress, without support. Loren's parents had another child together, her sister Anna Maria Villani Scicolone, in 1938. Loren has two younger paternal half-brothers, Giuliano and Giuseppe. Romilda, Sofia and Maria lived with Loren's grandmother in Pozzuoli, near Naples.
During World War II, the harbour and munitions plant in Pozzuoli was a frequent bombing target of the Allies. During one raid, as Loren ran to the shelter, she was struck by shrapnel and wounded in the chin. After that, the family moved to Naples, where they were taken in by distant relatives.
After the war, Loren and her family returned to Pozzuoli. Grandmother Luisa opened a pub in their living room, selling homemade cherry liquor. Villani played the piano, Maria sang and Loren waited on tables and washed dishes. The place was very popular with the American GIs stationed nearby.
When she was 14 years old, Loren entered a beauty contest in Naples and, while not winning, was selected as one of the finalists. Later she enrolled in acting class and was selected as an extra in Mervyn LeRoy's 1951 film Quo Vadis, launching her career as a motion picture actress.
After being credited professionally as Sofia Lazzaro, she began using her current stage name in 1952's La Favorita. Her first starring role was in Aida (1953), for which she received critical acclaim. After playing the lead role in Two Nights with Cleopatra (1953), her breakthrough role was in The Gold of Naples (1954), directed by Vittorio De Sica. Too Bad She's Bad, also released in 1954, became the first of many films in which Loren co-starred with Marcello Mastroianni. Over the next three years she acted in many films such as Scandal in Sorrento (1955) and Lucky to Be a Woman (1956). In 1957, Loren's star had begun to rise in Hollywood, with the films Boy on a Dolphin (her U.S. film debut), Legend of the Lost with John Wayne, and The Pride and the Passion in which she starred opposite Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra.
Loren became an international film star following her five-picture contract with Paramount Pictures in 1958. Among her films at this time were Desire Under the Elms with Anthony Perkins, based upon the Eugene O'Neill play; Houseboat, a romantic comedy co-starring Cary Grant; and George Cukor's Heller in Pink Tights, in which she appeared as a blonde for the first time.
In 1961, she starred in Vittorio De Sica's Two Women, a stark, gritty story of a mother who is raped while trying to protect her daughter in war-torn Italy. Originally cast as the daughter, Loren fought against type and was re-cast as the mother (actress Eleonora Brown would portray the daughter). Loren's performance earned her many awards, including the Cannes Film Festival's best performance prize, and an Academy Award for Best Actress, the first major Academy Award for a non-English-language performance and to an Italian actress. She won 22 international awards for Two Women. The film proved to be extremely well accepted by the critics and it was a huge commercial success.
Loren is known for her sharp wit and insight. One of her most frequently quoted sayings is a quip about her famously voluptuous figure: "Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti". However, on the 20 December 2009, episode of CBS News Sunday Morning, Loren denied ever delivering the line.
During the 1960s, Loren was one of the most popular actresses in the world, and she continued to make films in both the United States and Europe, starring with prominent leading men. In 1964 her career reached its pinnacle when she received $1 million to appear in The Fall of the Roman Empire. In 1965, she received a second Academy Award nomination for her performance in Marriage Italian-Style.
Among Loren's best-known films of this period are Samuel Bronston's epic production of El Cid (1961) with Charlton Heston, The Millionairess (1960) with Peter Sellers, It Started in Naples(1960) with Clark Gable, Vittorio De Sica's triptych Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (1963) with Marcello Mastroianni, Peter Ustinov's Lady L (1965) with Paul Newman, the 1966 classicArabesque with Gregory Peck, and Charlie Chaplin's final film, A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) with Marlon Brando.
Loren received four Golden Globe Awards between 1964 and 1977 as "World Film Favorite – Female".
Loren worked less after becoming a mother. During the next decade, most of her roles were in Italian features. During the 1970s, she was paired with Richard Burton in the last De Sica-directed film, The Voyage (1974), and a remake of the film Brief Encounter (1974). The film had its premiere on U.S. television on 12 November 1974 as part of the Hallmark Hall of Fame series on NBC. In 1976 she starred in The Cassandra Crossing, a classic disaster film featuring such veteran stars as Richard Harris, Martin Sheen, and Ava Gardner. It fared extremely well internationally, and was a respectable box office success in U.S. market. She also co-starred with Marcello Mastroianni in Ettore Scola's A Special Day (1977). This movie was nominated for eleven international awards such as two Oscars (best actor in leading role, best foreign picture). It won a Golden Globe award and a César award for best foreign movie. Loren's performance was awarded with a David di Donatello award, the seventh in her career. In addition the movie was extremely well received by American reviewers and was a box office hit and kick
Following this success, Loren starred in an American thriller Brass Target. This movie received mixed reviews, although it was moderately successful in the United States and internationally. In 1978 she won her fourth Golden Globe for "world film favourite". Other movies of this decade were Academy award nominee Sunflower (1970) which was a critical success and Arthur Hiller's Man of La Mancha (1972) which was a critical and commercial failure despite being nominated for several awards including two Golden Globes awards. O'Toole and James Coco were nominated for two NBR awards, in addition the NBR listed Man of La Mancha in its best 10 pictures of 1972 list.
In 1980, after the international success of the biography Sophia Loren: Living and Loving, Her Own Story by A. Hotchner, Loren portrayed herself and her mother in a made-for-television biopic adaptation of her autobiography, Sophia Loren: Her Own Story. Ritza Brown and Chiara Ferrari each portrayed the younger Loren. In 1981, she became the first female celebrity to launch her own perfume, Sophia, and a brand of eyewear soon followed. In 1982, while in Italy, she made headlines after serving an 18-day prison sentence on tax evasion charges—a fact that failed to hamper her popularity or career. In fact, Bill Moore, then employed at Pickle Packers International advertising department, sent her a pink pickle-shaped trophy for being "the prettiest lady in the prettiest pickle".
She acted infrequently during the 1980s and turned down the role of Alexis Carrington in 1981 for the TV series Dynasty. Although she was set to star in thirteen episodes of CBS's Falcon Crestin 1984 as Angela Channing's half-sister Francesca Gioberti, negotiations fell through at the last moment and the role went to Gina Lollobrigida instead. Sophia preferred devoting more time to raising her sons. In 1988 she starred in the miniseries The Fortunate Pilgrim.
Loren has also recorded well over two dozen songs throughout her career, including a best-selling album of comedic songs with Peter Sellers; reportedly, she had to fend off his romantic advances. It was partly owing to Sellers' infatuation with Loren that he split with his first wife, Anne Howe. Loren has made it clear to numerous biographers that Sellers' affections were reciprocated only platonically. This collaboration was covered in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers where actress Sonia Aquino portrayed Loren. It is said that the song "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?" by Peter Sarstedt was inspired by Loren.
In 1991 Loren received the Academy Honorary Award for her contributions to world cinema and was declared "one of the world cinema's treasures". In 1995 she received the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Loren was selective about choosing her films and ventured into various areas of business, including cookbooks, eyewear, jewelry, and perfume.
In the comedy Grumpier Old Men (1995), Loren played a femme fatale opposite Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, and Ann-Margret. The film was a box-office success and became Loren's biggest U.S. hit in years.
At the 20th Moscow International Film Festival in 1997, she was awarded an Honorable Prize for contribution to cinema.
In 2001, Loren received a Special Grand Prix of the Americas Award at the Montreal World Film Festival for her body of work. She filmed two projects in Canada during this time: the independent film Between Strangers (2002), directed by her son Edoardo and co-starring Mira Sorvino, and the television miniseries Lives of the Saints (2004).
In 2009, after five years off the set and fourteen years since she starred in a prominent US theatrical film, Loren starred in Rob Marshall's film version of Nine, based on the Broadway musical that tells the story of a director whose midlife crisis causes him to struggle to complete his latest film; he is forced to balance the influences of numerous formative women in his life, including his deceased mother. Loren was Marshall's first and only choice for the role. The film also stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Penélope Cruz, Kate Hudson, Marion Cotillard, and Nicole Kidman. As a part of the cast she received her first nomination for a Screen Actors Guild Award.
In 2010, Loren played her own mother in a two-part Italian television miniseries about her early life, directed by Vittorio Sindoni, entitled La Mia Casa È Piena di Specchi (translated My House Is Full of Mirrors), based on the memoir written by her sister Maria.
In September 1999 Loren filed a lawsuit against 76 adult websites for posting altered nude photos of her on the internet.
Loren is a Roman Catholic, though on various issues, such as modesty in dress and her marriage, she has been at odds with the Church.
Loren first met Carlo Ponti in 1950 when she was 15 and he was 37. They married on 17 September 1957. However, Ponti was still officially married to his first wife Giuliana under Italian law because Italy did not recognize divorce at that time. The couple had their marriage annulled in 1962 to escape bigamy charges. In 1965, Ponti obtained a divorce from Giuliana in France, allowing him to marry Loren on 9 April 1966. They later became French citizens after their application was approved by then French President Georges Pompidou.
They had two children:
Loren remained married to Carlo Ponti until his death on 10 January 2007 of pulmonary complications.
When asked in a November 2009 interview if she were ever likely to marry again, Loren replied "No, never again. It would be impossible to love anyone else."
Her daughters-in-law are Sasha Alexander and Andrea Meszaros. Loren has four grandchildren: Lucia Sofia Ponti (born 12 May 2006), Vittorio Leone Ponti (born 3 April 2007). Leonardo Fortunato Ponti (born 20 December 2010) and Beatrice Lara Ponti (born 15 March 2012).