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Actress. Born Sophia Villani Acicolone, on September 20, 1934, in Rome, Italy. An illegitimate child, Sophia was raised solely by her mother in the war-torn town of Pozzuoli, Italy. Both women were ostracized by the staunchly Catholic community and lived in abject poverty. While in her early teens, Sophia worked as a print model and participated in a number of local beauty contests. While competing in a 1949 pageant, the 15-year-old piqued the interest of Italian producer Carlo Ponti, who guided Sophia’s early film career by recruiting drama coaches and setting up screen tests.

Under the encouragement of Ponti, Loren made a number of low-budget Italian films, which featured her in relatively unknown bit parts. Initially billed as Sophia Lazzaro, she first appeared on screen as an extra in the American film Quo Vadis? (filmed in 1949 and released in 1951), which was followed by a small part in Frederico Fellini’s directorial debut Luci del Varietà (Variety Lights, 1951).

In 1953, (now billed as Sophia Loren) she landed a considerable role in the semidocumentary, Africa Sotto I Mari (Africa Under the Sea, 1953). Later that year, Loren was offered the choice role of the tragic Ethiopian princess in film adaptation of the Verdi opera Aida. She then made her first of eight collaborations with famed neo-realist director Vittorio DeSica in L’Oro Di Napoli (1954). Released in America as Gold of Naples (1955), the film elicited poor reviews, but Loren was credited for her strong performance.

In 1957, Loren appeared in her first English-speaking part in the action-laced romance Boy on a Dolphin. Later that year, she was cast as the object of Cary Grant’s affection (a role she played on and off-screen) in the World War II epic The Pride and the Passion. After appearing in a number of American pictures that were filmed overseas, Loren arrived in Hollywood in 1958. With alluring performances in Desire Under the Elms (1958), Houseboat (1958), The Black Orchid (1959), and It Started in Naples (1960), she was heralded as an international sex symbol. However, her work failed to earn critical acclaim.

Loren attempted to shed her sex-kitten image by taking on more serious roles. She succeeded when DeSica cast her as a widowed mother struggling to survive the gravest of circumstances in the Italian-language wartime drama La Ciociara (Two Women, 1961). Considered a breakthrough dramatic performance, the part established Loren as a credible actress and earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress. (To date she holds the notable distinction of being the only actress to win top honors for a foreign language film.)

Loren filmed the 1961 historical epic El Cid (with Charlton Heston) before reuniting with DeSica for Boccaccio ‘70 (1962). DeSica also cast her in a series of earthy Italian comedies opposite Marcello Mastroianni, including Ieri, Oggi, Domani (Yesterday, Today and Tommorow, 1963) and Matrimonio all’Italiana (Marriage Italian Style, 1964). For the latter film, Loren earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of the teenaged prostitute Filomena Marturano. Over the next few years, Loren was miscast in a succession of ill-suited vehicles—as a Jewish wife in Judith (1965), as an Arabian mistress in Arabesque (1966), and as an exotic Russian dancer in A Countess From Hong Kong (1967).

Throughout the 1970s, Loren remained popular despite the fact that her films fared poorly with American critics. For the most part she remained in Italy, where she worked closely with DeSica in Il Viaggio (The Voyage, 1974) and with Mastroianni in La Pupa del Gangster (Lady of the Evening, 1975). In 1979, she briefly returned to American cinema with the thrillers The Brass Target and Firepower.

That same year she published an autobiography (Sophia Loren: Living and Loving) that was filmed for television as Sophia Loren: Her Own Story (1980), in which she played both herself and her mother. In the 1980s, her acting credits included a handful of television movies, including Qualcosa di Biondi (Aurora, 1984), Courage (1986), and The Fortunate Pilgrim (1988).

Most recently, Loren showcased her flare for comedy in two American films. She had a cameo role in Robert Altman’s parody on the fashion industry, Pret-A-Porter (1994). The film marked her last on-screen appearance with Mastroianni and boasted an ensemble that included Tim Robbins, Kim Bassinger, Julia Roberts, and Cher. The following year, Loren was cast opposite veteran actors Walter Mathau and Jack Lemon in the surprise hit Grumpier Old Men.

Loren received an honorary Academy Award in 1991 for being "one of the genuine treasures of world cinema." With her luminous beauty and magnetic screen presence, she created an indelible image as the quintessential international sex symbol. In an age that both adored and exploited beautiful women, Loren was one of the first foreign-language stars ever to attain a level of international success comparable to America's most popular domestic talents.

Loren married Carlo Ponti in 1957. According to strict Catholic doctrine, the union was not recognized because Ponti failed to obtain a divorce from his first wife. Controversy surrounded the couple as Italian law pronounced Ponti a bigamist. After years of legal complications, Ponti was eventually granted an annulment. In 1966, he legally married Loren, with whom he has two sons (Carlo, Jr. and Eduardo).

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