Sophia Loren wanted an average family unit so much that she gave up her acting career to raise her children. Her sons look up to her for it, and one of them later offered her a role that took her back to where she started.
Sophia Loren was welcomed as Sofia Villani Scicolone in Rome, Italy, on September 20, 1934, to construction engineer Riccardo Scicolone and actress Romilda Villani. After her birth, Villani relocated them back to Pozzuoli on the Bay of Naples, her hometown.
Villani's hometown was described as filthy, and Loren grew up in extreme poverty. Her parents never married but had another child who lived with their mother and many relatives at her grandparents' home.
Sophia Loren posing for a photo, circa 1955, and her with Carlo Ponti Jr. and Eduardo Ponti at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' tribute to the actress on May 4, 2011, in Beverly Hills, California. | Source:Silver Screen Collection & Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Loren was so sickly as a child that she was given the nickname "little stick" by her classmates. However, at age 14, she suddenly blossomed and even won second place in a beauty competition, winning her some money and free wallpaper she used for the living room.
Having been abandoned by their father at a young age, Loren only met him three times. She saw him when she was five, and then again at 17, and the last time was when he was on his deathbed in 1976.
Romilda Villani and Sophia Loren on September 20, 1934, in Italy. | Source: ullstein bild/Getty Images
The actress confessed that she and Riccardo "never had a relationship." She wished he could've been a different person, father, and companion to her mother but was lucky enough to have had Villani and a sister who loved her completely.
During a 1999 Barbara Walters "Interviews of a Lifetime" screening, Loren explained how she never understood Riccardo or how he'd treated Villani. His actions left his famous daughter with no justification to build a solid relationship with him.
Sophia Loren at the US Military Base in Italy in 1950. | Source: Reporters Associes/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
However, the pair reconciled when he was on his deathbed, and Loren forgave him but never forgot his actions. She couldn't forget because she felt what she'd gone through growing up without him was like "hell."
In the same interview, Loren rained praises on her mother, whom she described as a towering giant who fought for her children "like a lion." The star even shared that she thought she became what Villani wanted to become.
Sophia Loren photographed in 1950s. | Source: Reporters Associes/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
The pair had such a strong bond that Loren spoke to Villani every morning, with the former being in Los Angeles and the latter in Rome. Villani fought for her own life and her children's so they could do something extraordinary with their lives later on.
Loren noted how her mother had a hard time in her background, but in 1999, Villani was happy about what her daughter had accomplished. The star said she thought Villani was the true Sophia Loren.
SOPHIA'S CHILDHOOD AND SUCCESS AS AN ACTRESS
Sophia Loren in a black and white portrait in 1970. | Source: Angelo Cozzi/Archivio Angelo Cozzi/Mondadori/Getty Images
Loren's childhood was not easy as she grew up during World War II. Despite her background, she grew up with big dreams of becoming an actress like Rita Hayworth.
Her family was so poor that eight people shared a bedroom. Famine during the war would occasionally lead Villani to siphon a cup of water from the car radiator to share between her daughters in spoonfuls.
A fan club photo of Sophia Loren taken in 1950. | Source: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Her dreams came true at 15, in 1950 when she and her mother traveled to Rome to become actresses. The following year, Loren found her first role as an extra in "Quo Vadis."
She then got some parts and a role in 1952's "La Favorita," adopted her stage name, and gave a breakthrough performance in 1953's "Aida." It led to another leading role in 1954's "The Gold of Naples," which established her as an up-and-coming Italian star.
HOW LOREN MET HER HUSBAND
Carlo Ponti Sr. and Sophia Loren at the Los Angeles Union Terminal Station on September 27, 1957. | Source: Bettmann/Getty Images
Loren's adolescent curves first got her noticed by Carlo Ponti Sr., 20 years her senior. The pair met again when Loren entered a beauty contest at 16, and he was on the jury, then Carlo Sr. got her small parts in low-budget Italian productions.
She had an affair with him, and it became serious when she was 19. By 22, the two were publically linked to each other when she was achieving her stardom, and Carlo Sr. gave Loren a part in a semi-documentary and was instrumental in her becoming Italy's sex symbol.
Sophia Loren and Cary Grant outside the walls of Avila, Spain, during the filming for "The Pride and the Passion," 1956. | Source: Ernst Haas/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
He became her mentor, discoverer, prime exhibiter, curator, and producer. However, Loren and Carlo Sr. faced many obstacles to becoming proper romantic partners, like that he was still married to Giuliana Fiastri.
Also, while starring in 1957's "The Pride and the Passion" with Cary Grant, he proposed marriage to the actress after falling in love with her, but she declined. Although the proposal confused Loren, she knew she wanted a family with Carlo Sr.
Carlo Ponti Sr. and Sophia Loren embracing in the garden, in 1962. | Source: Pierluigi Praturlon/Reporters Associati & Archivi/Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images
Carlo Sr. struggled to get a divorce from his wife in Catholic Italy in the 1950s, but he and Loren managed to get engaged in secret in 1953. The actress chose Carlo Sr. over Grant because the former was also Italian and "belonged to my world."
On the other hand, her "Houseboat" co-star was not, and Loren was afraid of giving up what she'd known. She felt she needed Italy to thrive and knew choosing the film producer was right for her.
Loren also worried that leaving Carlo Sr. for Grant would lead to her being poorly treated by the American press like Ingrid Bergman was when she left her husband. She later confessed that she believed she'd made the right choice.
MARRYING CARLO PONTI SR
Carlo Ponti and Sophia Loren on the set of "The Condemned of Altona," in Germany, 1962. | Source: Pierluigi Praturlon/Reporters Associati & Archivi/Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images
Carlo Sr. was so in love with Loren that he married her by proxy after getting annulment documents in Mexico. In 1966, the couple publicly tied the knot in a civil wedding ceremony in Sevres, France.
The actress was so smitten with the film producer that she could even turn down Marlon Brando's advances when they filmed 1967's "A Countess from Hong Kong!" However, Loren's acting career would go into a long pause later in life.
HOW AND WHY SOPHIA STEPPED BACK FROM ACTING
Sophia Loren lying on a bed at the Clinica della Maternita with her newborn son Carlo Junior in Geneva, on January 4, 1969. | Source: Sergio Del Grande/Mondadori/Getty Images
After 20 years as a successful actress, Loren stepped back from the spotlight to become a mother. She had her two sons while still an actress but decided to follow what her body wanted her to do because she wasn't a machine.
Carlo Sr.'s wife had a serious conversation with herself where she realized that she wanted to be there to see her children grow and raise them well. The actress's dream was expressed as such:
“What I wanted to have was a legitimate family, a legitimate husband, children, a family like anybody else. It was because of the experience I had with my father.”
Sophia Loren, a guest, Carlo Ponti Sr., and their children Carlo Jr. and Edoardo Ponti leave Megève for Paris in 1976. | Source: James Andanson/Sygma/Getty Images
Loren's sons have since become quite successful in their lives, with Carlo Jr., born in 1968, becoming an Italian orchestra conductor. From 2000 to 2018, he was the associate conductor of the Russian National Orchestra.
At age 85, despite losing the love of her life, Sophia [Loren] was still working and was living a life that made her happy.
In 2013, he founded the Los Angeles Virtuosi Orchestra, working as the music and artistic director. Carlo Jr. was a parent to two children with his wife, Andrea Meszaros Ponti, in 2021.
Edoardo Ponti, Sophia Loren, and Carlo Ponti Jr. at AFI FEST Presented By Audi - A Special Tribute To Sophia Loren on November 12, 2014, in Hollywood, California. | Source: Barry King/FilmMagic/Getty Images
Edoardo, born in 1973, is a film creator, director, and writer. In 2015, he worked with Loren as the producer of the video documentary "Sophia Loren on A Special Day," and in 2020, he directed her most recent film, "The Life Ahead."
Edoardo also had two children in 2021 with his wife and former "NCIS" star, Sasha Alexander. In 2019, Loren told Hello! she was very proud when people congratulated her on her family and beautiful children.
LOSING PONTI AND LOREN'S REFLECTIONS ON HER AGE
Sophia Loren, Edoardo and Carlo Jr., and Carlo Ponti Sr. at the premiere of "Neil Simon's The Odd Couple II" on April 6, 1998, in Hollywood, California. | Source: Brenda Chase/Online USA, Inc/Getty Images
Sadly, Loren and her sons lost Carlo Sr. at the age of 94 in 2007. They were all by his side when he passed, and his wife had stayed with him throughout his last days of life.
In 2019, the iconic actress looked back on her extraordinary life and love story with Carlo Sr. with no regrets. At age 85, despite losing the love of her life, Loren was still working and was living a life that made her happy.
Carlo Ponti Jr., Sophia Loren, and Eduardo Ponti at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' tribute to the actress on May 4, 2011, in Beverly Hills, California. | Source: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
In 2020, the star noted that aging was seeing how things didn't change much, but the body did, and the mind didn't. One of the incredible things that happened in Loren's life was having Edoardo offer her a role in "The Life Ahead," with him stating:
“I'm very proud because she's a survivor. She's a thoroughbred [who] will never give up and she'll reach authenticity for the character… there's a lot of the greatest hits of who she is in this movie.”
The Academy Award winner starred as Madame Rosa, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust who made a living raising children. The catalyst in the film is Momo,12, a Senegalese orphan with whom she formed a bond.