Sophia Loren Was Starving & Lived in Grinding Poverty after Her Father Left Her as a Baby
Actress Sophia Loren has garnered icon status for her decades of glamourous fame, and it is difficult to imagine her living in poverty—but she did. Read her story and discover why she finds it painful to speak about her life.
Born Sofia Scicolone, the Italian actress rose above challenging circumstances and carved an impressive life for herself under the professional name Sophia Loren. The road to her success was marked by unimaginable pain and obstacles.
Living as an illegitimate child in Italy was viewed as a scandal and a full-blown sin, and Loren was taunted by shame from a very young age—this was just the beginning of a childhood marked by unpleasant experiences.
Actress Sophia Loren, circa 1960. | Source: Getty Images
Loren's family struggled to survive, living on rationed bread and starving most days. A lack of adequate food left Loren looking skinny, and school peers called her "Sofia Stuzzicadenti," meaning "toothpick."
She lived in a small apartment with eight others and recalled never sleeping in a bed with less than three relatives. World War II worsened the situation, and the young girl spent many nights hiding from air raids.
Loren described the train tunnels she hid in and said they were always full of "sickness, laughter, drunkenness, death, and childbirth."
Italian actress Sophia Loren in 1964. Source: Getty Images
After such a grim childhood, it isn't difficult to understand why Loren hasn't opened up about her past more frequently. "My life is not a fairy tale, and it's painful still to speak about it," she admitted.
Loren's mother, Romilda Villani, was forced to beg in the streets, so their family would live another day, and the actress revealed: "Hunger was the major theme of [her] childhood. It would take a book to describe it."
Loren's father, Riccardo Scicolone, a construction engineer of noble descent, abandoned the family, leaving them to make ends meet on their own.
Italian actress Sophia Loren and her mom Romilda Villani in Rome, Italy, on 12th April 1962. | Source: Getty Images
The actress only saw her dad three times throughout her life, and the last occasion was on his deathbed in 1976. She always wanted a relationship with him but knew that it wasn't possible to choose one's parents. Loren said:
"I never had a relationship with my father. I wish he would have been a different person, a different father and different companion for my mother but he was who he was."
LOREN WON A BEAUTY CONTEST IN A GOWN MADE OF PINK CURTAINS
Loren undoubtedly inherited her beauty from her mom. A purported Brigitte Bardot lookalike, Villani channeled all of the thwarted hopes and dreams she had for herself into her daughter, helping Loren succeed.
"Everything that I dreamed of for myself has happened to Sophia. I live in her image."
Actress Sophia Loren in New York City, 1959. | Source: Getty Images
When she was 14, Loren entered a beauty contest but was at a disadvantage because her family couldn't afford a fancy dress. Thankfully, her grandmother created a gown using pink curtains, and Loren stunned the judges.
She was one of the lucky winners to win a ticket to Rome—it catapulted her into an entirely new world. She was hired as a model, and just like that, her star-studded career started.
Italian actress Sophia Loren in Spain on February 6, 1956. | Source: Getty Images
LOREN'S RELATIONSHIP WITH A MARRIED 21-YEAR-OLDER MAN HAD A LOT OF OBSTACLES
Loren met director Carlo Ponti when she was still a teenager, and he was 38 and a married father. She was attracted to his intellect, and he was drawn to her beauty—the pair fell in love quickly and became lovers when Loren was 19.
Ponti instinctively knew Loren was destined to be a star, and he saw her unique qualities before the rest of the world. As a young woman in the industry, Loren appreciated the stability and guidance Ponti offered.
She still carried pain from her father's abandonment, and a mature Ponti filled the gaps as a father figure, lover, and career manager.
"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."
Italian film director, Carlo Ponti and actress Sophia Loren, arriving in Copenhagen, Denmark, 1958. | Source: Getty Images
However, Loren's mother wasn't a fan of her daughter's love interest. She feared her child was repeating her mistakes and would be disgraced because of her connection to Ponti.
Fortunately, Loren found a love story that proved long-lasting and true despite her mother's fears. No challenge was too big for her and Ponti, and they faced their battles together.
The couple started a family in 1968, first welcoming Carlo Jr., and five years later, adding another son to their brood, Edoardo. Loren's greatest joy in life was becoming a mother, and she said not even winning an Oscar could compare.
"Nothing mattered to me but my baby. I would have given up my work to have a child. If this means I am not modern, then I am not modern. I believe an infant needs to be with its mother as much as possible."
Sophia Loren and her sons, Edoardo Ponti, and Carlo Ponti attend the AFI FEST presented by Audi at Dolby Theatre on November 12, 2014 in California. | Source: Getty Images
Loren and her spouse were engaged in secret for three years and faced immense pushback because they wanted to get married. The Vatican condemned their union, and their initial attempt at getting married was ruled illegal.
"But now Sophia had been publicly humiliated, the joy of being Mrs. Ponti having turned into … ashes," said Loren's sister, Maria. The couple eventually confirmed their marriage in 1966 and lived many happy years—but not without rumors.
THE COUPLE WAS RUMORED TO BE HAVING AFFAIRS
Loren and Ponti faced various rumors that they were unfaithful in their marriage. The actress was linked to male counterparts, and suspicions grew, but she always denied the claims, as did Ponti.
He noted: "In the press, I am always having an affair." Loren also added her views: "They always had us having affairs. We were many years in Rome, apart. But we were in love. That's what kept us together."
Sophia Loren and Carlo Ponti attend an event at the Elyses Presidential Palace in Paris, France, December 19, 1991. Source: Getty Images
The actress, who resides primarily in Switzerland, lost her beloved husband in 2007. After Ponti passed away, she continued to miss him and expressed that the longing didn't get any easier with time.
The heartbroken widow expressed:
"It doesn’t get any easier. I miss Carlo very much, my husband. You can’t have everything at the same time. That’s life."
Loren, who turned 87 in 2021, has not stopped dazzling the world with her beauty and acting skills. She starred in her son's Netflix film, "The Life Ahead."
The 2020 appearance ended her decade-long absence from the screen and proved that the living legend undoubtedly deserves her icon status.