There’s been a lot going on lately and lots of stories to share here with friends or foes or whoever cares to read really, but one evening stands out because it was the time I (almost) lost my husband and 30 year best friend to a lovely Italian lady. Of 84.
It was the night Aldwych Theatre in London replaced one of its “Tina Turner” shows with another most powerful headliner, a true legend of the big screen and, in her own words.. una donna antica.. Sophia Loren..
Shows like these, extended live interviews on life and pursuit and happiness and career and whatnot.. are fleeting moments of joy, unmissable opportunities to share the glory of an era that is no more, when women were beautiful and perfectly composed and.. heartbroken mostly..
Sophia’s origin story is no exception, and it was a powerful introduction to an evening that made us laugh and cry in equal measure. Born to an extremely beautiful mother, who had married to … a man who was by no means Mr. Right.. Sophia was their only legitimate daughter. Whatever that may mean… Her father refused to acknowledge her sister and give her his name, and it is not difficult to imagine the sort of drama this created for both mother and daughters, in the closed community of Naples. “Malena” came to mind…
So, apart from extreme poverty and real hunger, Sophia’s main driver in the early years of her career was the desire to make things right for her little sister and buy her the name of her father… “It ended up costing a lot more than I expected” murmured Sophia on stage and we both looked at each other and shivered incredulously.. but as Ms Loren lightly commented afterwards, this sort of adversity molds you into who you are later on..
A skinny girl who proved able to lip synch “O Patria Mia” to the sound of the incredible Renata Tebaldi, in “Aida”, Sophia Loren made her way into the world of cinema working at first with Italian directors and producers she loved.. She ended up marrying one of them.. We could hear her joy and nostalgia speaking about Vittorio de Sica, Dino de Laurentiis or Marcello Mastroianni.. but as we were in London and not in her home country, the interviewer (convinced that equal measures of self deprecation and self assuredness would compensate for his lack of preparation) did not dwell too much on that era.. “I wrote a lot of books in my life.. haven’t you read ANY of them?” said the lady to the tramp at one point..
Still, we were among the privileged few who could understand and enjoy her quips in Italian and hopelessly fell under her charm. “British and American men can’t really put up with Latin women…” Amen to that 😉
The story of her Oscar award for Ciocciara was also retold on stage.. With a film in Italian and a role for which she was way too young, her expectations were reasonably low, so she preferred to stay home and spare the embarrassment. But still invited some friends for dinner just in case… As hours passed, disappointment was settling in, until at 5 am when the phone rang and Carry told her she had won. The rest of the night was all singing and dancing about the house and the rest.. is history.
At 84, Sophia Loren is still the commanding presence and the thrilling beauty she has always been. Silent when she had to, chatty when she felt safe, still strongly connected to Naples yet very lucid about its shortcomings, coquette but with a biting sarcasm on occasion, she got everyone to fall in love with her… including my husband.
Sadly enough, rather than discussing the craft and the wide screen achievements of this remarkable woman, the conversation focused more on her relationship with her various film partners. To all those rather base questions about such and such she was on screen with.. the answer was a definite “No”. One does not mix work with anything else. Carry Grant? Well… maybe.. but no..
Donna antica through and through – and proud of it – Sophia Loren seemed to have had a clear purpose in her life, fueled by a ton of determination. Whatever she wanted, she got, always aware of the effort and sacrifices incurred.
The lowest moment of the evening was, probably, the discussion of the famous photo taken with Jayne Mansfield and her plunging neckline. A Bryn Mawr educated Playboy cover girl, Mansfield had decided to try something, anything to upstage Sophia during a party that had been thrown in her honour. The glacial look Loren shoots at her boobline was discussed lightly, as the Italian mamma hinted there had been some maternal concern behind it… but come on… Much more interesting, or downright incandescent were the three-four photos shot with Elvis Presley during a shooting break, in a studio commissary kitchen. Even though impromptu, the photos are an amazing display of energy and good fun, a brief encounter of two really talented people who had never seen each other before or ever since.
The evening ended with questions from the audience and fans declaring their love, and daring Scotsmen asking for a kiss and conventional flower bouquets from ‘the management’. A white Rolls Royce was waiting for her outside, taking her back to the home she loves or who knows, to some new adventure fit for a legend.