“By her own description, Sophia Loren is ‘a unity of many irregularities.’ She has rewritten the canons of beauty. A daughter of the Bay of Naples, she has within her the blood of the Saracens, Spaniards, Normans, Byzantines and Greeks. The East appears in her slanting eyes. Her dark brown hair is a bazaar of rare silk. Her legs talk. In her impish, ribald Neapolitan laughter, she epitomizes the Capriccio Italien that Tchaikovsky must have had in mind. Lord Byron, in her honor, probably sits up in his grave about once a week and rededicates his homage to ‘Italia! oh, Italia! thou who hast the fatal gift of beauty.’ Vogue Magazine once fell to its skinny knees and abjectly admitted: ‘After Loren, bones are boring.’”—Time Magazine, cover story on actress Sophia Loren, April 6, 1962
A friend of mine (AND HE KNOWS WHO HE IS!!!!) has been known to exclaim, more than once: “Now what, I ask you, is wrong with appreciating the beauty that is Woman?” Nothing, I suppose—as long as you don’t write overheated prose like the above, act like a besotted fool.
Yet Sophia Loren, born on this day 80 years ago (could it really be that long?) in Rome, has had those precise effects on men—especially astonishing when one considers that, as a teenager, the woman known for her voluptuous figure had been so thin, because of extreme poverty, that she had been nicknamed stuzzicadenti (toothpick).
Some years ago, local newscaster Jack Cafferty, beholding a revealing movie still of the actress, mused on the air that it was too bad the whole world couldn’t be in the shape she was. During production of Charlie Chaplin’s last film, The Countess From Hong Kong, the irrepressibly libidinous Marlon Brando withered under her laser glare when he made the mistake of pawing her. In 1983, David Letterman, then early in his career as a talk-show host, walked down to her dressing room with camera crew in tow without advance warning—and you can see, in this YouTube clip, that, beneath the Continental charm, she believed he could use a spanking.
Her five-decade career, determination and talent (attested to by her Oscar for Two Women, the first time an Academy Award was given to an actress in a foreign-language production) have made her a female national symbol for Italy, similar to what Catherine Deneuve has become for France. It has also made her an icon, a force that can outlast old detractors. In Loren’s youth, the Roman Catholic Church threatened her with excommunication for marrying Carlo Ponti, at the time still considered wed to another woman (since his Mexican divorce was not considered valid in Italy). More recently, however, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, in discussing the Vatican’s strictures against cloning, remarked waggishly that “an exception might be made in the case of Sophia Loren.”
Ms. Loren has a new memoir, timed to coincide with her milestone birthday. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow is not only named for one of the Italian films that lifted her to international fame, but also represents a simple statement of her enduring presence in the popular imagination around the entire world.