Sophia Loren was born Sofia Villani Scicolone in the city of Rome, Italy on September 20, 1934. Her father, Riccardo Scicolone, was an engineer and her mother, Romilda Villani, was a piano teacher and aspiring actress. World War 2 broke out while she was young and she lived for most of her youth in the city of Pozzuoli, near the city of Naples. There, she lived in a flat with her grandparents and aunts and uncles, enduring poverty.
Sophia was reportedly an ugly duckling of sorts until she turned fourteen, after which she became more of a beauty queen. In 1949, she moved to Rome with her mother to pursue a film career at the age of fifteen. She received her first roles in 1950 in small Italian films. In 1951, she was an extra in the film Quo Vadis. Her first starring role was as Aida in the 1953 film Aida, but her singing was dubbed by an opera star named Renata Tebaldi. Cecil B. Demille reportedly saw the film and remarked that "You could build mountains around that girl", referring to Sophia's beauty.
With the small amounts of money she earned from acting, Sophia helped to support her mother and sister. She also spent time modeling for romance magazines and joined beauty contests. In the mid-1950s, Sophia met a film producer named Carlo Ponti, whom she married on September 17, 1957. At the time, Ponti was nearly twice her age and the marriage had to be annulled because he was still married to another woman. Since Italy did not allow divorces, Ponti, Ponti's wife, and Sophia all had to get French citizenship before Ponti could divorce his wife and marry Sophia. They eventually succeeded in getting legally married on April 9, 1966.
In 1954, Sophia met an acclaimed Italian director named Vittorio De Sica, who took her under his wing. She was introduced to Hollywood, where she starred in the film "Boy on a Dolphin" in 1957 and "The Pride and the Passion" that same year, alongside Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra. On the set, she and Grant fell in love and he proposed to her, despite the fact that they were both married to other people. They decided to keep their relationship a secret and it is unknown whether they continued their relationship beyond that point.
After the success of those two films, Sophia signed a five-film contract with Paramount Studios. In 1958, she starred in "Desire Under the Elms" alongside Anthony Perkins, which was based on a play written by Eugene O'Neill. That same year, she starred in the film "Houseboat" alongside her old flame Cary Grant. In 1960, she starred in a western film called "Heller in Pink Tights" alongside Anthony Quinn. That year she also starred in "Two Women" as a woman who tries to protect her daughter during a war. Her performance in the film netted that year's Academy Award for Best Actress.
In 1960 she starred alongside Peter Sellers in the film "The Millionairess" as an arrogant heiress. In 1964, she starred in "The Fall of the Roman Empire" with Stephen Boyd and Alec Guinness, receiving a career record of $1 million for the role. In 1965, she starred alongside Paul Newman in Peter Ustinov's "Lady L" and in 1967 she starred alongside Marlon Brando in "A Countess from Hong Kong", which was also Charlie Chaplin's final work.
Around this time, she began trying to have children, but found it remarkably difficult. After two unfortunate miscarriages, she met with Dr. Huebert de Watteville, a Swiss fertility expert, who prescribed estrogen supplements. This appeared to work and she gave birth to her first child shortly after. She called being a mother a her most important accomplishment in life, despite her remarkable successes in acting.
In 1982, she was charged with tax evasion charges in Italy. She was found guilty and sentenced to eighteen days in prison, but the scandal did not affect her career. In 1991, she was given an honorary Academy Award for her contributions to movie history and was called "one of the world's cinema treasures". In 1995, she made one of her final appearances in the film "Grumpier Old Men" with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.
Today, Sophia Loren is still active, but has mostly retired from acting.