Sophia Loren was born as Sofia Scicolone at the Clinica Regina Margherita in Rome on September 20, 1934. Her father Riccardo was married to another woman and refused to marry her mother Romilda Villani, despite the fact that she was the mother of his two children (Sophia and her younger sister Maria Scicolone). Growing up in the slums of Pozzuoli during the second World War without any support from her father, she experienced great sadness in her childhood. Her life took an unexpected turn for the best when, at age 14, she entered into a beauty contest and placed as one of the finalists. It was here that Sophia caught the attention of film producer Carlo Ponti, some 22 years her senior, whom she later married. Perhaps he was the father figure she never experienced as a child. Under his guidance, Sophia was put under contract and appeared as an extra in ten films beginning with Le sei mogli di Barbablù (1950), before working her way up to supporting roles. In these early films, she was credited as "Sofia Lazzaro" because people joked her beauty could raise Lazzarus from the dead.
By her late teens, Sophia was playing lead roles in many Italian features such as La favorita (1952) and Aida (1953). In 1957, she embarked on a successful acting career in the United States, starring in Boy on a Dolphin (1957), Legend of the Lost (1957), and The Pride and the Passion (1957) that year. She had a short-lived but much-publicized fling with co-star Cary Grant, who was nearly 31 years her senior. She was only 22 while he was 53, and she rejected a marriage proposal from him. They were paired together a second time in the family-friendly romantic comedy Houseboat (1958). While under contract to Paramount, Sophia starred in Desire Under the Elms (1958), The Key (1958), The Black Orchid (1958), It Started in Naples (1960), Heller in Pink Tights (1960), A Breath of Scandal (1960), and The Millionairess (1960) before returning to Italy to star in Two Women (1960). The film was a period piece about a woman living in war-torn Italy who is raped while trying to protect her young daughter. Originally cast as the more glamorous child, Sophia fought against type and was re-cast as the mother, displaying a lack of vanity and proving herself as a genuine actress. This performance received international acclaim and was honored with an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Sophia remained a bona fide international movie star throughout the sixties and seventies, making films on both sides of the Atlantic, and starring opposite such leading men as Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Gregory Peck, and Charlton Heston. Her English-language films included El Cid (1961), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), Arabesque (1966), Man of La Mancha (1972), and The Cassandra Crossing (1976). She gained wider respect with her Italian films, especially Marriage Italian Style (1964) and A Special Day (1977), both of which co-starred Marcello Mastroianni. During these years she received a second Oscar nomination and won five Golden Globe Awards.
From the eighties onward, Sophia's appearances on the big screen came few and far between. She preferred to spend the majority of her time raising sons Carlo Ponti Jr. (b. 1968) and Edoardo Ponti (b. 1973). Her only acting credits during the decade were five television films, beginning with Sophia Loren: Her Own Story (1980), a biopic in which she portrayed herself and her mother. She ventured into other areas of business and became the first actress to launch her own fragrance and design of eyewear. In 1982 she voluntarily spent nineteen days in jail for tax evasion.
In 1991 Sophia received an Honorary Academy Award for her body of work, and was declared "one of world cinema's greatest treasures." That same year, she experienced a terrible loss when her mother died of cancer. Her return to mainstream films in Ready to Wear (1994) was well-received, although the film as a whole was not. She followed this up with her biggest U.S. hit in years, the comedy Grumpier Old Men (1995), in which she played a sexy divorcée who seduces Walter Matthau. Over the next decade Sophia had plum roles in a few independent films like Soleil (1997), Between Strangers (2002) (directed by Edoardo), and Lives of the Saints (2004). Still beautiful at 72, she posed scantily-clad for the 2007 Pirelli Calendar. Sadly, that same year she mourned the death of her 94-year-old spouse, Carlo Ponti. In 2009, after far too much time away from film, she appeared in the musical Nine (2009) opposite Daniel Day-Lewis. These days Sophia is based in Switzerland but frequently travels to the states to spend time with her sons and their families (Eduardo is married to actress Sasha Alexander). Sophia Loren remains one of the most beloved and recognizable figures in the international film world.