Cesira in Two Women, and Lucia Curio in It Started In Naples, Filumena Marturano in Marriage Italian-Style and Giovanna in Sunflower — Sophia Loren has been known by many names throughout her life and acting career, but she was known as ‘wife’, ‘soul mate’ and ‘great love’ to only one person: Carlo Ponti.
Her dark, exotic eyes and long, bronzed limbs and unparalleled beauty made the hearts of men the world over race — but Sophia had eyes for only one man, and despite a 22-year age difference, she would remain by his side for a lifetime . . .
Born in poverty, an illegitimate baby to a single mother in the charity ward of a hospital in Naples, Sofia Villani Scicolone would live a real-life fairytale, a true rags-to-riches story, transforming into Sophia Loren, one of the best and most loved film stars of cinema.
Even as a young girl, Sophia found herself inextricably drawn to the theatre, making as many trips possible to see her favorite Hollywood stars on the screen, sometimes watching four shows in a single day. And even at the age of 11, she knew her future would lay in films.
It was 1950, and a young Sophia appeared as a contestant in the Miss Eleganza beauty contest in Rome. As though a ploy by Cupid, Carlo — a renowned Italian film producer — was one of the competition judges, and from the moment she stepped on the stage, he could not take his eyes off of her . . .
“I knew immediately she was someone remarkable. Something played off her that gave her a kind of illumination.”
Despite there being an immediate sizzling chemistry between the two, Ponti was previously married, and despite being separated from his wife, the circumstances put a halt to their romance: “To Sofia it was just unthinkable to be the ‘other’ woman in Ponti’s life, especially after the very strict and conservative upbringing she had as a child about the sanctity of a marriage.” Carlo Ponti never the less took her under his wing, becoming her talent agent, and changing her name from Sofia Scicolone [the name of the father who was never there for her] to Sofia Loren.
Above, from the film, Ieri, Oggi, Domani, 1963
Over the next four years, with the help of Carlo, Sophia appeared in an astounding thirty films, and it was during this period that the pair grew closer and closer, becoming nearly inseparable. After four years of companionship, Carlo finally brought the now 20 year old Sophia a diamond ring.
Madly in love with one another, the pair would not believe the naysayers and critics who said their marriage would not work, simply because of their difference in age. Ignoring all denigration, they married anyway, on September 17, 1957 in a simple, yet hopelessly romantic, secret ceremony, then celebrated that night with a dinner in their private bungalow.
One month later, still very much in their honeymoon-phase, they could not believe what they were hearing when Carlo was charged with bigamy! — the Catholic Church would not recognise Carlo’s divorce from his previous wife all those years ago, and stated that Carlo and Sophia’s marriage was not legal. The pair tried in vain to fight the law, but were terrorized by the threat of excommunication.
“I was being threatened with excommunication, with the everlasting fire, and for what reason? I had fallen in love with a man whose own marriage had ended long before. I wanted to be his wife and have his children. We had done the best the law would allow to make it official, but they were calling us public sinners. We should have been taking a honeymoon, but all I remember is weeping for hours.” —Sophia Loren
What ensued were many years of fighting the law in courtroom after courtroom, but alas, they could not win. They had no choice but to annul their marriage in 1962. Their love was still as strong as ever, and while marriage to some may simple be ‘a piece of paper’ — to Sophia, it meant everything. She had done nothing wrong and simply wanted to marry the love of her life — to have their union legally recognised . . .
The years went by, and they were still not permitted to marry. Finally, after reaching a remarkable agreement with Carlo’s first wife, the pair were forced to give up their Italian citizenship, choosing to move to France, and after becoming French citizens, Carlo was legally able to seek a divorce and remarry.
Above & below, the couple’s Roman villa — when they married in 1975, Carlo promised Sophia “the most beautiful house in the world” [more photos here]
It was the 9th of April, 1966 that Sophia Loren & Carlo Ponti were pronounced husband and wife by the Mayor of Sevres. A remarkably simple ceremony, but no less meaningful as they finally had what they had so desired, for what felt like an eternity.
Above, Sophia at dinner with film producer husband, Carlo, at the Oscars, after winner an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Two Women, April 1962
A seemingly unlikely pair, as time passed, their love only continued to deepen and flourish, just as they would have continuing successes in their careers in film & television. Proving every critic and detractor wrong, the pair had two sons, a hopelessly glamorous life, and happiness.
The couple eventually moved from France to Geneva, Switzerland, where they lived quietly and happily. It was the New Year of 2007, and Carlo, having trouble breathing, was rushed to hospital. He was now 94 years old, and Sophia & Carlo’s relationship had spanned an amazing 50 years. Carlo remained in hospital for 10 days, fighting, but eventually passed away on the 10th of January 2007. Sophia had not left his side for the entire 10 days.
“I have done everything for love of Sophia, I have always believed in her.”
Heartbroken and inconsolable, Sophia had lost the only man she had ever loved.
Years later when asked in an interview if she would ever marry again, Sophia replied:
“No, never again. It would be impossible to love anyone else.”