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The romantic life of Sophia Loren, told through photos

Before she was Sophia Loren, the screen siren's stage name was Sofia Lazzaro, her beauty displayed in fotoromanzo, Italy's passionate photo-romance magazines.

These handheld soap operas, popularly known as fumetti, or "little smoke," resembled comic books with photographs, and they were practically a rite of passage for aspiring movie stars.

"It served to make you known," Loren wrote in her 2014 memoir, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, "and it also taught you how to act in front of the camera lens, how to respond to the director's orders, and to overcome your inhibitions at emoting."

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Related: Sophia Loren opens up about her childhood, movies and Cary Grant

In tribute to Loren's humble start to stardom, here's a portrait of her fame told in photos. Unless noted, Loren's comments are from her recent interview with the Tampa Bay Times. She will appear at Ruth Eckerd Hall to talk about her life on April 1.

Divertitevi! (Enjoy yourself!)

At Italy's famed Cinecitta studio, 16-year-old Sophia met actor-director Vittorio De Sica, who cast her in her breakout role in The Gold of Naples.

"We had a very nice interview. At the end he said: You know something? I'm going to talk to the producers. … I said okay, should I wait here or maybe go down(stairs)? I am not (knowing) what to do. He said no, no, just wait here. After a half an hour he came back and said … I have to give you good news: Tomorrow you leave for Naples. I said no, I have to talk with my mother. I cannot leave for Naples just like this."

Associated Press

Vittorio De Sica and Sophia Loren.

•  •  •

De Sica introduced Sophia to Marcello Mastroianni, with whom she co-starred nearly two dozen times, from 1954's Too Bad She's Bad to Robert Altman's Pret-a-Porter in 1994.

"So many movies. We were, I don't say alike. Marcello was a wonderful person (with) a great sense of humor that I adored. Simple, good actor, good feelings."

 

Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni in 1967’s “With Love … Sophia.”

•  •  •

In 1957, Hollywood beckoned Sophia, her first leading men including John Wayne (Legend of the Lost), Alan Ladd (Boy on a Dolphin) and Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra in The Pride and the Passion. Grant was smitten with Sophia, a brief romance ensued, and they remained affectionate friends until his death in 1986.

"After the film we parted and he went back to America, I went back to Italy. … He came to see me on the set of Two Women when I was doing it. But at the time my life was involved, beautifully involved with Carlo."

Getty Images (1958)

Sophia Loren snuggling up to Cary Grant in a scene from the 1958 film “Houseboat.”

•  •  •

Carlo Ponti remains the most important man in Sophia's life and career, her first producer, her only husband. They married in 1957 but Italian law didn't recognize Ponti's divorce from his first wife. An annulment of his marriage to Sophia enabled Ponti to avoid bigamy charges, and a French divorce from his first wife led to him remarrying Sophia in 1966.

Associated Press

Carlo Ponti and Sophia Loren in a restaurant in France in April 1966.

•  •  •

Sophia was welcomed to Hollywood with a star-studded dinner party, where bombshell Jayne Mansfield inspired this famous photograph.

"I'm staring at her nipples because I am afraid they are about to come onto my plate," Loren told Entertainment Weekly in 2014. "In my face you can see the fear. I'm so frightened that everything in her dress is going to blow — BOOM! — and spill all over the table."

Popperfoto/Getty Images

Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield are pictured at a dinner party in Hollywood in April 1957.

•  •  •

Two Women made Sophia the first Academy Award winner for a foreign language performance. Sophia stayed home in Italy, thinking she had no chance to win.

"I said Carlo, I don't think I want to go to America just to sit in the public and see what is happening. The emotion is going to be too big for me. He said okay, let's stay home. At 6 o'clock in the morning because there was the difference of hours, Cary Grant called me and said Sophia, you won, you won!"

Times files

Sophia Loren holds the Oscar she won for her performance in “Two Women.”

•  •  •

Food has always been important to Sophia, from childhood poverty to writing the cookbooks In the Kitchen With Love and Recipes and Memories.

"Being Neapolitan and having my first film done in Naples with Vittorio De Sica, I've always been fond of the pizza," she said.

Times files

A photo from Sophia Loren’s 1971 cookbook.

•  •  •

Always a model of elegance, Sophia is one of the earliest fashion-branding celebrities, advertising her namesake perfume in 1980.

"In our world here (in Europe), actresses didn't do that then," she said. "The world has changed a lot."

 

Sophia Loren is shown in a 1983 ad for her signature fragrance.

•  •  •

After years of unsuccessfully trying to start a family, Sophia gave birth to Carlo Jr. in 1968, and Edoardo four years later.

"I had a very hard time in having my children," she said. "I couldn't get pregnant. The doctor said you will never be a mother, you'd better forget it."

Associated Press (1968)

Sophia Loren, husband Carlo Ponti and newborn son Carlo Jr. at Geneva State Hospital Clinic, Dec. 31, 1968.

•  •  •

Through the years, Sophia's star is undimmed, even as her screen appearances lessened. One celebrated exception is 1995's Grumpier Old Men, pairing her with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Another is a luminous 2009 cameo as Daniel Day-Lewis' mother in Nine.

Associated Press (1995)

Walter Matthau, left, Jack Lemmon, right and Sophia Loren are shown in character for the film “Grumpier Old Men.”

•  •  •

Sophia's love affair with her husband ended in 2007 when Ponti died at age 94. She recalls:

"He had in his eyes a gentleness, a strength, that sometimes I miss now when I find myself in complicated situations."

Associated Press (2007)

Sophia Loren, accompanied by her sons Edoardo, left, and Carlo Jr., leave the San Martino church in Magenta, near Milan, Italy, after the Jan. 12, 2007, funeral of her husband Carlo Ponti.

•  •  •

Today at 81, Sophia cherishes her four grandchildren, "the most beautiful babies in the world, intelligent, smart, wonderful." Recently she starred in a Dolce & Gabbana fragrance film, and she shares her glamorous life on tour.

Still essential. Still Sophia.

JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK | AFP/Getty Images

Sophia Loren looks on after receiving a tribute during the Seventh Lumiere Film Festival opening ceremony on Oct. 13, 2015, in Lyon, France.

•  •  •

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