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

Sophia Loren, 81, arrives at the Giorgio Armani show during the Milan Fashion Week Spring/Summer in September 2015.
Sophia Loren, 81, arrives at the Giorgio Armani show during the Milan Fashion Week Spring/Summer in September 2015.
Published March 24, 2016

Fans can thank Sophia Loren's dear friend Cary Grant for an evening with the Academy Award winner, one of Hollywood's iconic beauties.

On his last day alive in 1986, Grant was in a Davenport, Iowa, theater, readying for that evening's performance as himself.

A cerebral hemorrhage felled the matinee idol, soon after describing to Loren his latest career move.

Related: The romantic life of Sophia Loren, told through photos

"He said, 'I'm not doing a film now; I'm doing questions and answers,' " Loren, 81, said recently by telephone from her Swiss estate, her accented verve still mambo Italiano.

"I said, 'What? What is this questions and answers?' "

Grant explained that he would recount his illustrious career to audiences, replying to their curiosity about him.

"I was not very much keen about it," Loren said. "Sometimes the English does not come easy for me. I didn't know really exactly how would I feel if I would be in his place, these questions and answers.

"Then I started to think about it, and about three years ago someone asked. Ahh, questions and answers. Okay, let's do it."

Loren's current tour is her first in the United States. She was thrilled to learn that Grant appeared in 1984 at Ruth Eckerd Hall, where she'll be April 1.

"Oh, life is beautiful," she cooed. "Life is very long and there are many, many things that one can talk about. It's beautiful, very beautiful."

Full disclosures: Reading Loren's comments isn't as alluring as hearing her speak them. Also, our conversation served as an introduction since I'm moderating Friday's event.

An Evening With Sophia Loren can only scratch the surface of a life begun in wartime poverty and continuing with international celebrity elegance. A life later mirrored by Loren's art, whether the tragedy of Two Women, the exuberance of strip-teasing Marcello Mastroianni (twice) and every facet in between.

Loren's triumphs, scandals and heartache are the essence of Hollywood stardom. She was the first, and still best for many, in so many ways: first fantasy, first fashion icon, first must-read tabloid topic. Desired by millions over decades, Loren remains faithful to one, her late husband Carlo Ponti, the movie producer who discovered her.

Although, Grant tried his best to steal her away.

One of Loren's first English language movies was 1957's The Pride and the Passion, starring Grant and Frank Sinatra. Grant and Loren initiated an affair that cooled after production, and a friendship that survived Grant's jealousy.

"We had a very nice, friendly relationship," Loren said. "But I was 23 (and) he was much, much older than me.

"I was always looking for happiness, for a kind of life where I didn't have any bad thoughts or bad things to do. With Cary, I always had a wonderful relationship even later on."

Over 20 minutes, Loren touched upon several topics we'll discuss, none more candidly than how growing up poor in World War II Italy impacted her career.

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"I was in war," she said, "and when you are a very young child in a war you see the bombing around you, the hunger, and you see people that are not happy. You see this with your own eyes. It's something that you will never forget.

"We talk now and just to talk about it, it moves me, it gets me like it just happened yesterday. How can you forget this type of thing? It's just impossible."

Loren paused, then added with inarguable class:

"I have to be careful with you because I'm going to be very moved and I have to think about that."

Assured that it was okay, she politely replied: "No, no it isn't."

Described by her representative as "shy" with "a playful side," Loren is still getting used to discussing a past so many know, so well.

"In Italy we don't do these kind of things," Loren said. "(Fans) just look at television. They see the stars on television.

"But I think it's very good to have this kind of rapport with the public, if you have a very long career."

Few have been longer, none more romantic than Sophia Loren's.

Contact Steve Persall at or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.