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Sophia Loren

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Born Sofia Scicolone, on Sept. 20, 1934, in Rome. An illegitimate child, she grew up in the slums of Naples during wartime in dire poverty. Her mother, a frustrated actress, instilled starring aspirations in the skinny little Sofia (she was nicknamed Stechetto--the stick--at the time). Her first taste of glamour came at fourteen when she was crowned one of twelve "Princesses of the Sea" in a beauty contest--an honor for which she earned a railroad ticket to Rome, and 23,000 lira (about $35).

Sofia met producer and future husband Carlo Ponti while competing in another beauty contest. Though she placed second, Ponti gave her a screen test and he advanced her career in a succession of low-budget Italian productions. Sofia Lazzaro, as she was then known, became Sophia Loren in 1952. Sophia then came Hollywood. She signed a contract with Paramount for her first English-speaking role. Once on the set, she fell in love with her co-star Cary Grant.

Though she had been involved romantically with Carlo Ponti (he was married with two children) from the age of eighteen, Sophia had suffered through years of frustration while he attempted to obtain an annulment from the church. Loren and Ponti, 24 years her senior, were married in 1957, following his Mexican divorce from his estranged wife.

But the Italian law did not recognize the divorce and charged them with bigamy. They were forced to have their marriage annulled in 1962, and after four more years of frustration turned in their Italian passports and became citizens of France, where they were finally legally married in 1966.

Until 1999, Sophia was the only performer ever to win an Oscar for a foreign-language film. She received an honorary Oscar in 1980 for Lifetime Achievement. Even today, at 62, Sophia remains la forza - the earth mother of us all.

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