Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
My Life : Sophia Loren
352 page Memoir 2014
Hardcover: 352 pages
Published in USA by Atria Books November 4, 2014
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
Difficult Early Life
In the first 42 pages of this memoir of her life, Sophia Loren (born Sofia Villani Scicolone) recounts her arrival at the ward for unwed mothers at the Clinica Santa Margherita in Rome, the city where her mother Romilda had gone as part of an effort to pressure Sophia's father, Riccardo Scicolone, to make good on promises of marriage he would repeatedly fail to live up to, finally vanishing soon after Sophia's birth, leaving the mother and infant on their own in a rented room in a boarding house.
Sophia would not actually see her father until the age of five, when the man would briefly appear because Sophia (by then living with the nickname "Toothpick" on account of her thinness) was reported as being quite ill, and he brought along a toy car as a gift to cheer her up. Sophia recounts in the pages of this autobiography of not being able to look her mysterious father in the face, but that to this day she still carries the toy car in her heart.
Poverty and frequent bouts of near starvation (and violence) follow as turmoil spreads across Italy, particularly because of events of World War II. The war and instability of the country further impoverish Sophia's family where she and her mother Romilda live with her grandparents in Pozzuoli.
The hardship and the desperation of being poor creates a resourcefulness and determination to survive and succeed that becomes the hallmark of her career through Italian photo-comic books ("photoromanzi" where she gets her start as an actress in the photographed frames of simple romance stories), and then a career in Italian beauty pageants ("I was always coming in second place" she recounts), and then finally Italian film production.
Carlo Ponti appears on page 41, the man twenty years older (he is 39 when they meet) who takes one look at her at a Rome beauty pageant in 1951 and offers to give her a screen test at his production facilities where he had already produced films and worked with Gina Lollobrigida, among other Italian actresses. Ponti, and his invitation to the world of film, changes her life completely.
Loren keeps her appointment for the screen test, and is shocked at how frankly they treat her to produce the short film which consists of her stalking back and forth and smoking (which at that point, she writes, she had never actually done before.)
Loren writes that the test was a "disaster" and so are the other short tests they shoot, until finally a cameraman suggests changing the lighting to shorten the shadows beneath her prominent nose. When Carlo Ponti begins to politely suggest surgery to altar her nose, Loren erupts, saying there is no way she would change anything on her face, and if that is necessary for working with his company, she will leave for Pozzuoli immediately.
During this difficult introduction to film making, Loren says that on the inside she feels vulnerability, shyness and a "bashfulness that stings," but is determined to fight to retain what she values about herself. She also says this is apparently part of what Ponti values about her.
Sophia Loren's Films
Loren's film career starts to pick up speed and film titles start flashing by on the pages of this book, but it is easy to tell where Loren's real interest lies, as she keeps returning to the life of her family. Her younger sister Maria suffers from the label of illegitimacy as their father Riccardo has refused to recognize Maria even as a natural child (Loren's mother and father would frequently reunite only to break-up again), and when Riccardo suddenly appears again it is to file a complaint with the police that Sophia, Maria and their mother Romilda ("Mammina") are operating a brothel in Rome, and Sophia is forced to demonstrate that her income actually comes from film work.
Loren generously recounts stories about her film productions. She works with John Wayne on Legend of the Lost, and she says that he treated her like she was a little girl, almost as if she were a daughter. That co-star Rossano Brazzi, who she says was obsessed with his own good looks, nonetheless saved her life because he found her unconscious when she had accidentally knocked herself out with the toxic fumes from the small gas stove in her hotel room.
She passes over other films quickly with only a single line, (El Cid "A super-western"), Madame, etc).
There's a great deal about Cary Grant, Marcello Mastroianni, De Sica, Fellini, Peter Sellers, Paul Newman and other personalities of American and Italian film production. Her meeting Jayne Mansfield (and the famous photos of that meeting) are explained.
Although Loren mostly addresses the job of being beautiful on film as just that, a job, there is an interesting aside in the book concerning the death of Marilyn Monroe which shows up the limitations of this volume.
Monroe isn't mentioned as a person in the book until page 164 when Carlo Ponti telephones Loren to tell her of Monroe's death from barbiturates. Loren says that this news sends a shiver up her spine, and Loren's thoughts about Monroe ("It wasn't enough to be the most beautiful woman in the world to be happy") show Loren's identification with Monroe, and that the two shared in some fashion a similar position in filmdom, and in the world of celebrity, and Monroe's death stood out as a warning. But besides this one page, the reader would have no sense of the importance of Monroe to Loren as either a person or as just a symbol of something about Hollywood stardom. Perhaps 352 pages simply isn't enough to cover the details of a career as long as Loren's, or the thoughts and feelings that happened during that time. Monroe appears on this one page then vanishes.
Loren on Loren
Loren's efforts to make good films is emphasized by her professional attitude toward the work itself and her sense of evaluating the quality of a film and what it is supposed to do for the audience. She will say about the pre-production on a big-budget film ("the usual Hollywood mess") as a way of communicating her impatience with the inefficiency and wastefulness of much in film production.
Throughout the tale is the running narration of what is happening in Loren's life, the appearance of children, and the activities of her mother and sister, the two people who seem to stand out as the most important to her. She talks about her stint in Italian prison for tax evasion (a case she eventually won in the courts), and how she used a diary to record her thoughts and words over many years, a place she could talk to herself uncensored. She eventually burns the diary out of fear of its contents being known.
The book is written in a style that is simple and direct, and there is not a great deal of self-examination or analysis, many statements are made without explanations, the sentences meaning whatever they mean and standing alone.
For example on the death of her father:
"...One morning, my sister called me while I was on the set. She was in tears. "Sofi, hurry, Papa's not well."
I rushed to the hospital to find the women in his life standing around his bed. Mammina, Maria, and his latest companion, a woman from Germany. I went up to him and squeezed his hand. He stared at me. I stared back, paralyzed. I smiled at him then moved toward the window where Maria was weeping. I looked out. Seen from up there the cars, people, bicycles looked like nothing more than toys. I tried to cry, too, but I couldn't."
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Sophia Loren's Recipes and Memories
The Films of Sophia Loren - 256 Pages - Amazon.com
Sophia Loren: A Biography - Simon and Shuster - Amazon.com
Original page 2009. Updated Sept 2013.
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