In these early films, Sophia was credited as "Sofia Lazzaro" because people joked her beauty could raise Lazzarus from the dead.
Sophia Loren was born as Sofia Scicolone at the Clinica Regina Margherita in Rome, Italy, on September 20, 1934. Her father, Riccardo Scicolone, was married to another woman and refused to marry her mother, Romilda Villani, despite the fact that she was the mother of his two children (Sophia and her younger sister Maria Scicolone). Growing up in the slums of Pozzuoli during the second World War without any support from her father, she experienced much sadness in her childhood. Her life took an unexpected turn for the best when, at age 14, she entered into a beauty contest where she placed as one of the finalists. It was there that Sophia caught the attention of film producer Carlo Ponti, some 22 years her senior, whom she eventually married in 1966 once he finally obtained a divorce from his first wife. Perhaps he was the only father figure she ever had. Under his guidance, Sophia was put under contract and appeared as an extra in ten films beginning in 1950, before working her way up to supporting roles. In these early films, she was credited as "Sofia Lazzaro" because people joked her beauty could raise Lazzarus from the dead.
By her late teens, Sophia was playing lead roles in many Italian features such as La favorita (1953) and Aida (1953). In 1957, she embarked on a successful acting career in the United States, starring in Boy on a Dolphin (1957), Legend of the Lost (1957), andThe Pride and the Passion (1957) that year. She had a short-lived but much-publicized fling with co-star Cary Grant, who was 31 years her senior. She was only 22 while he was 53, and she rejected a marriage proposal from him. They were paired together a second time in the family-friendly romantic comedy Houseboat (1958). While under contract to Paramount Pictures, Sophia starred in Desire Under the Elms (1958), The Key (1958),The Black Orchid (1958), It Started in Naples (1960), Heller in Pink Tights (1960), A Breath of Scandal (1960), and The Millionairess (1960) before returning to Italy to star inTwo Women (1960). The film was a period piece about a woman living in war-torn Italy who is raped while trying to protect her young daughter. Originally cast in the role of the daughter, Sophia fought against type and was re-cast as the mother, proving herself as a genuine actress and displaying her lack of vanity. This performance received international acclaim and was honored with an Academy Award for Best Actress.
From the eighties onward, Sophia's appearances on the big screen came few and far between. She preferred to spend the majority of her time raising sons Carlo Jr. (born 1969) and Eduardo (born 1973). Her only acting credits during the decade were five television films, beginning with Sophia Loren: Her Own Story (1980), a biopic in which she portrayed herself and her mother. She ventured into other areas of business and became the first actress to launch her own fragrance and design of eye wear. In 1982 she voluntarily spent nineteen days in jail for tax evasion.
In 1991 Sophia received an Honorary Academy Award for her body of work, and was declared "one of world cinema's greatest treasures."