Sorry for the break in transmission. I’ve been away for half-term but more about that in another post.
I did my usual round up of magazines before I went and for any 1950s & 60s Hollywood aficionados, Vanity Fair is a great purchase this month, featuring interviews with both Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot? What more can one vintage lover want?
I was struck by Sophia Loren’s story. Its’ a very human one – not a typical rags to riches fairytale.
Without rehashing the whole article, I wanted to highlight Sophia’s rise to fame, her love affair with Cary Grant and why she remained intent on legitimizing her relationship with Carlo Ponti.
Sophia was brought up in Naples, at a time of starvation, bombing and fear. Sophia’s mother had two daughters from Riccardo Scicolone, both illegitimate and whilst Sophia was given her father’s name, Riccardo refused to give her sister his name and ultimately refused to marry Sophia’s mother.
This association with marriage and illegitimacy would preoccupy Sophia forever and influence many of her life choices.
At 14, Sophia had become a beauty and boy did she turn heads, just look at those eyes! Sophia won a ticket to Rome in a beauty competition and a one way ticket to stardom.
Sophia became head of the family.
Her first paycheck from the film industry bought respectability for her sister. She bought her father’s name for Maria, for one million lire. Little did Sophia know that this search for a family name would become an ongoing goal – even more so when she met her future husband Carlo Ponti.
Sophia became the lover of 38 year old Carlo when she was just 19. Carlo was a father of two and a movie producer. They met in secret and Sophia’s mother fretted that her daughter was about to follow in her footsteps.
By the time Sophia was cast in The Gold of Naples, Carlo was in charge of Sophia’s career and they had become in Sophia words, “father-daughter, man-woman, producer-actress, friends and conspirators’.
He couldn’t, however, in a strictly Catholic Italy, get a divorce.
Sophia learnt English, under Carlo’s advice, and in a sudden twist of fate, found herself cast in a movie called The Pride and the Passion, with Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra.
Grant had originally wanted Ava Gardener for the part but once filming started, soon fell deeply in love with Sophia. How could he not?
Sophia fell for Grant too. How could she not?
She was still, however, involved with Ponti.
For Grant this was a big love and he desperately wanted to marry Sophia, having had three previous unhappy marriages.
He wrote to Sophia whilst waiting for her in America saying, “ It is probably, the most important year of your life. Spend it thoughtfully, dearface……..In these next months you will be judged and remembered all your life”.
He asked her to wear two gold bracelets saying, “They will keep you safe”.
By now I would have been racing to the boat! Not for Sophia, however.
By the time Sophia and Cary Grant made Houseboat, Ponti realized he needed to do something or Grant would waltz away with Sophia in his arms. The chemistry on set sizzled and Cary was sending flowers to Sophia every day.
In the Dress Doctor, Edith Head, costume designer for the Houseboat, writes about a gold dress that was made for Sophia. It was impregnated with 14 carat gold.
It was very evident that Sophia was having an affair with Cary and with the two of them in constant contact, the gold transported itself onto Cary, making him look like a “Sir Galahad in shining armour“. Edith had to contact the studio and a solution was found in the form of a spray which was used on Sophia while wearing the dress. Edith’s outfits proved Sophia’s philosophy that “a woman’s dress should be like a barbed wire fence, serving it’s purpose without obstructing the views”.
Just before the final filming of (ironically) the wedding scene, Sophia read in the newspapers that Carlo has secured his divorce in a Mexican courtroom. It was as much as a surprise for Carlo as for Sophia! Two lawyers had stood in for Sophia and Ponti and they were now officially married, by proxy.
Sophia explained, “At the time I didn’t have any regrets. I was in love with my husband. I was very affectionate with Cary, but I was 23 years old. I couldn’t make up my mind to marry a giant from another country and leave Carlo. I didn’t feel like making the big step”.
Ever the gentleman, Cary Grant congratulated Sophia and kissed her on both cheeks. What a man!
Trouble had only just started for Sophia however and whilst this was the end of Sophia and Cary – it was not the end to the saga surrounding the legitimacy of her marriage with Carlo.
But I shall stop there – for the rest of the story take a look at Vanity Fair – or this post will turn into a book!
As a style icon, Sophia is (still) in a league of her own. Just take a look at Dolce and Gabanna’s current SS12 campaign with Monica Bellucci. That sultry latin look has been recreated for many a photoshoot and continue to do so – it just looks stunning in print.
But there is only one Sophia, and whilst I’m not one for schmaltz on my blog, her story does testify that fame and fortune do not bring you everything you want. Sometimes the things we take for granted are, for others, aspirations.
The sermon for today!
Text adapted from Vanity Fair and Edith Head; Jay Jorgensen.
Images: Feature Image, Pen on Acetate by me, stills and publicity shots from The Gold of Naples, The Pride and the Passion and Housboat, Cannes images from Edward Quinn, Linda Evangelista for Vogue by Stephen Meisel