BORN SOFIA VILLANI SCICOLONE, the Neapolitan screen siren had gone by names both adoring and taunting, before she would become a household name for decades to come. As a young girl, Sofia was so skinny that kids in town called her "Stuzzicadente" or "toothpick" in English. While name-calling could have been enough to embitter her childhood, it didn't stop there for Sofia, living through the Second World War and extreme poverty, on top of being an illegitimate daughter in a conservative Catholic town.
In an interview for People magazine in 1979, Sofia spoke of the horrors she witnessed during the bomb raids, as well as of the pain and humiliation her father had caused, refusing to marry Sofia's mother and depriving both Sofia and her sister of his name.
"I saw my father only six times in my life." She expressed in the interview. "Growing up in a small town like Pozzuoli, it was the dream of my life to have a father. That is why I sought him everywhere — I made my best films with actors and directors like him and I married an older man like him."
Bleak times slowly began to brighten up after the war. By her teens, Sofia had outgrown her emaciated frame and childhood nickname, blossoming into a buxom beauty the boys found hard to ignore. Starting her career as Sofia Lazzaro, she found her name still the butt of jokes, though this time in her favor. "Lazzaro", people said of her screen name, was because Sofia was so beautiful, she could raise Lazzaro, or Lazarus, from the dead.
It was at a second beauty pageant she entered, that Sofia met producer Carlo Ponti: the man who would become to her, both manager and husband, as well as the father figure she always sought. Carlo was responsible for discovering the young actress, changing "Sofia" to "Sophia" and "Lazzaro" to "Loren", inspired by the name of Swedish actress Märta Torén.
As Sophia Loren, the former stuzzicadente went on to becoming both a sex symbol and acclaimed actress, earning 24 nominations and winning over 50 awards, including the first-ever Oscar for a foreign-language performance. Celebrating her 79th birthday today, the actress has come a long way from name changes and beauty pageants. And with no signs of stopping.
Starring in La voce umana by director son Edoardo Ponti, Sophia Loren returns to the big screen in 2014, for her first leading role in over a decade.
I was blessed with a sense of my own destiny. I have never sold myself short. I have never judged myself by other people's standards. I have always expected a great deal of myself, and if I fail, I fail myself.Sophia Loren print, 1950s. From fineartamerica.com
-Sophia Loren, Sophia, Living and Loving: Her Own Story