Incendiary, luscious, brazen, Sophia Loren, now 80, has long reigned as a screen goddess, playing opposite leading men from Marlon Brando to Daniel Day-Lewis. But as the actress's memoir, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (Atria), details, her life hasn't been all sex and spumoni. Born in a hospital for unwed mothers and raised in a war-ravaged town near Naples, Sofia Scicolone was at times reduced to begging for food. For her first audition, she wore a dress her grandmother made from pink taffeta curtains. Yet through a combination of talent, grit and one of the luckiest gene pools ever, she became a star of epic proportions. Working with top directors from around the world—Vittorio De Sica, George Cukor, and Lina Wertmüller among them—she went on to win numerous best-actress awards in Italy and, in 1962, an Academy Award for her role in Two Women.

The book is filled with tantalizing tidbits. We learn that her mother's beauty was considered on par with Greta Garbo's, but her life was a disaster. Loren's leading men often found her irresistible: Omar Sharif confessed to fantasizing about her naked so many times that when he saw her strip in a film, it felt to him like old news; Marcello Mastrioanni let out "a coyote howl of love" watching her disrobe on set—eating it up "like a greedy child." Cary Grant proposed marriage. Loren was also friendly with many of the biggest women stars of the day and provides lots of "you were there" moments. She admired the gamine Audrey Hepburn but found her wanting in one category. At a luncheon, Hepburn once served Loren "a leaf of lettuce, a curl of fresh cheese topped by a smidgen of raspberry compote." Hepburn ate it, declared she had eaten too much, and got up from the table. Loren, "dying of hunger," dashed home and devoured a sandwich.

The lively gossip and movie trivia notwithstanding, the memoir is most striking for its introspection, for how frankly Loren sizes herself up, even dissecting her own allure: "I'd always felt beautiful, but it was a restless kind of beauty, that had never been enough in itself. And beauty can turn into a drawback if you attach too much importance to it. It trips you up when you least expect it. It makes you soar higher, and then suddenly it lets you go and you tumble...." Sophia Loren is not only gorgeous, she is indomitable—no tumble ever kept her down for long. It's her rich life that may be her finest work.

The Essential Sophia

Treat yourself to a mini Loren film fest starting with this trio:
  • Desire Under the Elms, 1958
  • Two Women, 1960
  • Arabesque, 1966

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