National treasure

From pinup to decorated thesp, Loren Lionized

ROME — Forget pasta, Prada threads, Vespas and Fiats; Italy’s most popular and enduring export is Sofia Scicolone, the smoldering Mediterranean beauty who grew up poor in the shadow of Vesuvius and blossomed into screen siren Sophia Loren.

Honored this year with the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion for career achievement, the 64-year-old star’s screen roles span almost half a century, from a bit part in Mervyn Le Roy’s “Quo Vadis” in 1949 to recent roles like the comely widow who keeps Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau on their toes in 1995’s “Grumpier Old Men.”

UNABLE TO TRAVEL

Loren was scheduled to receive her honor Sept. 3 but will be unable to attend due to her having been taken ill earlier this month. While the specific nature of Loren’s condition has not been revealed, Italian news reports say the actress has been ordered by doctors to rest for a period of 30 days.

Her husband, film producer Carlo Ponti, has indicated he probably will attend the Venice fest opening ceremony with the couple’s sons, Edoardo and Carlo Jr., to receive the award on Loren’s behalf.

Propelled from her early teens by her mother’s own frustrated acting ambitions, Loren first met Ponti — 24 years her senior — when she was 15 and he was judging one of the many beauty contests in which she was entered. He signed her to an exclusive contract, enrolled her in acting classes and began casting her in small roles while grooming her for a major film career.

Loren became a popular star in Italy within a few years with memorable roles in the early 1950s in Ettore Giannini’s “Carosello Napoletano,” Alessandro Blasetti’s “Anatomy of Love” and “Too Bad She’s Bad,” Mario Camerini’s “La Bella Mugnaia” and Vittorio De Sica’s “The Gold of Naples,” among others.

But while these films succeeded in establishing Loren’s screen persona as a shapely, sympathetic bombshell balancing natural humor and earthy sensuality, her talents were underutilized in the Hollywood movies that followed.

Loren’s U.S. films made from the late ’50s through 1960 include Stanley Kramer’s “The Pride and the Passion,” Jean Negulesco’s “The Boy and the Dolphin,” Delbert Mann’s “Desire Under the Elms,” Sidney Lumet’s “That Kind of Woman,” Michael Curtiz’s “A Breath of Scandal,” George Cukor’s “Heller in Pink Tights” and Martin Ritt’s “Black Orchid,” which earned her the Venice fest’s best actress award.

OSCAR TRIUMPH

It was back in Italy in 1960 that Loren landed one of her most acclaimed roles, in De Sica’s “Two Women.” For her powerful performance in the World War II drama, Loren received both the best actress Oscar — the one occasion when a leading actor statuette has gone to a thesp in a foreign-language role — and the Cannes Film Festival’s best actress trophy.

She worked with De Sica in six more features: “Bocaccio ’70,” “The Condemned of Altona,” “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” “Marriage Italian Style,” which earned her another Oscar nomination, “Sunflower” and “The Journey.”

The famous scene from Oscar-winner “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” in which Loren strips while frequent co-star Marcello Mastroianni howls his approval, was affectionately revisited by Robert Altman in his 1994 fashion-world pic “Pret-a-Porter (Ready-to-Wear).”

From the 1960s on, Loren began to divide her time between American and European productions, including Anthony Mann’s “El Cid” and “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” Anatole Litvak’s “Five Miles to Midnight,” Michael Anderson’s “Operation Crossbow,” Daniel Mann’s “Judith,” Stanley Donen’s “Arabesque” and Charles Chaplin’s “A Countess From Hong Kong,” co-starring with Marlon Brando.

She received wide acclaim for her role, again alongside Mastroianni, as the dowdy housewife in Ettore Scola’s 1977 drama “A Special Day,” which is the pic chosen by Loren for a tribute screening in Venice Sept. 3.

Her many international awards include a second Academy Award in 1991 for career achievement and a similar honor at the 1994 Berlin Film Festival.

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