On May 4, The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences hosted a gala tribute to Sophia Loren, who will be 77 this September. The revelation in the film clips was not her beauty, range, bravura dramatic acting in such films as Vittorio De Sica's Two Women (the first Oscar win for a non-English speaking role) or iconic American roles, dancing in gold lame with Cary Grant in Houseboat (1958) or making Gregory Peck's jaw drop in Arabesque (1966)--both men were clearly besotted--but her comic sexy romps with Marcello Mastroianni in movies like De Sica's 1964 Marriage Italian Style, for which she was also nominated. Her strip scene with Mastroianni sent temperatures soaring in the theatre. They made 12 films together.
Video clips of this glorious actress are below.
Tall and imposing in a low-cut form-fitting black sequined gown, her chestnut hair wrapped in an elegant chignon, Loren had asked for old friend Billy Crystal to host the evening. Like John Travolta and most of the other American men that night, Crystal insisted on rambling on about her beauty, curves, body etc.
Crystal was a more delightful host than interviewer, reminding the crowd of how much he'd be welcomed back for a ninth stint as Oscar host. "A decaf espresso," suggested Crystal after a video of Roberto Begnini singing his own opera aria "Sophia Loren." Crystal did bring out the giggly comedienne in Loren, who seemed to enjoy cracking up and being diverted. How many of these interviews has she given over the years?
Most of the video tribute clips were dull, including Tom Hanks, but her frequent director Lena Wertmuller (one of the few women to be nominated for a directing Oscar) cut to the chase, reminding that Loren's beauty acted like a filter: "She was also great actress." Rob Marshall said that the day he shot the scene with Loren and Daniel Day Lewis "was most magic day I'll ever have making films."
Loren grew up poor outside Naples, and 50 years ago visited Rome at age 15 with her grandmother, who reluctantly agreed to stay when Loren refused to get back on the train home. Producer Carlo Ponti discovered her, and when she approached Vittorio De Sica while visiting Cinecitta, he promptly cast her in Gold of Naples in 1954. They went on to make 14 films together.
Claudio Eduardo Ponti choked up as he said: "You deserve every single ounce of this tribute tonight." Loren also lost it when she thanked his father for making her believe in herself when nobody else would. She told the story of how Anna Magnani didn't want to play the mother role with Loren as the daughter in Two Women. So Loren got to be the mom, with a 14-year-old actress as the daughter. "Thank you Anna Magnani," she said.
As an older actress, Loren admits that she's never content: she still seeks great roles, and wants to find just "the right thing, in the right moment... I'm sick when I don't work for year or two. There's no pleasure in working if you don't do the things you want to do."
[Photos: Billy Crystal and Sophia Loren on Samuel Goldwyn Theatre stage. Photo by Matt Petit, ©A.M.P.A.S. With Richard Avedon - © Davide Secchiaroli, Red Hat - CMG Worldwide]