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”Two Women” and More: A diva”s remarkable story

By Vikas Datta IANS |

Title: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life
Author: Sophia Loren; Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK

Pages: 352
Special Indian price: Rs.699

It was a friendly and perceptive policeman who, seeing a confused teenager before him, may have helped launch a glorious career. It was Rome, 1951, and the girl, searching for a leading film production firm but finding the address she had been given was of a police station, was wondering if she had been duped. The policeman then told her the "Ponti-De Laurentiis place" was next door and put Sofia Lazzaro on the path that saw her become one of the world’s best-known and accomplished actresses. We know her as Sophia Loren.

Born Sofia Villani Scicolone Sep 20, 1934, in a small town near Naples, Sophia Loren’s story is a Cinderella-like legend – from a childhood where deprivation and hunger were not far off to the glittering film career where she worked with household names and she tells of her life with candour, grace and characteristic aplomb in her first autobiography – coming at the age of 80.

It makes no effort to hide her scarcely enviable childhood where living with her maternal grandparents (who she thought were her parents due to her absentee ‘father’) and the family teetering on the brink of impoverishment and danger as the Second World War raged up the Italian peninsula – she herself got hit by shrapnel in a bombing raid but a kindly American army surgeon made the scar disappear.

At that time she gave no indication of the alluring woman she would become – getting nicknamed Toothpick at school due to her scrawny build and dark colour before blossoming out as a teenager.

It was a tortuous way ahead – beauty pageants (with a home-made dress made out of the curtains), ‘fotoromanzis’ (the adored Italian photo-romances), uncredited film appearances (including "Quo Vadis" where director Mervyn LeRoy was impressed with her despite her naïve but enthusiastic "yes" to all questions including what her name was), till that fateful search for that production house of Carlo Ponti and Dino de Laurentiis. Then there was no looking back.

During her career (which spans six-and-a-half decades of her total eight – and still shows no sign of ending), she has worked with the Who’s Who of the film industry and she gives insightful accounts of Ponti (who despite being two decades older became her husband), Cary Grant (who wanted to marry her), director Vittorio De Sica, Marcello Mastroianni, Frank Sinatra, Clark Gable, Gregory Peck, Jayne Mansfield (who suffered a "wardrobe malfunction" next to her at one Hollywood bash), Charles "Charlie" Chaplin, Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Omar Sharif (their mothers held an eggplant cooking contest), Audrey Hepburn (whose ‘lunch’ explains how she maintained the famous waif-like figure) and many more.

There may be nothing in this book which may not be known or seem a revelation, but the way Sophia Loren tells it – as a Christmas Eve evocation of memories on finding a box of old photos and letters – makes it seem a conversation carried out with the reader.

Film stars have so much written about them that their lives are virtually public knowledge. But how far trusty are these reports about those experienced in working in a make-believe world, donning a range of personas and moreover enjoying services of an extensive publicity machine. It is then we wait for their memoirs, hoping to get a glimpse of the person once the makeup is off.

This is one such work.

(06.01.2015 – Vikas Datta is an Associate Editor at IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])