Born in a charity ward for unwed mothers in Rome on September 20, 1934, Sofia Scicolone was taunted throughout her childhood for being illegitimate. Her mother and she lived under the weight of shame. In Catholic Italy, then, unwed motherhood was not just a scandal, but a sin.
She was so skinny her schoolmates called her Sofia Stuzzicadenti: “toothpick.”
A gawky, ugly, sullen girl until the age of 14, Sofia suddenly began to blossom. People turned their eyes to see: her presence commanded attention—everywhere. But the camera didn’t know what to make of her. The face has been described at times as vulpine, almost satanic, and those irregular features: her nose was too long, her hips too wide. She was advised to obtain a nose job and lose weight. She flat refused.
She did consent to a name change: to English “Sophia” and Swedish “Loren”
Sophia never studied the craft of acting; rather, she possessed a gift for portraying enormous empathy. A Canadian journalist once observed, “When she laughs on-screen, everyone laughs with her; when she cries on-screen, everyone cries for her.”
One need not like people, nor be adored by people, to succeed in the arts. But for the characters that are portrayed, one must always have enormous empathy. Obsession drives a tale, and one must possess a certain empathy to appreciate this.
The camera enjoyed a love affair with her: the cascading laugh, her provocative walk, the flaming passions, her great impatience and deep sorrows bordering on tragedy; her feel for life. And yet always, she comported herself with serene dignity. Glamorous sex appeal requires that one be carelessly daring.
Sophia was indifferent to convention. As may be seen among her glamour shots, she smokes, does not concern herself with shaving under the arms, and sometimes goes topless. When you are sassy, discriminating, and Italian, stand five feet, eight inches tall, and measure 38C-24-38, you may be indifferent to anything you like.
And now Catholic Italy swoons at her feet. And so too—the World.
God bless you, Toothpick!