Friday, May 3, 2013

Sophia, Living and Loving by A Hotchner

Continuing my trend of reading female star (auto)biographies, I read Sophia Loren’s autobiography, Sophia, Living and Loving. I recently watched Houseboat, which stars Loren and Cary Grant, and I was reminded how really gorgeous both of those actors were. I knew that they had had a torrid love affair while filming The Pride and the Passion (it’s a terrible movie – don’t watch it) and I am a bit ashamed to admit that my desire to read this book was motivated by a salacious curiosity! Which I’m sure is something the publishers were counting on when they published this book.

The story opens like a standard ‘70s film star biography with an anecdote that determines which parent the film star blames for the childhood trauma that shapes the rest of her life. It is her father, who impregnated her mother but refused to marry her, condemning her to a life of scandal and shame. Sophia (born Sofia Scicolone) grew up in a small poor Italian town called Pozzuoli, near Naples. As there was a munitions factory in Pozzuoli, the town got bombed by the Allieds during the war so Sophie and her family were forced to evacuate to Naples, where they lived in near starvation until the end of the war. I know this exposes my ignorance but I knew very little about the Italian experience of World War II and I found Loren’s story about Four Days of Naples touching and sad.

After the war, they moved back to Pozzuoli, where Loren grew up, filled in and started entering beauty contests. After wining wallpaper and a trip to Rome in one contest (can you imagine if America’s Next Top Model contestants were given wallpaper as a prize? Too funny) she moved to Rome and started working as a model and an actress. The rest, as they say, is history and Sophia went on to have a busy life as an actress, becoming the first woman to win an Academy Award for a non-English role (in 1961 for Two Women) and as a concubine, as officially designated by the Catholic Church for firstly being in a relation with a married man (Carlo Ponti) and then marrying him and bearing his children.
I am a bit confused at the writing of Sophia – it has an author listed (A. Hotchner) but is written in the first person. It also features short first-person anecdotes about Sophia from the people close to her, like her husband and her sister. I’m not sure if it is A Hotchner’s imaginings of what Sophia would say or if s/he has written up what Sophia told her/him? And the same with the anecdotes?  I think in one her husband admits to cheating on her, which I did find amazing because she looked like this:

But who really knows what goes on in another person’s relationship?

Despite this confusion, I did enjoy this book. Loren has done some amazing things, like working with Marlon Brando in a Charlie Chaplin-directed film – is that not the bizarrest combination ever? She was the centre of a number of scandals internationally, most famously with the Carlo Ponti-bigamy thing but also for wearing a crown when meeting Queen Elizabeth. She has a nice Italian-mamma-esque writing style (or Hotchner does, I’m not sure) and reading about her interesting life was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon.

I give it three stars (downgraded from four because of the unclear authorage).

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