“When I think back on my life, sometimes I’m surprised that it’s actually all true. I say to myself, one morning, I’ll wake up and find out that it’s all just a dream.”
With these words, Italian superstar Sophia Loren, the bombshell of classic films including Two Women and Marriage, Italian Style, sets the tone of her delightful 2014 memoir, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life. Using the charming conceit of going through a box of keepsakes during the Christmas season, she constantly refers to her life as a fairy tale, with the words “joy” and “fun” scattered throughout.
Those looking for a searing tell-all will be disappointed. In fact, Loren makes a point of saying that she ceremoniously burns her real diaries yearly. Instead, the self-professed go-getting perfectionist dishes breezily about beating Richard Burton and Peter Sellers at Scrabble, her obsession with her children, and her love of Italian cooking. If you’re looking for more details and dirt, Warren G. Harris’s 1997 Sophia Loren: A Biography, offers a cynical, slightly misogynistic take on Loren’s story which fills gaps she gracefully gallops past.
But this reviewer will take Loren’s sanitized version over Harris’s any day. In the world of celebrity autobiographies, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow is a refreshing change of pace. There is no self-pity or mean-spirited gossip to be found here—just a globe-trotting, sun-drenched Cinderella tale, with an ending worthy of a Disney movie. The book concludes with octogenarian Loren surrounded by her grandchildren, who are pondering their future careers. “’And what about you, Nonna?’ my wild ones shout in unison. ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I laugh heartily. ‘Me? I don’t know, I have to think about it.’”
Sofia Scicolone was born in Rome on September 20, 1934. In strict Catholic Italy, she was a child of shame: the illegitimate daughter of aspiring actress Romilda Villani, a Neapolitan beauty who had once won a Greta Garbo look-alike contest. Her father was a charming cad of noble origins named Riccardo Scicolone Murillo, who had seduced Romilda by claiming to be in the movie business, only to abandon her when she was pregnant.
Loren’s deep love of her homeland, disdain for her careless father, and pity for her mother’s life-long love for him (the couple would have another child, Maria, in 1938) are evident in every page. Alone in the city, Romilda’s milk soon dried up, and she was terrified her sickly baby would die. She had no choice but to flee to her parents in the sleepy seaside town of Pozzuoli in Naples.
Although Romilda was afraid her poor but proud family would not accept her illegitimate infant, Mama Luisa and Papa Domenico welcomed the two of them with open arms. Mama Luisa quickly found the starving baby a wet nurse, and the family went without meat to pay her. But the town of Pozzuoli was not so kind. Loren writes movingly of being a thin and “ugly” child who felt out of place with her beautiful mother and absent father. But she found solace with her family. “United we stand, divided we fall,” she writes, “is what the family always believed.”
When Loren was six, war came to Naples. Eight decades later, she vividly describes the horrors of World War II: the starvation, spending night after night hiding in a filthy crowded railway tunnel and being injured when a piece of shrapnel from a bomb pierced her chin.
Understandably, she does not mention the persistent rumors, documented by Harris, that her mother was a sex worker during the war. “Little by little everything came to a standstill — school, the Sacchini cinema and theater, the band playing in the town square,” Loren writes. “Everything stopped except for the bombs.”
“As I was about to turn fifteen, I suddenly found myself living inside a curvy, glowing body, filled with life and promise,” Loren writes. “Whenever I walked down the streets of Pozzuoli, the boys would turn around and whistle after me.”