Sophia Loren: Rare and Classic Portraits
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Powerful, enduring relationships sometimes develop between photographer and subject, and such was most definitely the case with LIFE’s Alfred Eisenstaedt and the luminous Italian movie star Sophia Loren. Over the course of their decades-long friendship, Eisenstaedt would take countless pictures of the Oscar-winning legend — most of which never made it into LIFE magazine, and many of which were never intended for the magazine.
“Eisie must have shot thousands of pictures of me,” Loren once told LIFE.com, fondly recalling her camera-toting “shadow.” Here, on the Rome native’s 78th birthday, LIFE.com presents a series of Eisenstaedt’s finest portraits of Loren — many of which were not published in LIFE — made at the very height of her international fame.
Asked by LIFE.com about the qualities Eisenstaedt (with Loren, at left, in 1961) was able to bring out in her that other photographers missed, or failed to elicit, Loren considered, then replied: “That I was a girl, joyful for her life, because she accepted anything that came with her work. Just being really, completely happy.”
Loren appeared on LIFE’s cover seven times through the 1950s and ’60s. “At that time,” she said, “when LIFE magazine came out every week, it was something very important for a career — the best thing that could happen to an actress. It was something unbelievable. Everybody talked about it — a story in LIFE magazine, with a cover.”
In the summer of 1964, Eisenstaedt visited Loren and her husband, Carlo Ponti, at the home Ponti had spent years restoring: an opulent, ancient, 50-room villa in Marino, Italy. Several of the pictures he made there are featured in this gallery. And although Loren loved the house — at the time of Eisentaedt’s visit, she called living there “bliss” — it was sold around the time of Ponti’s death, in 2007.
“This is something I don’t like to live with — sad memories,” she told LIFE.com. “Life gets very hard when you lose someone so important to you, and you don’t need to be surrounded by the memories all the time, which are so strong and hit you in the most unexpected moments.”
Asked if she ever tires of fame, Loren broke into a musical laugh.
“Are you kidding? I think it’s wonderful. [Fans] smile at me like I was a member of their own family. It’s a great feeling. In a sense, when I am at home I feel lonely because I miss my husband. But when I am outside, I have great big families around me all the time.”