“An Italian bombshell and an English gentleman walk into a Roman bar…”
This is a story of the courtship, romance and eventual falling out between two classic Hollywood legends.
She’s from the eternal city of Naples, He’s from the cold, windy, rainy streets of Bristol in southern England. She grew up in the working class fishing town of Pozzuoli, He grew up with a mother who was very insistent on having her son become a star.
One was discovered during a flight to Rome, the other by a vaudeville act when he was expelled out of his, very strict, very expensive private secondary school. Despite all of this, both wanted nothing more than to be loved and cherished.
The tale of Cary Grant and Sophia Loren is one of classic Hollywood legend. They first met on the set of The Pride and The Passion in 1957 and from then on, their story takes on another life of its own.
So, sit back, relax and enjoy the tale of an old Hollywood romance that almost was.
When you read about on-set romances, they usually start on movies that are glamorous, exciting and well-received.
This isn’t the case.
The Pride and The Passion is an action adventure that stars Frank Sinatra, Sophia Loren, and Cary Grant. Directed by Stanley Kramer, the film is a modern re-telling of a Napoleonic war era battle between the Spanish and the French.
Grant plays British Royal Navy Captain Anthony Trumbull, who is sent on a mission to retrieve a siege cannon in Spain, then return it to British forces. His orders are spoiled by a Spanish guerrilla leader, played by Sinatra, who wants to use the weapon to capture the town of Ávila before French forces stake their claim. As for Loren‘s character, well, she’s basically the ‘token’ woman that Sinatra and Grant fight over.
This movie would NOT pass the Bechdel Test.
The picture didn’t do too well; It was critically and commercially panned with the worst reviews being reserved for the horrendous plot. Luckily for the duo, they’d get a second chance to redeem themselves with 1958’s Houseboat.
The better of the two movies that this duo stars in, Houseboat, is a romantic comedy that
I can not stand did significantly better than Grant and Loren‘s first cinematic go-round. Grant stars as a Tom Winton, a widower who’s struggling to raise his three kids after his wife’s tragic death.
No need to worry! In enters, a gorgeous, charming 23-year-old Italian named Cinzia Zaccardi who he meets at a concert and hires her to be his live-in nanny. Jokes on him, Cinzia is actually a wealthy socialite on the run from her tyrannical father and has no idea how to cook, clean or take care of children. On the bright side, she does have a romantic interest in the man who employed her.
Laughter and situational comedy ensue.
For the rest of the film, the pair goes through a number awkward situations and adventures all while falling in love. In the final moments of the movie, the pair ends up happily married and living permanently on the Houseboat they once loathed.
Unlike their widely criticized 1957 counterpart, Houseboat enjoyed a lot of success. It was critically and financially successful, and was nominated for 2 Academy Awards. However, by the time filming wrapped on the romantic comedy, the intense passion between Grant and Loren, that started in 1957, started to fizzle out.
It all started in Spain.
In 1956, Sophia‘s husband Carlo Ponti landed his wife a role in the Stanley Kramer production The Pride and the Passion. Having his cast and crew assembled, Kramer threw a cocktail party to celebrate the start of filming. Sophia, who was so nervous she changed her dress multiple times, was one of the first ones to arrive.
Stricken with anxiety, she patiently waited for her fellow co-stars to show up to this little get-together. A couple of hours and martinis later, the nervousness swiftly melts away when Cary steps into the room.
When they first meet, Grant teases her by conflating her name with a fellow Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida, but, eventually that teasing escalated into deep conversations and late-night dining at Spanish restaurants.
They fell in love.
Grant, in particular, took this relationship – hard.
In anticipation of her arrival in America, Grant wrote Loren several letters detailing the trials and tribulations her career could face in an entirely new country. What was also enclosed in these letters were two gold bracelets he had given her. Grant was serious about her, he wanted marriage.
She was all for it until Sophia realized she was VERY involved with her FIANCÉ of 3 years Carlo Ponti.
It was a stroke of luck and Jayne Mansfield’s dress that changed the trajectory of Cary and Sophia‘s relationship.
How? Let’s find out…
After location shoots in Spain and Libya, Ponti and Loren flew to California and checked into the Beverly Hills Hotel to attend a reception held in her honor at Romanoff’s restaurant. The event was going smoothly until it was crashed by Jayne Mansfield.
If you’re a classic movie fan, then you’ve probably seen that infamous photo of Mansfield and Loren. It may seem like all fun and games now, but, at the time Sophia was very put off by this so-called “publicity stunt.”
This was the turning point.
Already turned off by the Hollywood lifestyle, this incident sent those feelings over the edge. On top of this, the studios didn’t really know the type of films to put her in. Was she a dramatic actress? A Comedienne?
“I know,” says your typical Hollywood producer, ” I’ll put her in as many stereotypical Italian roles as I can!”
So, Loren goes forth and does her due diligence in Hollywood until she can’t take it anymore. She was a hair’s breadth away from quitting altogether and returning to Italy until the script for Houseboat came along.
Re-united and feeling lonely, Grant and Loren fall even harder the 2nd time around. It was then where Carlo decided to do something drastic.
Fortunately for Mr. Ponti, he didn’t have to choose.
Sophia was faced with two choices.
Go back to Italy with a man (and a mentor) who, “belonged to my world,” as she would later put it. Or, stay in the United States and start a new life with a man that she met a year ago?
The choice was clear to her – she decided on Carlo. He gave her a sense of security and the confidence to go do great things, but, not in America. That’s the advantage that Carlo had over Cary: Italy.
Ultimately, Sophia loved her homeland and Carlo more than she ever could love the bright lights and glamour of Hollywood. Cary was disappointed, but, hell – he’s Cary Grant for crying out loud, he was bound to find someone else.
As for Sophia and Carlo? They lived happily ever after. What could possibly be more classic Hollywood than that?
If you would like to read more entries in this blogathon click: here.