Catching Up With Sophia Loren, Who Turns 79 Today

By Marlene Fanta Shyer

Happy Birthday to the world's most beloved Virgo, Sophia Loren Ponti. As she celebrates her 79th birthday today, she treats the passing of time as she does her personal and professional life: By not letting it touch her renowned grace and dignity.

Sophia Loren

Born Sofia Villani Scicolone in Rome, she is the same Sophia we all remember, both global star and three-dimensional "real" and unaffected woman, with exactly the same focus as many women her age, her children and grandchildren. Her son, Carlo, Jr, 44, is a music conductor living in Los Angeles and his younger brother, Edoardo, 40, a movie director, also lives there. They are each married and now there are four grandchildren halfway around the globe-"so far away!"-as Sophia lives these days in Geneva, Switzerland, and admitted today, "I really suffer with jet lag."

Her home, when she's there, is a spacious apartment on a hilltop, with tall windows reminiscent of an old palazzo. It's a standout not only because of its Venetian-painted paneling and walls covered with antique Flemish tapestries, but her collection of awards, including her two Oscars ( For "Two Women" and an Honorary Oscar for the contributions made throughout her career). There are also Golden Globes and other European awards-too many to count. Mostly, though, the eye turns to the tabletops, which are smothered with her lifetime collections of photos of the Ponti family at every stage of life. Cary Grant's image, nicely framed, also makes an appearance among her souvenirs.

Sophia's much loved lifetime partner Carlo Ponti died in 2006, but her life continues to be as "super-colossal" as his movies - and hers  - were often described. She makes personal appearances all over the world, lately expanding her travel to Russia and China. She also makes time to visit her sister, with whom she is very close, and who lives in Rome. Georgio Armani, the clothing designer, is her close friend and she appears almost always in one of that designer's creations. This friendship is a testament to Sophia's loyalty; once her friend, always her friend. (I'm proud to be numbered among them.)

During her lifetime her image has been used, with or without her consent, for many commercial products that feature her name: perfume, toothpaste, matches, even sewing machines. There are wall coverings, wall art, and large murals that feature her image in black and white. Find Youtube tutorials on how to duplicate her "cat" eyes with makeup; there are biographies and Sophia Loren movie DVDs in every public library. Her pasta recipes have been published and duplicated, prepared and eaten by her legion of fans. For the last t33 years, eyeglass frames, which she herself wears and for which she continues to personally model, continue to be best sellers. They are classic and elegant, like Sophia herself, who has famously said, "There IS a Fountain of Youth. It is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of the people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age."

No other celebrity has stayed in the public's embrace, no other face known the world over and adored by so many. She set the world on fire 60 years ago, and that fire continues to blaze today. Many happy returns, Sophia.

Marlene Fanta Shyer is the author of 19 books. Her latest novel, Happy Anniversary, He Said , will be published in May.

Photo: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

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