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THE BEST YEARS : SENIORS : Sophia's Beauty Is Ageless

May 03, 1990|NORMA BARZMAN

A fringe benefit of having a husband who writes movies is meeting famous people. That is how I became friends with Sophia Loren. And when Sophia is not in Geneva or Paris or Rome or in her Florida island condo or shooting in Yugoslavia, she's right here in Ventura County.

She was here on "the ranch" recently, resting up from promotional tours, and once again teaching me the lesson that she says American women need to learn--that being your age and being yourself is attractive.

"Nothing makes a woman look older than an exaggerated effort to look young," she told me, lounging around her rambling early California house in a huge, comfortable man's sweater with a terry turban wrapped round her hair.

"Older women in this youth-oriented society have a difficult time. In France, it is easier. The appreciation of maturity is instilled in the culture." She laughed. "Wine and women. You know," she said, looking onto the garden at the ancient Roman column she and her producer-husband, Carlo Ponti, brought with them from their country house outside Rome. "Old is beautiful."

In the beginning it must not have been easy for Sophia to grow older. After all, she had launched her career by winning a beauty contest and became known as a great beauty. It was natural for her to assume that she was successful because she was beautiful.

When I met her in 1960 in Madrid, I was dazzled. As a journalist of the period wrote, "her mouth was too large, her nose too long, her chin and lips too broad, yet the sum of the parts was somehow beautiful."

After getting to know her, I concluded that her beauty was her intelligence and wit, her excitement about life, her determination to achieve.

Nevertheless, the young Sophia put a great deal of emphasis on material beauty.

But by the time Sophia turned 50 in 1984 and her book "Women and Beauty" was published, she became convinced that "a woman's self-esteem should be based not on passive beauty, but on accomplishment, achievement and skills that increase with age. Beauty must be understood as something that comes out of personal experience," she wrote. "Being a thoughtful, interested and competent human being shows in the face, in the crinkle of the eyes, the set of the chin, the bearing of one who knows where she has been, where she is going and how to get there."

I remember Christmas, 1968, when I visited Sophia in Geneva. On doctor's orders, she'd spent most of every day in bed for all nine months of pregnancy so she would not miscarry. Specialists had told her she'd never have a baby. But there she was in her ninth month a few days before Carlo Jr. was born. She'd won--over all the forces of nature.

That's what makes Sophia beautiful, not which shade of mascara which hair tint, how stylish her clothes or how many hours she spends on appearance. She has great good taste and is very professional, spending time thinking out how to look her best. She has always been a pro, which is why so many think her success is due to beauty and don't realize what a good actress she is--and how hard she works.

And her determination and hard work are not just for her career. Family means a great deal to someone who didn't know her father. She is as proud of her role as wife and mother as she is of her acting roles. She smiles as she watches her vacationing sons, slamming around the driveway in mini racing cars. Carlo Jr., 21, has musical talent and attends an American college. Edoardo, 17, who will soon graduate from a Swiss high school, has already acted in a film.

Sophia doesn't vacation long. She just finished a remake for television of "Two Women," a role for which she won an Oscar in 1961. She is also preparing "Saturday, Sunday and Monday," a film with Marcello Mastroianni in the same spirit as the comedies in which the pair co-starred when they were younger. "I've never let up," she says. "And I've reached something unreachable."

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