The voluptuous Sophia Loren was among the most successful international stars of the postwar era; not only did she rise to fame as a sex symbol, but she also won a measure of critical acclaim rarely afforded most of her foreign-born contemporaries. Born Sofia Scicolone in Rome on September 20, 1934, she and her single mother lived in abject poverty in the war-torn slums of Naples. At the age of 14, she began entering area beauty contests, later becoming a model and appearing in a number of uncredited bit parts in films. After winning a beauty contest in Rome, Loren was signed to a film contract by producer Carlo Ponti, who began grooming her for stardom by recruiting drama coaches and casting her in small movie roles, including an appearance in the 1951 smash Anna, under the name "Sofia Lazzaro." For 1952's La Favorita, her first larger role, Ponti changed her name to Sophia Loren, and with the following year's La Tratta Delle Bianche, she earned third billing after Silvana Pampanini and Eleanora Rossi-Drago.
By the mid-'50s, Loren was a star in Italy as well as a major sex symbol, but with the exception of 1955's Attila Flagello di Dio, co-starring Anthony Quinn, few of her pictures were distributed internationally. That changed with Vittorio de Sica's L'Oro di Napoli, which was recut and dubbed for foreign sale, resulting in poor reviews. Loren, however, was singled out for the strength of her performance as a Neapolitan shopkeeper, surprising many critics who had dismissed her as merely another bombshell. As a result, 1955's La Donna del Fiume was distributed in both the U.S. and Britain, as were a number of other subsequent projects. Eventually, Loren emerged as an international star, and Ponti soon declared her ready for Hollywood. She moved tentatively into the English-language market with a pair of films shot in Europe, 1957's Boy on a Dolphin (in which she appeared opposite Alan Ladd) and The Pride and the Passion (starring Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant).