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Sophia Loren, out of chaos comes stardom

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“The two big advantages I had at birth were to have been born wise and to have been born in poverty” – Sophia Loren.

CHARLIE CHAPLIN once remarked, “Out of chaos comes the birth of a star.” A product of the slums himself, Chaplin was referring to the rise to fame of his friend Sophia Loren, the earthily sensual Italian cinema goddess, who was so impoverished as a child of the war-torn streets of the seaport town of Pozzuoli, Italy, that the other children called her Sofia Stuzzicadente (“Sofia the toothpick”). It would prove an ironic taunt, considering Loren’s initial exploitable and bankable appeal stemmed from the lush curves and voluptuous breasts she developed when puberty hit with a vengeance. Struggling against the stigma associated with being born illegitimate in staunchly Catholic Italy, Loren barely survived World War II: to avoid bombing raids, she took refuge in train tunnels and lived with the constant specters of cold, starvation, and sickness—not to mention the danger of the 4:30 a.m. train from Naples arriving off-schedule.

Sophia Loren

Sofia’s first taste of glamour came at fourteen when she was crowned one of twelve “Princesses of the Sea” in a beauty contest, an honor for which she won a railroad ticket to Rome, several rolls of wallpaper, a tablecloth with matching napkins, and 23,000 lira (about $35). Encouraged by this glimmer of success, her mother relocated the family to Rome, where Sofia snagged her first role as an extra in an American feature, Quo Vadis. The tide turned in her favor when she met producer and future husband Carlo Ponti while competing in another beauty contest. Though she placed a disappointing second, Ponti gave her a screen test, and after he overcame his initial aversion to her nose and robust hips, he advanced her career in a succession of low-budget Italian productions.

Sophia Loren

Sofia Lazzaro becomes Sophia Loren

Sofia Lazzaro, as she was then known, became Sophia Loren in 1952 when she landed a substantial part in the film Africa Under the Seas; her new surname was borrowed, with a slight modification, from Swedish actress Marta Toren. Her first plum assignment, in Aida, required her to sing over diva Renata Tebaldi’s vocal track; the plum role dropped into her lap when glamour-puss Gina Lollobrigida backed out of the project because she deemed lip-synching beneath her star status. A press-generated “Catfight, Italian Style” ensued—impressive measurements were drawn like swords in an unremitting press war over breast size. Finally, in director Vittorio de Sica’s The Gold of Naples, Loren found the career launching pad that she needed to leave behind, once and for all, her former life as a skinny little girl from Pozzuoli.

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Loren then made a much-publicized, though temporary, leap to Hollywood. She signed a contract with Paramount for her first English-speaking role, in The Pride and the Passion. Once on the set, she fell in love with co-star Cary Grant. Though she had been involved romantically with Carlo Ponti (he was married with two children) from the age of eighteen, Loren had suffered through years of frustration while he attempted to obtain an annulment from the church.

In 1962, Ponti finally secured a divorce from his wife and a subsequent marriage by proxy to Loren in legal proceedings in Mexico, ironically just days before Sophia’s fairy-tale cinematic marriage to Cary Grant in the movie Houseboat. Ponti’s finaglings were later rendered invalid by the Vatican, and the two were forced to live first as exiles and then as secret lovers in Rome to avoid excommunication. They ultimately subverted the Vatican’s pronouncements of bigamy and concubinage by becoming citizens of France and remarrying legally in 1966.

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Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess

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Xena Warrior Princess

What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.

Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.

Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.

Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.

Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?

Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.

Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Character: Xena

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Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife

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McMillan And Wife

Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.

Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.

And wifey?
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.

Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.

Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.

Tragedy?
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.

What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.

Other characters
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.

Famous guest stars?
Kim Basinger

The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.

Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.

Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.

Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.

The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.

A winner?
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.

Distinguishing features?
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.

Do say
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.

Don’t say
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.

Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.

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Classic TV Revisited: The Royal

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The Royal

The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.

The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.

Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.

Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.

Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”

A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.

First broadcast: 2003

Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden

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