All was 'for love of Sophia'

Italian producer Ponti dies at 94

Producer Carlo Ponti, one of the forces behind Italy's postwar film renaissance and the longtime husband of Sophia Loren, died early Wednesday. He was 94.

Ponti produced more than 100 films during a career that spanned nearly 60 years. Among his most famous productions were David Lean's "Doctor Zhivago" (1965), Federico Fellini's "La Strada" (1954) and Vittorio De Sica's 1960 classic "La Ciociara" (Two Women), for which Loren won the 1962 Oscar for best actress.

"His was a life dedicated to cinema," Loren and her two sons, Carlo and Edoardo, said in a statement. "Surrounded by the love of his family, Carlo Ponti passed away serenely at the age of 94 during the night between Tuesday and Wednesday in Geneva's hospital."

Ponti, who had been in relatively good health until December, had been admitted to the hospital in Switzerland on New Year's Eve for lung problems.

Ponti got his start in the industry distributing films in Milan during World War II. He produced a few small films during the war and immediately afterward, but he began to make a name for himself with director Riccardo Freda's 1948 production of "Les Miserables."

Ponti met Loren, named Sophia Villani Scicolone at the time, during a beauty contest in Naples in the 1950s and persuaded her to change her name to Sophia Loren and begin studying acting and English. They were married in 1957.

"La Strada," which he co-produced, won the Academy Award for best foreign-language film. In 1965, he scored the Oscar again with "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow."

But it was his affair with the young ingenue Loren that captivated the public more so than his work with such filmmakers as Dino De Laurentiis, Jean-Luc Godard, Peter Ustinov, David Lean, Roman Polanski and Fellini.

"I have done everything for love of Sophia," he said in a newspaper interview shortly before his 90th birthday in 2002. "I have always believed in her."

Born near Milan in the small town of Magenta on Dec. 11, 1912, Ponti studied law and worked as a lawyer before moving into film production in the late 1930s.

He was married to his first wife, Giuliana, when he met Loren in about 1950. At the time, she was only 15 — a quarter-century younger than Ponti.

They tried to keep their relationship a secret despite huge media interest, while Ponti's lawyers went to Mexico to obtain a divorce from his first wife.

Ponti and Loren were married by proxy in Mexico in 1957 — two male attorneys took their place, and the couple only found out when the news was broken by Hollywood columnist Louella Parsons.

But they were unable to beat stringent Italian divorce laws and the wrath of the Roman Catholic church. Ponti was charged with bigamy.

The couple first lived in exile and then, after the annulment of their Mexican marriage, in secret in Italy.

During this period, Ponti produced "La Ciociara" and contributed significantly to the development of French New Wave cinema in his collaboration with Godard.

Ponti and Loren finally beat Italian law by becoming French citizens — the approval was signed personally by French President Georges Pompidou — and they married for a second time in Paris in 1966.

Ponti discovered many of the great Italian leading ladies, including Gina Lollobrigida, and had affairs with several. "I don't like actors. I prefer women," he said at the time.

Despite reports that he was seriously ill, Ponti attended the 1998 Venice Film Festival to accept a lifetime achievement award for his wife, who was kept away by illness.

Ponti and Loren's sons are in show business: Carlo Jr. is a celebrated conductor and Edoardo is a film producer. Ponti also had two children from his first marriage, Guendolina and Alexander.