Luisa Villani, a smart and enterprising woman, was Sophia Loren’s grandmother. It was WWII, and once the American and British troops moved in, Luisa opened up her living room as a pub. She made homemade cherry liquor and sold it to the newly arrived troops. The women of the Villani family even provided entertainment.
It’s no wonder that G.I.s flocked to frequent the pop-up parlor, as beautiful Italian women, wonderful music, and homey hospitality greeted them. Sophia’s pretty and talented sister Maria sang while their mother Romilda played piano. Sophia served as a waiter.
Riccardo Scicolone’s Betrayal
Romilda longed to be an actress. Her dreams were fed by the promises of a film producer from Rome who claimed to hail from nobility, but he eventually abandoned Romilda and her two daughters and led them to poverty.
Their mother Romilda explained it bluntly: “That pig was free to marry me, but instead he dumped me and married another woman.” Sophia Loren did not fully forgive her father at his death, and he did not deserve it.
American G.I.s Arrive in Pozzuoli
Sophia recalls the time when British and American soldiers pulled into Pozzuoli. She talked about how they taught her English words and phrases such as, “Good morning.” Plus, the very practical phrase, “May I have some food.” The military men taught nine-year-old Sophia to dance the Jitterbug too. She would use the steps in the film “Houseboat,” but not for several years down the line.
The first time she had ever seen a chocolate bar was courtesy of an American soldier who had tossed her the candy. Perhaps it was because she was trying out one of those new English phrases!
The Language of Love
Sophia Loren’s grandmother was a very important person in her life. Nonna Luisa held together a sense of family during hard times. Even in slim times, her grandmother could cook something up from seemingly nothing.
When there was absolutely no food, she would soak stale bread in water and bake it with tomatoes. Sophia spoke many times about living at her grandmother’s place. She recalls Luisa preparing rabbit in white wine, olives, and tomatoes. The memories of love were like an aroma that came from the kitchen.
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Romilda Villani desperately wanted to be a star. She was a gifted pianist and graduated with honors from a conservatory in Naples. Her beauty was preternatural, a blonde from Italy’s southern end.
Romilda’s looks resembled Greta Garbo so much that she was offered to be Garbo’s stand-in. But since she was only 17 at the time, her mother, Luisa, did not allow her to go to Hollywood. So, she ran off to Rome to be a star. Instead, she met Riccardo and found herself pregnant in a ward for unwed women.