Friday, June 27, 2014


When I first settled in Italy and started watching Italian cookery programmes, I wondered who the striking, well-dressed woman who often appeared as a judge was, for there was something very familiar about her. Then I saw  her surname on the credits - SCICOLONE - and this was familiar too. Scicolone, Scicolone.... of course! This was the birth surname of Sophia Loren and Anna Maria Villani Scicolone is her sister.

In Britain, as an Italian teacher who had always followed the Italian news, I knew of the politician Alessandra Mussolini but I hadn't realised who her mother was. Anna Maria Scicolone's first husband was the dictator's fourth son, the jazz musician Romano Mussolini and Alessandra is their daughter. The marriage failed, largely due to Romano Mussolini's womanising but it is clear from Maria Scicolone's writing that she always held him in great affection.

I decided to find out more about Maria Scicolone and my chance came when the film of her autobiography, La mia casa è piena di specchi, [My House is Full of Mirrors] was shown on Italian TV a couple of years ago. In this film, Sophia Loren plays her own mother. This was not the first time she had done so, for there is an English language film of her life [Sophia Loren - Her Own Story], but this Italian version focusses on Maria's story.

After I had seen the film, I read Maria Scicolone's book of the same name and found it a fascinating and very honest tale: It is not a chronological  autobiography but is divided into chapters describing the sisters' young lives in Pozzuoli [Campania], their relationship with their determined but domineering mother, Sophia's rise to fame and Maria's struggles to obtain an education and be known as someone other than "the sister."

Maria, like Sophia, was the illegitimate child of Romilda Villani and Riccardo Scicolone but, whilst Riccardo recognised Sophia as his child, he refused to acknowledge paternity of Maria, who had to be locked away in her bedroom during his visits and saw him only through the keyhole. But there came a time, some years later, when Riccardo needed money. Romilda said she would help him if he would recognise Maria as his child and thus it was that she took the Scicolone surname.

Romilda and Maria had a troubled relationship, as mothers and daughters often do, but they loved one another dearly. Romilda didn't want Maria to continue with her studies before she was legitimised, because of the shame this might have brought upon the family, and afterwards she seemed to have thought it was too late and was also probably jealous. Maria, though, was, in her way, as determined as her mother and went on to obtain a degree in literature in 1976.

Maria often travelled with Sophia and Carlo Ponti and in Hollywood became interested in cookery. She writes of the friendships she formed with several Hollywood stars, including Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra and later she wrote a recipe book based on the meals she had enjoyed at their homes.

I was fascinated by Maria's account of her relationship with Benito Mussolini's widow,  the formidable Donna Rachele, who seems to have had a soft spot for the naive and lonely young girl and taught Maria to cook the dishes of her region.

Hospitalised for depression after her divorce, Maria fell in love with her doctor and has a happy second marriage.  

My one issue with the book is the lack, on Maria's part, of any censure of her deceased father-in-law's political ideas. That said, "Sophia Loren's sister", as she was known for so long, might have appeared, to the world, to have everything. This book charts her long and difficult search for autonomy. 

La mia casa è piena di specchi - wedding scene


Lee said...

This would be an interesting film and one I would enjoy, I'm sure. Sophia's family history always intrigued me when I was much younger. Much was written about it when she hit our big screens. She certainly is a beautiful-looking woman; also appears so dignified and stylish, even in her twilight years.

For Maria to have stepped out from the shadows and the shadow of her famous sibling shows she is a woman of steely determination.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Lee. I'm sure you would enjoy the film and I agree that Maria must be very determined. Also agree that Sophia is still amazingly beautiful and I admire her for not trying to hide her age.

Jenny Woolf said...

How interesting, I never knew any of that about Sophia Loren. Maria must have been an incredibly strong woman, imagine having to be locked in your room when your father comes to call!!!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Jenny. Yes, it must have been awful for her.


View My Stats