Sophia Loren and Clark Gable: Will this chemical casting work?
By Lloyd Shearer
Parade magazine, October 25, 1959
In the past four years, Sophia Loren—the buxom, olive-skinned, green-eyed gamin from the slums of Naples who became an international movie queen—has starred in 11 major American motion pictures.
At salaries ranging from $75,000 to $250,000 a film, she has acted opposite such top box office names as Bill Holden, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, Cary Grant, Alan Ladd, Tony Perkins, and Tab Hunter. Yet, of all her films released to date, only one, Houseboat with Cary Grant, has shown any substantial profit potential.
Why is this?
There are four possible answers: 1. Sophia Loren means relatively little to the ticket-buyers in the USA and Canada, 2. Sophia Loren and her husband, producer Carlo Ponti, have poor script sense, 3. Sophia Loren somehow lacks the indefinable magic that makes for true stardom in films, 4. Sophia Loren has been appearing in so many films so consecutively that even her most loyal fans cannot distinguish between thm.
What’s being done about all this?
Paramount Studios, which has a six=picture, multi-million dollar deal with the 5’8 ½ beauty, thinks it has found a solution. It’s called “chemical casting”—and the catalytic agent in this case is Clark Gable.
Gable and Loren have been paired in a film currently shooting here [Rome, Italy], entitled Bay of Naples. It was written and is being directed and produced by Melville Shavelson and Jack Rose, the team also responsible for Miss Loren’s only film success.
The script is pure delight, the direction superb, and the color photography of Capri and Naples incomparably beautiful.
The $64,000 question is this: Will Gable be able to turn the tide and put Loren’s pictures on the black side of the ledger?
In Hollywood the feeling is that if any man can do it, it’s Gable. King Clark is the closest thing to box-office insurance the motion picture industry has to offer. Of his last dozen pictures—several of which have been charitably classified as “dogs”—only one, A King and Four Queens, has failed to garner a large gross from the fans.
According to one of the Paramount executives, “Gable had the magic draw. His name on a theater marquee still means something. He should be able to carry Loren quite easily, because while she may not prove a telling box-office asset to a film, she certainly isn’t a handicap. After all, there are millions of people—though perhaps most of them are in Europe—who consider her sexy. Maybe this combination will click. In this business today, no one knows.
Clark Gable is 58 years old, handsome and well-preserved, it’s true—but 58 nonetheless. At 25 Loren is, to mint a phrase, young enough to be his daughter. Won’t this age differential work against the picture?
I asked Sophia that particular question. Her answer: “No, I don’t think so. I am always better playing against older men, men like you say, old enough to be my father. I am more simpatico with them, like with my husband Carlo. He is also old enough to be my father. [Ponto is 46.] When I was cast against younger men like Tony Perkins or Tab Hunter, the relationship is wrong. I dominate them. I don’t mean to, but that’s the way it comes out on the screen. Although I am 25, I do not seem to have any real age. It is not wrong for me to play opposite John Wayne or Cary Grant, or now Clark Gable. I need a strong man to guide me. It is true both off and on the screen.”
Gable believes that the age of individual cast members has relatively little to do with a film’s success. “I got started in this business when I was 29,” he explains, “and I’ve been around a long time. But moviegoers don’t particularly care about that. What interests them is entertainment. Is the story good? Is it interesting?
Years ago people had the moviegoing habit. They’d go to a theater once, maybe twice a week, depending upon who was playing. Nowadays the all-important question is: Who’s playing? If Bay of Naples turns out to be a fine picture, and I think it will be or I wouldn’t have chosen it, then word-of-mouth will do the rest.”
“This casting business is important in that it brings the first line of moviegoers into the theaters. They’re the ones who spread the word or don’t. I had cast approval in this picture, and I okayed Loren. She’s very attractive, to my way of thinking, loaded with sex appeal. The story line is laid in Italy. She’s a good actress. She seemed a natural for the part. The only possible misgiving is that she’s made so darn many pictures so quickly. There always seem to be two or three Loren films in distribution simultaneously. That’s not a good thing because you’re competing against yourself. I think she’s making a big mistake in doing that, but it’s none of my affair. All I’m interested in is making this picture a big success. I’ve got 10 percent of the gross.”
That Loren has been guilty of overexposure virtually everyone in the film industry agrees Sophia and her husband.
Says Ponti: “She’s in big demand. All over the world they want Sophia to make pictures.”
Says Sophia: “I work because I adore working. What else should I do?”
An Italian producer formerly associated with both Sophia and her husband offers this: “It’s very simple when you understand Sophia’s unfortunate background. As a child she was thin, emaciated, and ugly duckling. I cannot describe the almost hopeless poverty she lived in. Now the three most important things in the world to her are money, marriage, and position. As a movie star she has them, and she plans to keep it that way—by working.”
Sophia Loren herself admits, “I have everything I ever wanted or any woman ever wanted. Now I want more of the same.”
There is, however, one blight on her escutcheon of happiness, which Sophia doesn’t like to talk about. Here, in her native Italy, her marriage to Carlo Ponti is not recognized as legal.
They were married by proxy in Mexico in September 1957, a few days following Ponti’s Mexican divorce. The divorce decree is not recognized in Italy, and an application by Ponti’s first wife, mother of his two children, for annulment of their marriage has been turned down by the court.
Thus, Sophia Loren, the one-time street waif from Naples, has everything—“everything I ever wanted”—except recognition as a legally married woman of Italy.
The fact that is not box-office does not faze her. Why should it? Sophia still is good for $250,000 a film, box-office or not.