Sophia Loren: The Wrong Kind of Sexy
Another great story from Garson Kanin's memoir, “Hollywood.”
Apparently in the late 1950s, Spencer Tracy approached Kanin, who wrote some of the great movies of the late '40s and early '50s (“Adam's Rib,” “Born Yesterday”), to write something for him and Sophia Loren, who, as Kanin writes, “had recently come upon the scene, bringing with her a sultry, volcanic, sexual quality that had long been missing from the screen.” Kanin did. Problem? No one wanted it. Because? None of them, Tracy, Kanin or Loren, had been successful at the box office in recent years. Tracy agreed to less money, Loren, too. Kanin agreed to waive his director fee. Nada.
But Kanin's agent, the wonderfully named Abe Lastfogel, insisted Kanin pitch to Lou Schreiber at 20th Century Fox. He did. Smartly. He told him the story first so Schreiber was interested. Then he kept describing the main characters so Schreiber would suggest the actors Kanin already had in mind. Schreiber bit:
“It sounds like Spencer Tracy to me. Could you get him?”
“We sure in hell could try,” I said. “Great idea, Lou. I have the feeling he might go for this.”
Then he did the same for the female lead. Nada. Schreiber had no one in mind. So Kanin made the leap to Sophia Loren himself. Schreiber was less than excited.
“Sophia Loren!” Schreiber repeated incredulously. We could not have done worse had we suggested Tokyo Rose.
“What's the matter with Sophia Loren?” I said. “She's beautiful, she's young, she's a tremendous screen presence ...”
But it was the box office. Loren had made a string of bad movies for Hollywood that had done nothing. Kanin insisted it wasn't her fault.
“How come you guys always blame someone else? She didn't pick the subject and she didn't write the picture. She didn't direct it or cut it or release it. So how come it's her fault?”
“You know why,” said Schreiber. “It’s because that’s the kind of personality she is. Women don’t like her. She makes them nervous. She’s too sexy.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Too sexy in the wrong way.”
“I didn’t know there was a wrong way.”
So the picture's never made and everyone goes onto other things. Fifteen months later, Schreiber called Lastfogel to see if he still represented Loren and if she was available. Yes and yes. So he sent over an offer: $1 million guaranteed to appear in ”The Story of Ruth.“
Kanin: ”It was a lesson I never forgot."
Sophia Loren: the wrong kind of sexy?