By Brad Dison
Love is complicated. Truer words have rarely been spoken or written. And so it was with Carlo and Little Stick.
In 1950, Italian attorney turned film producer Carlo met a beauty pageant contestant whose nickname was “Little Stick” because of her tall, thin frame. Carlo was 37 years old. Little Stick was just 15. Within a short time, Carlo and Little Stick became romantically involved. Their relationship grew and Carlo and Little Stick decided that they wanted to get married. They had been dating for a little while and marriage seemed like the next natural step. The couple had just one problem, Carlo was already married. In 1946, he wed Giuliana Fiastri in Italy, when Little Stick was just 11 years old. Carlo had children too. He and Giuliana had a daughter in 1951, and a son in 1953. Carlo and Giuliana separated. The reason for Carlo and Giuliana’s separation depended on which side of the story you heard.
Divorce was forbidden in Italy. Working in the film industry required Carlo and Little Stick to travel all over the world, but, due to their not being married, they had to get separate hotel rooms wherever they went. Carlo’s first marriage remained as a barrier to their ultimate happiness.
In 1957, after years of searching for a solution, Carlo obtained a divorce in Mexico. As soon as the divorce was finalized, Carlo and Little Stick were married. They lived happily ever after. Well, not so fast. Remember, love is complicated.
Carlo and Little Stick learned of their marriage in the newspaper gossip columns. Neither of them was present at the ceremony. Neither of them was even in Mexico. As per the instructions of Carlo and Little Stick, as soon as Carlo’s divorce was finalized, the couple was married by proxy. Two male attorneys, acting on their instructions, stood in for them during what can hardly be called a ceremony.
Their marital bliss lasted only a short time before other complications arose. Carlo’s divorce and wedding may have been perfectly legal in Mexico, but divorce was illegal in Italy and Italy would not recognize foreign divorces. Carlo’s actions were also against the Roman Catholic church. Carlo was charged with bigamy. He and Little Stick were threatened with excommunication from the Roman Catholic church.
“I wanted to be his wife and have his children,” Little Stick proclaimed. “We had done the best the law would allow to make it official, but they were calling us public sinners. We should have been taking a honeymoon, but all I remember is weeping for hours.”
Carlo learned that they would be jailed if they ever returned to their home country of Italy. The legal system in Italy was stacked against them. Carlo and Little Stick lived in exile in foreign countries, but they remained Italian citizens. Another complication – their passports only allowed them to stay in foreign countries for a limited period of time. Carlo and Little Stick were running out of time on their passports. With no other option available to them, in 1962, Carlo and Little Stick had their Mexican marriage annulled.
Carlo and Little Stick were heartbroken but were more determined than ever to remain together. They spent the next four years searching for a legal way to marry. They tried to apply for Swiss citizenship in order to marry but learned that they would have to reside in Switzerland for 10 to 12 years before they could apply. There was no guarantee their applications would be approved. Under Swiss law, the couple could not obtain a divorce in Switzerland if the laws of their home country did not permit divorce. It was another dead end. In 1966, Carlo and Little Stick applied to become citizens of France. Their applications were personally approved and signed by French President Georges Pompidou. In that same year, Carlo and Little Stick married again, this time in Paris.
Carlo and Little Stick remained together for the rest of his life. Carlo died in 2007 at the age of 94. Despite the many obstacles their relationship experienced, love somehow found a way. That chance meeting at a beauty pageant had far-reaching effects for Little Stick. Carlo got Little Stick small parts in Italian movies, but her career failed to take off. Carlo thought that Little Stick needed a new image and name to make her more appealing to universal audiences. Carlo was right. In 1953, Little Stick began landing leading roles. In 1961, Little Stick won the Academy Award for best actress for her performance in Two Women. She has won numerous other awards for her acting including but certainly not limited to a Bafta Award, a Laurel Award, a Grammy Award, and an Academy Honorary Award for lifetime achievements in the film industry. Little Stick was born Sofia Costanza Brigida Villani Scicolone, but, thanks to Carlo Ponti, the world knows her as… Sophia Loren.
1. The Herald-Sun (Durham, North Carolina), April 15, 1957, p.14.
2. Panama City News-Herald (Panama City, Florida), July 15, 1957, p.1.
3. Chillicothe Gazette (Chillicothe, Ohio), April 21, 1979, p.4.
4. Associated Press, “Carlo Ponti, Husband to Sophia Loren, Dead at 94,” January 10, 2007, accessed July 7, 2022, foxnews.com/story/0,2933,242764,00.html.