The thing about Clark Gable, said Sophia Loren from her home in Geneva, Switzerland, was his watch. The sex symbol whose film career has spanned nearly six decades worked with the Hollywood icon in the lighthearted 1960 comedy “It Started in Naples.”
“He was always looking at the watch when it came to 4 or 4:30 in the afternoon,” she said by phone. “Even if we were in the middle of a scene at 5, I could hear the alarm going off and he would leave the set.”
“We were flabbergasted. What?” she added. “But he had it in his contract.”
“It Started in Naples” is just one of the 23 Loren movies screening Wednesdays this month on Turner Classic Movies. “Naples” screens this evening along with 1954’s “Too Bad She’s Bad,” the classic 1963 comedy “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” and the 1961 comedy “The Millionairess.”
Other Loren films featured are her Oscar-winning turn in 1961’s “Two Women,” the 1958 melodrama “The Key,” the 1964 epic “The Fall of the Roman Empire” and 1957’s melodrama “Boy on a Dolphin.”
“They did a wonderful job [choosing films],” says the actress, who will be 74 in September. “They are showing films that I did when I was 18 and the impact in America with ‘The Pride and the Passion’ and the Oscar and so on and on.”
In fact, she’s still working and is set to star as Guido’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) mother in Rob Marshall’s production of the musical “Nine,” which is based on Federico Fellini’s Oscar-winning classic “8 1/2 .”
“I just want to work in things that really give me emotions,” she said. “I think for me as an Italian to be in a musical is the dream of my life. Now I am going to be part of this, which I think is absolutely marvelous. I can’t wait to start.”
Despite her long career and her Italian background, Loren surprisingly never worked with Fellini.
“Sometimes in movies, it’s very difficult to find a story that is good for the director and the actress,” Loren said. “I always admired his style, his intelligence. He was also very funny, a great man.”
The Italian director with whom Loren is most closely associated is Vittorio De Sica, who guided her to an Oscar in “Two Women.”
“He was my father in the profession,” said Loren. “He really taught me everything because I started with him in [1954’s] ‘The Gold of Naples’ and I worked with him, I think, 20 years. Marcello [Mastroianni] and I did about 14 films with him.”
In De Sica, she found the right person at the right time, she said.
“We came from the same city, Naples. We understood each other with a look and a gesture. I was like a member of the family. He could make me do anything he wanted. He knew my character. It was just like we were one person.”
Ironically, Loren wasn’t supposed to play the mother in “Two Women,” a harrowing drama about a widowed shopkeeper and her religious teenage daughter who flee Rome after an Allied bombing raid.
De Sica and Loren’s husband, producer Carlo Ponti, wanted Loren to play the daughter and the Oscar-winning powerhouse Anna Magnani to play the mother. But Magnani refused.
“She said, ‘We have two strong characters, and we are going to eat each other up on the screen,’ ” Loren said. “ ‘If Sophia is in the film, I am not going to be the mother.’ De Sica was very upset. But she left De Sica with this phrase: ‘Why don’t you let Sophia play the mother?’ ”
The director liked Magnani’s suggestion. “He wrote me a telegram,” she recalled. “I was in Paris. He said, ‘You are going to play the mother and your daughter is going to be 14 years old. I thought I was going to die. I was 25 years old.”
The film’s most haunting sequence -- the aftermath of the two women’s rape by soldiers -- was shot in just one take. “De Sica said ‘Take. Print.’ I said, ‘No. Let’s do it again.’ He said, ‘No. If something goes wrong with the negative we will do it again. But it’s beautiful.’ ”
Loren, now a grandmother, has a full life with her grandchildren and her sons Carlo and Edoardo. “I always feel like I am a kid. I want to discover things. I am very curious.”
But Loren confesses she’s still in deep mourning over the death of her husband early last year. “I met him when I was 15 years old. Can you imagine? A lifetime. When I was with him, I had always in front of me not a person but the entire world.”