From the Stars and Stripes archives

Shooting Sophia

Sophia Loren at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, France, in May, 1958.


By RED GRANDY | SPECIAL TO STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 21, 2005

Every year, soon after Lent and in the flush of Spring, a small part of the world goes mad. It is called "The Cannes Film Festival," held on the "Blue Coast" of France.

The Cote d'Azur and its warm Mediterranean waters draw not only the winter weary from the Northern Hemisphere but all the entrepreneurs of the movie world — its actors, spectators, voyeurs, etc., who are almost outnumbered by a voracious horde of opportunistic photographers and journalists.

It was a Mecca for any fading known actor or actress in need of a shot in the arm to get back in the public or, by the same token, an unknown just waiting to be discovered. There were always several of these so-called "starlets" hanging around the beach in front of the Carlton Hotel who would do anything for publicity. A typical example was the unknown Simone Silva, who let her bikini top slip off while hugging Robert Mitchum, thus making front pages around the world some years ago.

If you didn't take it too seriously it could be a lot of fun playing their game. At the May 1958 Festival, Mike Todd and Elizabeth Taylor were there to promote "Around the World in Eighty Days." They wanted to have a private "soiree" for invited guests only, and absolutely no press. Todd even put 10 caged lions at the entrance to keep gate crashers away. I put on a black suit and bow tie to give it a try. Instead of going to the front door I went around to the kitchen entrance, where there were no guards. I took some pictures of the cooks, got their names, etc., then followed a waiter into the dining room.

Once inside, I put down my camera and accepted a glass of champagne from a passing waiter. Then I saw Mitzi Gaynor, whom I had done a story on the day before. She motioned for me to come to her table and join her for dinner. After that everyone assumed that I was a guest, so I had no trouble taking pictures of the celebrities, including Mike Todd and Elizabeth Taylor. She really does have the most beautiful eyes in the world.

The hounds of the press at these affairs were the notorious paparazzi. They would stomp all over each other and their mothers to get a picture. They were like killer bees. I never joined them in their attacks but did enjoy outfoxing them.

We were all gathered in front of the Carlton Hotel awaiting the arrival of Sophia Loren. It was a mob scene when she came by car and managed to escape inside the hotel, where photographers were not allowed.

After everyone settled down for the long wait for her to come out to attend the evening soiree, I put my camera in my shoulder bag. When an elderly couple arrived to check in, I followed them into the hotel. Looking over their shoulders as they signed in, I saw that Sophia was in room 344.

I went up in the elevator and knocked on her door. A man, her agent, asked me what I wanted. I told him I was with the Stars and Stripes and just wanted a picture of Sophia before she went to the soiree. He called to her and suddenly her smiling face with a towel around her head appeared from the bathroom door. Her agent told her what I wanted. She said, "Show heem in, give heem a drink, I'll be right out." Wow!

After several scotch and sodas with the agent, Sophia came out of the bedroom with her gigantic smile and offered her hand. She was so gracious and cooperative. We made several shots inside the room, and then I had a devilish idea. Her balcony was almost over the entrance to the hotel, where all the photographers were waiting below for her to come out. When she agreed to pose on the balcony for me, the scene below became a bedlam of screams and camera activity.

Then, with Sophia between us, the agent and I went down in the elevator and escorted her out of the hotel to her waiting car. Thanks to the paparazzi, the picture of the three of us made all the papers the next day.

Of course it was a frivolous, adventuresome game we were playing, a far cry from covering military maneuvers, but it gave our readers a lighter view of that other world out there — and me, too.

Francis "Red" Grandy worked for Stars and Stripes' European edition from 1951 to 1986. He now lives in Hermon, N.Y.

Sophia Loren at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, France, in May, 1958.