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Generazione Bruciata. In the early days, before World War II, Romilda helped support her daughters by giving piano lessons in Pozzuoli and playing in local cafés. Sophia's grandfatherwho now at 78 struts about town in the warmth of his magic celebritywas then a cannon maker at the local arms factory. In the four-room family flat, nine people slept in one bedroom; Sophia shared a bed with her grandmother, grandfather and an aunt.
A silent child, she would go outside and sit in the branches of fig trees. Sometimes she did not speak for days. "I've always been a very closed character," she says.
When the war hammered through Pozzuoli"It was in the house, in the streets" Sophia took her place in what is now called Italy's Generazione Bruciata, the Burnt Generation. People were eating one teaspoon of sugar a day and one slice of bread. Her mother once scavenged a cup of water from the radiator of an automobile and rationed it to her two daughters spoonful by spoonful. During one bombardment, Sophia cut her chin. She still has the scar. When the bombing became frequent, the family slept every night in the tunnel of the railroad that runs up to Naples.
Sì, Momma. In school after the war,
Sophia was bright but not a particularly good student. "I always felt a stranger among the girls who had a father," she says. "They used to talk among themselves. You know how children are sometimes, very cruel. So I used to go to school either at five minutes to 9, when everybody was almost in, or at 8 o'clock, because nobody was there." On the door of her house, her schoolmates scrawled the word stecchetto (little stick) because she was as thin as one.
At 14 the little stick suddenly blossomed. Gymnastics classes were held in the Roman amphitheater, and the men of Pozzuoli began to show up to watch Sophia doing calisthenics. "It became a pleasure just to stroll down the street," Sophia remembers. Mamma had thought that Sophia should try to become a teacher, but she took another look and put her in a beauty contest. She won a secondary prize that included 15.000 lire and some wallpaper, which still decorates Grandfather Villani's living room in Pozzuoli. In the spring of 1950, mother and daughter went off to Rome to seek work in films.
"There I told my first big lie for Sophia," Romilda says. "Someone called out. This way for girls who speak English.' 'Sure!' I told the man, 'my daughter speaks English. Don't you speak English, Sophia?' 'Sì, Mamma.' And we found ourselves in a room with lots of people and Mervyn LeRoy sitting in a chair. He said in English, 'Do you speak English?' And Sophia asked me in Italian what he was saying. They realized we were bluffing, but for our courage they gave us both jobs as extras in Quo Vadis."
Panting Editors. Sophia found another job posing for photographs for the fumetti, the cheapjack Italian magazines that tell vivid stories with strips of pictures like U.S. comic books. She changed her name to Sophia Lazzaro, suggesting that she could raise men from the dead.
Mamma kept the money Sophia earned in a handkerchief, and every morning they would take it out, count it, and stare at it.