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How Sophia Loren Made Hollywood Fall in Love With Greece

Sophia Loren
Sophia Loren. Credit: Tom Simpson / CC BY-NC 2.0

Sophia Loren, the great Italian actress, was the star of the first Hollywood movie ever shot in Greece on the majestic island of Hydra. The Boy on a Dolphin was shot in 1957 and is now considered a classic.

“I will never forget Hydra…one of the most beautiful places in the world,” said Loren in speaking to The New York Times recently.

“I did a picture, The Boy on a Dolphin, in Greece, in Hydra, one of the most beautiful places in the world. I remember it really with great, great joy,” Loren is noted to have said.

“Because, for me, it was a moment of starting in the American cinema and I was starting my romance with my husband,” she said, “and so I’m attached also for what I discovered in my husband. It was a beautiful, euphoric moment for me. I will never forget Hydra.”

The film was an adventure romance film from 20th Century Fox and was Sophia Loren’s English-language debut. It was based on the 1955 novel of the same name by David Divine.

Sophia Loren Greece
Sophia Loren stars in “The Boy on a Dolphin”. Video frame

Much of the film was shot on location on Hydra. Establishing shots of Athens, Rhodes, and Delos add to the vérité while matte shots and some interiors were done at Cinecittà in Rome.

One scene uses the Eastern Orthodox monastery complex at Meteora, which was later utilized as a location in the James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only.

Sophia Loren plays the leading role as Phaedra, a poor Greek sponge diver on the island of Hydra. She accidentally finds an ancient Greek statue of a boy riding a dolphin on the bottom of the Aegean Sea. The statue brings pride to the city of Hydra and has been lost for around two thousand years.

Her efforts to sell it to the highest bidder led her to two competing individuals: Dr. James Calder (Alan Ladd), an honest archaeologist who will surrender it to Greek authorities, and Victor Parmalee (Clifton Webb), an aesthete and unscrupulous dealer in historic artifacts.

The film’s ending is a happy one, with virtue rewarded, the statue celebrated by the people of Hydra, and Phaedra and Calder in each other’s arms.

Sophia Loren highlights Greece’s beauty

In the 1950s, the island of Hydra was a little-known rock in the Aegean. Most of its inhabitants made a living through fishing, and the old houses in the Chora could be bought for a song.

In the 1960s, Mykonos was likewise still untouched by mass tourism. The entire island had a total of nine taxis and two buses. Passenger ships would not pull in to the harbor but anchor at sea with travelers ferried to the island via launches.

It was this Greece—one of authenticity, beauty, and hospitality—that greeted Sophia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, and dozens of other stars who made Hollywood fall in love with Greece and helped spark the modern-day miracle of Greek tourism.

Loren was born in Rome in 1934 and grew up in Naples. Her real name is Sofia Villani Scicolone and entered the film industry in the 1950s. She soon became one of the most emblematic figures of Italian and international cinema.

She won an Oscar in 1962 for her performance in La Ciociara, or Two Women, about wartime Italy.

Loren was married to well-known Italian producer Carlo Ponti, who died in 2007. She has two sons from her marriage and now lives in Switzerland.

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