Ron Onesti: There is only one Sophia Loren

BACKSTAGE with the Arcada Theatre’s Ron Onesti

I am writing this as I sit at the base of the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) in Florence, Italy. Definitely not looking for any sympathy here. Actually, it’s my birthday and there is a huge food trade show in Parma so I figured, “What the heck, I’m going!”

It is always bittersweet when I make the journey back to the place my mom, her two sisters and my grandparents on her side were born. The family goes back to the late 1700s there. I am currently mustering up the emotional courage as I am preparing to visit the home where they were all born. I must share an experience I had back in 2016 with you.

I have been in Rome the past couple of days, and still prominent in advertising, store windows and product placement is the image of who could arguably be referred to as the most beautiful and the classiest woman ever to live (other than my mom), Sophia Loren.

Then when I got to Florence yesterday, I happened upon the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum. Ferragamo, who passed away in 1960 (ironically at age 62, which I turned today), was the “Shoemaker to the Stars.” Not just your average cobbler, he used architecture, mathematics and physics to design perfect footwear to the “Who’s Who” of Hollywood, including Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Ava Gardner, and … there she was again, Sophia Loren. She was his favorite.

As I foray through talent agency rosters to find good fits for our theaters, once in a while, someone improbable comes out of the blue and makes themselves available for interviews or career retrospectives. That has happened several times for me, legendary names including Mickey Rooney, Shirley MacLaine, Barbara Eden, Debby Reynolds, Ed McMahon have all graciously allowed this star-struck theater owner the honor of interviewing them on stage. They were all magical.

But back in 2016, what I thought would be impossible became possible. I received a call asking if I would be interested in bringing Sophia Loren to Chicago!

“This cannot be happening,” I thought. Yes, she is a legend. Yes, she is one of the last of Hollywood royalty still with us. Yes, she is the patron saint to all things beautifully Italian. But more important, she was my mom’s hero.

So I took all the necessary steps to make this gift from God happen. The best hotel, first class air, limousines, the best hair and makeup folks I could find, and of course, the best pasta Chicago had to offer, for one of her most famous lines was, “Everything you see, I owe to pasta!”

The day came, and when I saw her, all I could think of was my mom as a young girl going to the cinema near the Ponte Vecchio where she grew up. Sophia was 82 at the time, still a picture of beauty and elegance. For almost two hours she spoke of her family, her career and her love of Italy.

But the best part was seeing the gleam in my mother’s eyes, something I really hadn’t seen since my dad passed a couple years before. I was lucky enough to do something few people get to do. I was able to introduce my 91-year-old mom, just months before her passing, to her childhood hero.

Yes, my mom is gone now, but Sophia is still “pounding the pasta” in Italy at the soon-to-be age of 90. As I am walking to that childhood home of mom here in Florence, I am reliving that magical night. And I can’t wait for the day my daughter, who was 10 at the time, realize who was hugging her in this picture (my mom is in blue).

And there it is, Via Della Chiesa, 22. I could see her and her two sisters jumping out of the worn front door to go to play in the nearby piazza, my grandmother hanging clothes to dry outside the front window on the second floor, and my grandfather who was a composer and mandolin virtuoso, whistling to himself, as he walked down the very street I was standing on, to get home for dinner.

This is a tough one, but I am now fulfilled by this foray into my family history. The world was blessed with Sophia Loren, but I was blessed with that girl who was born as Via Della Chiesa, 22, Florence, Italy.

• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp., the Arcada Theatre in St. Charles and the Des Plaines Theatre. Celebrity questions and comments? Email

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