By delightful coincidence I was dining in elegant Romanoff’s restaurant in Beverly Hills that 1957 night when young and ravishing Sophia Loren entered, accompanied by several movie executives who, once seated, gazed across satin tablecloth and widened omnipresent smiles, laughing at her every utterance. I understand their behavior for I was equally captivated by the recently obscure Italian actress who had just completed filming The Pride and the Passion, costarring Frank Sinatra and Cary Grant. The dashing Grant, renowned for personal charm as well as versatile acting, had become badly smitten by Loren. Had she reciprocated? She had, for awhile, but to what degree? That detail was utterly private but nonetheless obsessed movie aficionados and, much to our consternation, remains a secret experience between the two.
Cary Grant, at any rate, was assigned a seat far away from Sophia Loren, and some devious creature had placed peroxide Jayne Mansfield next to her. I vividly recall Miss Loren’s sleeveless black dress matched her hair and was low cut and suggestively held up by a mere thin white strap reaching around her neck, and Mansfield’s light dress had no cut at all above the solar plexus and was overwhelmed by breasts, augmented or not, that could’ve sufficiently stacked three women. Loren, a woman of quite impressive cleavage, was not, in my opinion, jealous of Mansfield but grew displeased by the tawdry efforts of a carnival actress to deflect attention from her recent dramatic achievements.
Each time Mansfield giggled and made frivolous statements such as, “Glad we have warm weather around here or I’d freeze,” Loren’s features tightened. I’ve never seen anyone anxious as Mansfield to rise from her seat and loudly greet people. And after they were seated, she placed both hands on their chair backs or the table and flaunted her breasts. Loren looked alternately shocked, perturbed, and nervous, and was unsure how to respond until Mansfield virtually thrust her left nipple, which the scanty dress had been designed to release, into the large and sensuous mouth of Loren, who grabbed the offensive gland, squeezed while jumping up, and said, “Get that away from me.”
Mansfield cocked her right hand grabbed by a waiter. “Let’s step outside, bitch,” she said.
“Ladies, please,” said Mike Romanoff, hustling over. “We can’t have you fighting, at least not bare-knuckled and outside.”
The restaurateur winked at a waiter who disappeared into the kitchen and promptly returned with two pairs of large boxing gloves. “Sixteen ounces each, ladies, veritable pillows, couldn’t hurt each other if you wanted,” he said, grinning like a tuxedoed juvenile delinquent.
Sophia Loren, staring at Mansfield, held up first her left and then her right hand, allowing Romanoff to lace her up, and he then performed the same service for Mansfield. He and his employees pushed tables against walls and formed a human square about the size of a ring. The guests rushed to good vantage points.
“All right, fight,” said Romanoff .
Mansfield, like an ox, charged Loren, who as an adolescent on the wartime streets of Pozzuoli had several times fought girls for scraps of food and once broken the nose of a rambunctious boy. Mansfield hadn’t known but immediately learned she yielded experience as Loren fired a jab into her nose and followed with a roundhouse right that rang the blonde’s ear. Stepping back to recover, Mansfield howled and attacked again and Loren caught her with another jab. She missed the right this time but followed with a left hook to Mansfield’s right breast and then a right to her left, and this formula she sustained until the temptress, now topless and bruised, ran into a corner, cradled her breasts, and shouted, “That’s worse than a low blow.”