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Italian Film Director Carlo Ponti Dies

Carlo Ponti, one of Italy's best-known film producers and the husband of actress Sophia Loren, has died in Geneva at the age of 94. In his 50-year career, Ponti produced more than 150 films. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome

All over the world he was known as the husband of one of Italy's most famous actresses, Sofia Loren.

But Carlo Ponti was one of Italy's best film producers. He produced a number of classic films like Federico Fellini's La Strada, David Lean's Dr. Zhivago and Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup.

Carlo Ponti died at the age of 94 in a hospital in Geneva after suffering pulmonary complications. He had been admitted to the hospital about 10 days ago.

Born near Milan in 1913, Ponti studied law and worked as a lawyer in the city before his move into film production. He began making films in 1938 by accident, when a film-producer client of the law firm he was working for fled fascist-era Italy and asked him to take over.

The producer spotted Sophia Loren when she took part in a beauty contest when she was a teenager. He was more than 20 years older than her. She was poor and from a Naples slum. He was already an established producer and a married man.

Ponti groomed her for stardom and stood back in the shadow as Sophia Loren became, first Italy's sex symbol, and then a popular Hollywood actress.

In 1957, their first marriage caused a scandal in Italy. At the time there were no divorce laws in Italy, and Ponti was still married. He had unsuccessfully sought a Vatican annulment of his first marriage.

Ponti married Sophia Loren by proxy in Mexico. In Italy, Ponti was charged with bigamy. The scandal over their marriage forced them to leave the country and move to Hollywood. They later had two sons, one of whom is now a film director.

Just four years after they were married, Sophia Loren won the best actress Oscar for Two Women, produced by her husband. A few years later he was nominated for an Oscar for Dr. Zhivago.

Ponti produced films by Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, George Cukor and Sidney Lumet. Among the classics to his name were Marriage Italian Style (1964) and A Special Day (1977).

Italy's Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli said his death marks the end of an era for film-making because he embodied a great and courageous push to innovate, promoted unforgettable talents and enjoyed huge success.