Sophia Loren? Apocryphal? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: I am trying to recall an observation made in the 1950s or 1960s by a great beauty. I do not remember the precise wording. The essence of the quotation was that her attractiveness was 50 percent actual and 50 percent projected by others. Would you please help me to identify the quote and who said it?
Quote Investigator: The earliest relevant evidence QI has found appeared in a gossip column called “The Smart Set” by Cholly Knickerbocker in December 1957. The adage was ascribed to the film star Sophia Loren, and she combined the insightful remark with a modest self-evaluation. Boldface has been added: 1
So help us, Sophia Loren said it: “Sex appeal is 50 per cent what you’ve got and 50 per cent what people think you’ve got. People think I’ve got far more than I really have. I must not try to disillusion them.”
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In March 1958 the influential columnist Walter Winchell disseminated the two sentence quotation widely, and he labeled it the “quote of the week”, but the words had already entered the print domain three months prior. The second sentence was phrased somewhat differently: 2 3
The quote of the week is Sophia Loren’s: “Sex appeal is 50 per cent what you’ve got—and 50 per cent what people think you’ve got. Since most people think I’ve got more than I really have, I try not to disillusion them.”
In 1961 the diligent joke compiler Jacob M. Braude published the “Speaker’s Encyclopedia of Humor: Stories, Quotes, Definitions, and Toasts for Every Situation”. The saying was presented in the format of a definition and no attribution was listed: 4
Sex appeal: 1. fifty per cent what you’ve got and fifty per cent what people think you’ve got. 2. something that makes feminine capital out of masculine interest.
In 1963 a one sentence version of the quotation appeared in “The Miami News” of Florida: 5
Quote from Sophia Loren: “Sex appeal is 50 per cent what you’ve got — and 50 per cent what people think you’ve got.”
In 1964 an instance of the adage credited to Loren was printed in Jet magazine: 6
Sophia Loren, actress on sex appeal: “It’s 50 per cent what you’ve got and 50 per cent what people think you have.”
In conclusion, QI believes this saying should be ascribed to Sophia Loren. QI has not found an interview in which she spoke the words. Yet, from the early years of her movie career onward the words have been credited to her, and there have been no other significant alternative attributions.
Image Notes: Cropped image of Sophia Loren dancing from a scene in “La Baia di Napoli”. Cropped screenshot of Sophia Loren from the trailer of “Houseboat”. Both images are in the public domain and were obtained via Wikimedia Commons.
(Great thanks to the anonymous individual who requested an exploration of this expression.)
- 1957 December 13, Anniston Star, The Smart Set by Cholly Knickerbocker, Quote Page 6, Column 2, Anniston, Alabama. (NewspaperArchive) ↩
- 1958 March 15, Springfield Union, Walter Winchell On Broadway, Quote Page 21, Column 2, Springfield, Massachusetts. (GenealogyBank) ↩
- 1958 March 22, Spartanburg Herald [Herald-Journal], Walter Winchell: Hayes, Healy Plenty Good, Quote Page 4, Column 1, Spartanburg, South Carolina. (Google News Archive) ↩
- 1961, Speaker’s Encyclopedia of Humor: Stories, Quotes, Definitions, and Toasts for Every Situation by Jacob M. Braude, Page 298, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1963 October 9, The Miami News, Some Comment About People On The Miami Scene by Herb Rau, Quote Page 6B, Column 1, Miami, Florida. (Google News Archive) ↩
- 1964 September 24, Jet, Volume 26, Number 25, Words of the Week, Quote Page 30, Published by Johnson Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Google Books full View) link ↩