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LIFE photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt and Italian actress Sophia Loren enjoyed a long relationship not only as artist and subject, but also as friends. It’s not surprising then, that when Loren had a baby after several miscarriages and a highly publicized struggle, it was Eisenstaedt who visited her and her producer husband Carlo Ponti in Geneva, to document the new mother doting on her baby.
In Eisenstaedt’s images, Loren, who turns 81 on Sept. 20, appears simultaneously conscious of the camera and blissfully taken with little Carlo Ponti, Jr. In some, she poses as though she has done so a thousand times—because she has—and in others, Eisenstaedt captures her looking at her son as though he and his camera were thousands of miles away, back in LIFE’s New York office.
The photos could just as easily have constituted a fashion spread—a celebration of the primary colors, fitted turtlenecks, big glasses and even bigger hair that ushered in the 1970s. But the star is the woman who wears them, at ease with a photographer she trusts. When asked, last year, what Eisenstaedt captured in her that other photographers couldn’t, she told LIFE.com, “That I was a girl, joyful for her life, because she accepted anything that came with her work. Just being really, completely happy.”
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.