By Stephen M. Silverman and Susan Mandel
Updated October 28, 2002 01:10 PM

A star-studded crowd that included Doris Roberts, Tony Bennett and Michael Badalucco of ABC’s “The Practice,” cheered along as Sophia Loren and Robert De Niro were inducted into the Italian American Hall of Fame at the annual National Italian American Foundation gala in Washington, D.C., Saturday night, PEOPLE reports.

The best photo op of the evening came when De Niro walked over to the beauteous Loren, embraced her and kissed her Italian-style on both cheeks. He then posed for the cameras with her, shooing an Italian political leader out of the way in the process.

“The problem with accepting this kind of award is that it’s usually at the end of the evening, everyone’s tired and everything. And everything good has already been said about everybody. So I’m going to make this sort of quick. I love Sophia Loren,” De Niro, 59, said upon receiving his award.

Loren, stunning in a dangerously low-cut strapless apricot-colored gown, was clearly moved when accepting her award. “I could cry right away … These words cannot express my appreciation for being the first native of Italy inducted into the Italian American Hall of Fame. Italy has given the world some of its greatest treasures. And America remains a beacon of freedom and opportunity for the world,” said the 68-year-old legend.

As for being inducted, the two-time Oscar winner told PEOPLE: “I was surprised, but wonderfully surprised, yes. It’s a wonderful award because it deals with Italians … I’m Italian, I’m Neapolitan. I’m 100 percent. I’m not Italo-American.”