Dolores Hart: From film starlet kissing Elvis to Mother Dolores … to Oscar’s Red Carpet

10 11 2012

Rev. Mother Dolores Hart (born October 20, 1938) is an American Roman Catholic nun and former actress. She made ten films in five years, playing opposite Stephen Boyd, Montgomery Clift, George Hamilton and Robert Wagner, having made her movie debut with Elvis Presley in Loving You (1957).[1][2]


Dolores Hart appeared in 10 movies in the late 1950s and early ’60s, starring opposite some of the biggest stars of the era: Anthony Quinn, Myrna Loy, and Montgomery Clift. She was one of Elvis Presley’s first onscreen kisses. At age 20, she earned a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut in The Pleasure of His Company. She was an above-the-title star of 1960’s spring-break romp Where the Boys Are, which led to an invitation to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

And then in June of 1963, the striking starlet with the dark blond hair and piercing blue eyes left it all behind. She packed a single suitcase and attended one last autograph-signing session in New York City for Come Fly With Me, an MGM comedy about three husband-hunting air hostesses. ”I remember I had makeup on from some photography that they were doing,” she recalls. Then a man working for the studio approached her. ”He wanted to know if he could take me somewhere when it was over, so I said, ‘It’s a long way. You could just take me to the bus.”’ But he insisted, and so he drove her just over two hours north of the city and deposited her at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn., where she has lived the quiet life of a cloistered Benedictine nun ever since.

When one of the “Nunsense” musicals was playing in Connecticut, Dan Goggin was introduced to Mother Dolores and that began a friendship which has only grown over the years. In 2009 Dan decided that Mother Dolores’ life would be a great subject to be part of his new musical, NUNSET BOULEVARD. Mother Dolores herself, loved the idea, and said that Dan was the one who finally got her back to Hollywood—if only in a musical comedy story. Now, that imaginary thought has come to life. In 2012 Mother Dolores was nominated for an academy award for a documentary about her life and she actually did return to Hollywood and the red carpet at the Oscars. She is a huge fan of the “Nunsense” musicals and in return for all her love and support the NUNSET BOULEVARD company is splitting the profits of the DVD of the show 50/50 with the Abbey of Regina Laudis, home to Mother Dolores.


Born Dolores Hicks, she was the only child of actor Bert Hicks and Harriett Hicks, who separated and ultimately divorced, when she was three years old. An only child, she was not raised Catholic, but was converted to the religion when she was 10. She stated, “As a child I was precocious. My parents married when they were 16 and 17 and both were beautiful people. Moss Hart offered my mother, Harriett, a contract but by then they had me and my father, Bert Hicks, a bit player, definitely a Clark Gable type, had movie offers so we moved from Chicago to Hollywood. I was a Hollywood brat. We lived in Beverly Hills and I used to visit the lots with him. He had a bit part in ‘Forever Amber.’ I always wanted to be part of that life.”[3]

Hart was also related by marriage, through an aunt, to singer Mario Lanza. She lived in Chicago with her grandparents, who sent her to a parochial school, St. Gregory Catholic School in Chicago, not for its religious education but it was closest to home and she stated, “My grandparents didn’t want me to get run over by streetcars.”[citation needed] It was actually her grandfather, a movie theater projectionist to whom she turned for comfort in light of her parents’ marital problems, whose enthusiasm for films influenced her decision to pursue an acting career. She would watch the films, but without sound so as not to disturb his naps in the booth, and her job was to wake him at the end of each reel.[1]

In Beverly Hills, the eleven year-old Hicks also had lived with her mother, a restaurant greeter, who married owner Al Gordon. She studied at Marymount College and was later engaged to Los Angeles architect Don Robinson, before she entered the convent. She admitted she loved him — “Of course, Don, I love you.” But Robinson said, “Every love doesn’t have to wind up at the altar.” He never married but visited her every year at Christmas and Easter until his death on November 29, 2011, aged 78,[4] and helped the community.[5][6]

Using the stage name of ‘Dolores Hart’, in 1956 she was signed to play a supporting role as the love interest to Elvis Presley in the 1957 release Loving You. After this appearance, Hart found herself in frequent demand, and she made two more films before playing with Presley again in 1958’s King Creole. She has denied ever having had an ‘intimate’ relationship with Presley off-screen. In interviews during her movie career she was often asked, “What is it like kissing Elvis?” She chuckled a bit at the memory, “I think the limit for a screen kiss back then was something like 15 seconds. That one has lasted 40 years.” Hart, in 1960, made a sketch of a St. Francis‘s statue, arms outstretched, while working in Rome on the movie Francis of Assisi.[3]

Hart then made her debut on Broadway, winning a 1959 Theatre World Award as well as a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress for her role in The Pleasure of His Company.

In 1960, Hart starred in Where the Boys Are, a teenage comedy about college students on spring break which developed a near cult-like following. In the film, Hart plays a co-ed who struggles to define herself when confronted with her newly-discovered sexuality and popularity with the opposite sex. Hart starred in the film Francis of Assisi (1961), in which she (prophetically) played Saint Clare of Assisi. She went on to star in four more films, including the lead role in The Inspector (Lisa) which was based on a novel by Jan de Hartog and nominated for a Golden Globe for “Best Picture – Drama”. Her last role was opposite Hugh O’Brian in 1963’s Come Fly with Me.

At this point she had made up her mind to leave the film industry, and after breaking off her engagement to Don Robinson, the 24-year-old actress became a Roman Catholic nun at the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut, ultimately becoming its Prioress. Earlier, in a New York promotional stop for Come Fly with Me, she rode a limousine to Bethlehem to discuss joining the order. At 24, her final one-way journey to the abbey in 1963 was in an ordinary car, and not in a limousine as reported.

Vocational calling

While Hart was doing Francis of Assisi in Rome, she met Blessed Pope John XXIII, who was instrumental in her vocation. She told him “I am Dolores Hart, the actress playing Clare.” The Pontiff replied, “Tu sei Chiara!” (“No, you are Clare!” in Italian).[7]

As a novice, she told Abbey founder, Lady Abbess Benedict Duss, “I will never have to worry again about being an actress because it was all over and behind me.” But Lady Abbess replied, “I’m sorry, but you’re completely wrong. Now you have to take up a role and really work at it.” Hart submitted a rejoinder, “I was so mad when she said that because I really emptied my pockets, so to speak, and literally had given away everything that had meant anything to me.” The Abbess said, “I’m sorry you did that because there’s a lot of things you gave away that you’re going to need here.” She initially took the religious name Sister Judith”, but she changed it to Sister Dolores at her final vows. “Hal Wallis wanted to call me Susan when I started my movie career, but I was under age and my mother would not hear of it. She wanted me to be Dolores.”[3] She took her final vows in 1970.[1] She chants in Latin eight times a day.[8]

In 2006, she visited Hollywood again after 43 years in the convent to raise awareness for peripheral idiopathic neuropathy disorder, a neurological disorder that afflicts her and many Americans. In April 2006, she testified at a Washington congressional hearing on the need for research on the painful and crippling disease amid her ordeal.[9]

Hart, who was compared to Grace Kelly, was instrumental in developing her Abbey of Regina Laudis‘s project of expansion of its community connection through the arts, using her fame. Paul Newman helped her with funding for a lighting grid, when she envisioned a year-round arts school and a better-equipped stage. Another friend, the Academy Award winning actress Patricia Neal helped support the abbey’s theater. Hart’s vision was to meet the abbey’s needs—development and expansion of its open-air theater and arts program for the Bethlehem community. Every summer, the abbey’s 38 nuns on 400 acres (1.6 km2) of rural land, help the community stage a musical, with the 2008 presentation of West Side Story, after previous shows Fiddler on the Roof, The Music Man and My Fair Lady.[1]

The Reverend Mother Dolores Hart is Prioress of the Abbey (since 2001), but she remains a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, having in recent years become the only nun to be an Oscar-voting member.

On October 4, 2008 “The Holy Trinity Apostolate”, founded by Rev. John Hardon, S.J., sponsored a “Breakfast with Mother Dolores Hart”. Held at Rochester, Michigan‘s Royal Park Hotel, Hart told her story: “He Led Me Out into an Open Space; He Saved Me Because He Loved Me: The Journey of Mother Dolores Hart to Regina Laudis”. Since 1963, when she joined the Bethlehem CT Monastery, she disciplined herself under the Rule of Saint Benedict. At the breakfast, several people spoke, including actress Patricia Neal and Maria Cooper Janis, the daughter of Hollywood leading man Gary Cooper.[10][11]

A documentary film about Hart’s life, God Is the Bigger Elvis is a nominee for the 2012 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) and is scheduled to be shown on HBO in April 2012.[12][13]

Hart attended the 2012 Academy Awards for her Oscar nominated documentary “God Is the Bigger Elvis”. Her last red carpet Oscar event was in 1959, as a Hollywood starlet.




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