The nun who kissed Elvis, Dolores Hart, finally decides to talk
We're inundated these days with books written about so-and-so's personal journey. Movie stars, music-makers, persons of interest. Seems like everyone has a tale to tell. So, isn't too hard to appreciate the kind of attention a memoir receives when it's summed up as “an actresses' journey from Hollywood to holy vows.”
This isn't a work of fiction or some clever marketing ploy. “The Ear of the Heart” is the story of Mother Dolores Hart, who brought the Hollywood machine to a screeching halt back in 1963 when the budding young actress announced she was leaving the silver screen to enter a contemplative monastery.
Bright, beautiful and well on her way to becoming one of Hollywood's darlings, her first turn in the spotlight had come in 1957 when she beat out a bevy of beauties to star opposite — and kiss! — Elvis Presley in “Loving You.” Nine more films followed, roles that paired her with leading men like Montgomery Clift, Anthony Quinn and Warren Beatty.
But it was a calling for an even greater role that took her life in a different direction; abandoning everything she knew and loved to enter the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn. Fast-forward 50 years, and she's back in the spotlight with her memoir “The Ear of the Heart” (Ignatius Press, $25) — this time to answer all the questions people have for the “nun who kissed Elvis.”
Question: Take me back to that moment in 1963 when you announced your decision … people must have been shocked.
Answer: Well, let me say, I had been coming (to the convent) as guest for about five years, and, this time, I really put it on the line with (Mother Benedict), and she said, “I don't want you to come in and go out. It wouldn't be any good for you, Hollywood or the church. I think you should wait another six months and get everything together.” I could have died, but I understood those were the conditions.
At that point, I was engaged to be married (to Don Robinson). He was, of course, heartbroken, because he was looking forward to our marriage. But he said, “I just want you to know, all love relationships don't end at the altar, and I will be faithful to you.” And I never thought his faithfulness would last 50 years. He came at least twice a year when I was here ... and he never married, either.
I did not tell people about it until after I entered. Then, I wrote letters to my agent, to different people who needed to know the truth and the details. And they were furious, let me tell you. My agent, he was so mad. And Mr. (Hal) Wallis said, “You will never work in this town again! It doesn't matter if you leave, you'll never work again.” He had a right to be mad because I had signed a contract with him recently. But you can't explain a vocation. But by 1975, Mr. Wallis had begun to send us films and his wife, Martha, began sending us a fruit basket every month, which she continues to this very day. It is amazing, how faithful people who love one another can be.
Q: Did you ever experience any second doubts?
A: Because God gave me the call ... I just could not have been more certain. But I did not like it. I didn't like it in the sense that this wasn't the good life that I had been living. It's hard to explain — part of you wants the freedom, you want all the fun things that go with the gift, but the gift was given by God, too. The gift of a career. That was an amazing gift. I certainly was one in million who had things handed to her on a silver platter. And I knew when it was over. And the next thing was to honor this call.
Q: Was it hard being there at first?
A: Once I was on the monastery land, I knew a peace that was absolute. And, of course, after I entered, I began to find out what the cost of this vocation was, because I had to attend the office of prayer eight times a day and once in the middle of the night. And I had to live in this cell, which was a big as my clothes closet when I was in Hollywood. And all of those things are humanly — they drive you to question. But, then, things happen that are so, so telling, and you know this has been the way to go. I could see that my life was much more meaningful to others than if I had been making another box of movies.
Q: Did it ever strike you how wild it was to go from being the actress who kissed Elvis to becoming a nun?
A: Yes. I cannot tell you how much. Sometimes, I have the dream that I wake up in purgatory and dream that I have to do it all over again. But it is amazing. It's an amazing thing to look back on, and I think that's when anyone really searches their own life and sees the clues that have been given. You do know you've been made by God for a reason. You have a purpose. There is no one like you, and you have a purpose that you've got to work out. And I think that's where peace of mind comes and peace of heart.
Q: What inspired you to write the book at this point in your life?
A: Well, actually, it was a discussion that I had with my good friend Dick DeNeut. He said, “You know, I know you've been keeping letters. You kept your letters and notebook and diaries all your life. … Don't you think it's time for you to write your autobiography? Because you're getting old and you're going to be too old soon!”
Q: Did you find yourself smiling as you went down memory lane?
A: Oh yes! (One of my favorites was), oh gosh, probably the premiere of “Wild Is the Wind.” My grandmother and my grandfather came from Chicago to that premiere and my grandpa was so proud of my career. And when we went to that first opening, I have a picture of him — his chest was so out, you would have thought he had pillows under it. He was just so happy and so proud.
Q: Looking back, what purpose do you think God had for you in Hollywood?
A: Well, I've wondered that. And I think that as I see it, my vocation is meant to be a witness to something — a witness to the gift of God in our lives, the gift of making His love visible. It seems like a rather amazing little plan, you know? To put me in the most envied place on the planet and then give me the vocation. I think it's a neat script. I think He's pretty clever.
Kate Benz is the social columnist for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 412-380-8515.