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Video: Nun returns to Hollywood for date with Oscar

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    >>> welcome back to los angeles . now to a woman who wasn't hard to spot at the oscars . she was the one wearing a nun's habit as she walked down the red carpet . her story is remarkable. you're the only one who can make my dreams come true

    >> reporter: few stars rose higher than elvis presley . sharing scream time with him was as close to heaven as a 1950s actress could get.

    >> i'll try anything.

    >> reporter: billed as the next grace kelly , delores hart starred in ten movies including " king creole " and "loving you," even delivering the king his first on- screen kiss . forgive me, but is elvis presley a good kisser?

    >> i would say he was very good.

    >> reporter: despite standing on the brink of stardom she waved good-bye to hollywood for a greater passion.

    >> if you're a good lover you take your relationship to the max.

    >> reporter: delores was in love with god and her relationship with him led her to the convent. last night a film about her life "god is the bigger elvis" led her to the oscars . what are you looking forward to the most?

    >> winning.

    >> reporter: you can't tell me you haven't side at least one prayer.

    >> possibly god isn't interested at all.

    >> reporter: how will you celebrate?

    >> maybe my assistant and i will get some yogurt.

    >> reporter: the film portrays her life and sacrifice as a nun including the heart break of leaving behind a fiance, don robinson .

    >> i was engaged to be married. i said, don, every love relationship doesn't have to end at the altar. he said something i won't say here.

    >> reporter: you would have to go to confession?

    >> no, i wouldn't. it would just insult all your viewers because they wouldn't think a nun would say those things.

    >> reporter: incredibly, the two never stopped seeing each other.

    >> don came every christmas, easter to visit me.

    >> reporter: his love never ended.

    >> it never ended.

    >> reporter: did you love him?

    >> i did. i still do.

    >> reporter: though she has no regrets about leaving hollywood , she's enjoying the return to show biz . her fellow nuns have given her specific instructions for what to do at the oscars .

    >> i am supposed to see george clooney . i'm supposed to ask him all different questions and if i go home without these answers, it may be even worse if i go home without them than without the oscar.

    >> really?

    >> reporter: late in the afternoon it's time to get ready. one thing, mother, at least no one will be wearing the same outfit.

    >> i don't think so. not this year anyway.

    >> reporter: delores 's story line defies even hollywood 's imagination. from hollywood star to nun to the oscars .

    >> it's such a precious gift. don't miss it.

    >> reporter: with the red carpet waiting, she's a star again, celebrated for her time on screen with her heart given to heaven. they didn't win the oscar but they are now going to -- you can now see the documentary on television because "god is bigger than elvis" is debuting thursday, april 5 , on hbo. coming

Producer Julie Anderson/HBO
Dolores Hart, 60s starlet, is now Mother Prioress Dolores, Benedictine nun. Her life's story is the topic of a new HBO documentary, “God Is The Bigger Elvis.”
TODAY contributor
updated 2/27/2012 12:52:23 PM ET 2012-02-27T17:52:23

If you watched the Oscars Sunday, you may have spotted Dolores Hart, the 1960s starlet who starred opposite Montgomery Clift, Robert Wagner, and Elvis Presley — twice. She was the cheerful-looking woman rocking the nun’s habit.

That’s because Hart, who famously shared one of Presley's first on-screen kisses, is now Mother Prioress Dolores, Benedictine nun. Her unusual life story, from the glitz of Tinseltown to a cloistered convent in Connecticut, where she now lives, is the topic of a new HBO documentary, “God Is The Bigger Elvis,” which was nominated for an Oscar.

Hart, now 73, grew up in Chicago and got her start in acting at the age of 19 locking lips with Presley as one of his love interests in the 1957 movie, "Loving You."

When asked by Ann Curry whether Presley was a good kisser, she recalled, “I would say he was very good.”

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She went on to star in a series of high-profile movies and Broadway productions, and was nominated for a Tony Award in in 1959. She also got engaged to Don Robinson, a Los Angeles architect.

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In 1961, Hart took a starring role in "Francis of Assisi," a movie choice which now seems prophetic. In it, Hart played Clare of Assisi, an aristocratic woman who gives up her worldly possessions to become a nun. While promoting the movie, Hart met Pope John XXIII, who purportedly told her, “You are Clare!”, which had a great effect on the young actress.

Hart was at the top of her career. But though the beautiful 20-something seemed to have it all, from a glitzy career to a handsome fiance, she felt dissatisfied with her Hollywood life. Instead of turning to drink or scandal as other young stars might have done, Hart surprised everyone by turning to religion instead.

"If you’re a good lover, you take your relationship to the max,” she told Curry, referring to her relationship with God.

Globe Photos  /  ZUMAPRESS.com
A still from Hart's second film with Elvis Presley, "King Creole."

Hart had first visited the Abbey of Regina Laudis in rural Bethlehem, Conn., in 1959, at the suggestion of a friend, in order to recharge for a role. Though Hart then returned to Hollywood, she continued to correspond with the nuns, who encouraged her to join.

At the age of 24, and at the peak of her career, Hart shocked Hollywood by becoming a cloistered nun. In the HBO documentary — which was nominated for but did not win a Best Documentary Short Oscar — her then-fiance talks about being heartbroken by her decision. Robinson, who never married, continued to visit her at the Abbey every year until his death this past November. For her part, Hart tells told TODAY that she never stopped loving Robinson.

Though the switch from Hollywood to convent might seem abrupt, Hart insists that the transition was a natural one for her.

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“I never felt I was leaving Hollywood,” she says in the film. “God is the vehicle, ‘the bigger Elvis.’ ”

Over the past nearly 50 years, Hart has been a dedicated member of the community at Regina Laudis, and now ranks second only to the Mother Superior at the Abbey, “home to 36 nuns who follow a strict prayer regimen and daily periods of silence,” according to an HBO press release.

Video: Nun returns to Hollywood for date with Oscar (on this page)

Hart may be a cloistered nun, but she isn't afraid to get out into the world. She's used her Hollywood connections — including Paul Newman and Patricia Neal — to help raise funds and awareness for community arts projects, and recently traveled to Washington to testify at a congressional hearing for peripheral idiopathic neuropathy, a disease from which she herself suffers.

Producer Julie Anderson/HBO
Hart's one-time fiance continued to visit Hart at the convent every year until his death this past November. 

Hart continues to be a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and currently holds the distinction of being the only Oscar-voting nun. Though her fellow sisters at Regina Laudis — a 400-acre working farm —are uninterested in movies, she herself has faithfully kept current with all of this year’s Oscar picks, watching screeners in the basement of the Abbey.

Of course, movies have gotten a lot racier since Hart’s days in Tinseltown, but this is one nun who doesn’t get easily shocked.

“I’m not afraid of sex in [movies],” she told the New York Post. “Sex is not evil; it’s part of life.”

Though the movies have changed over the past five decades, Hart’s enthusiasm for them certainly hasn’t.      

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“I’m always excited by Hollywood,” she told The New York Post. “The excitement is even bigger now because I’m not looking for a part.”

The HBO documentary "God Is the Bigger Elvis" premieres on HBO April 5 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

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