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.Video: Hollywood prepares for its biggest night (on this page)
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.
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.Video: Catch up on all the Oscar buzz in 6 minutes (on this page)
“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.
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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