Oh, Dolores. Where do I start? Back in 2011, maybe? Well, that’s when I first heard about her anyway. You see, my uncle who is a writer wrote a book called Elvis & Dolores, which was published in 2013. The story takes place in 2010 in a small city of Maine. However, it actually revolves around something that happened years before.
For that, we have to go back to 1963, which was a crucial year for Dolores Hart. After an appearance as a child in the 1947 film Forever Amber (Otto Preminger, 1947), Dolores Hart definitely started her career as an actress in 1957 with Loving You, a film starring Elvis Presley, Lizabeth Scott, and Wendell Corey. In a supporting role, Dolores Hart plays the lovely Susan Jessup. After her break into the movie industry, Dolores played in nine more films and some television episodes before stopping everything in 1963. Because at the age of 24 (that’s only one year older than me!), she decided to become a nun at the Abbey of Regina Laudis Monastery in Connecticut. Fifty years later, Mother Dolores Hart published her autobiography, The Ear of the Heart: An Actress’ Journey From Hollywood to Holy Vows, co-written with her friend Richard DeNeut.
So, in my uncle books, the character learn about this interesting and, foremost, historical event, and try to discover what motivated her to take this important life decision. It’s pure fiction, but it’s a lot of fun. The book is called Elvis & Dolores since she and Elvis Presley appeared in two movies together: Loving You (Hal Kanter, 1957) and King Creole (Michael Curtiz, 1958). But as much as Elvis was a great singer, Dolores was a much better actress!
As a classic movie fan, I obviously was curious to see some of her films. And I finally made up my mind in 2015. I started with Loving You. I first thought her movies were not very easy to find, but, to this day, I finally managed to see all her fiction films. Well, that is if you don’t include Forever Amber. There are some I liked better than some other, but, overall, I pretty much enjoyed them all. Very recently, I saw The Plunderers (Joseph Pevney, 1960) and Wild Is the Wind (George Cukor, 1957) for the first time. The Plunderers was a very agreeable surprise to me. It’s not a film people often mention, so I obviously had no idea what to expect, but I really enjoyed it. In a way, it sort remind me of my favourite Western, High Noon, for various reasons: it’s narratively quite simple; the visual aesthetic (there’s even a shot similar to one in High Noon); Dolores Hart’s role can make us think a bit of Grace Kelly’s one (an innocent woman with a lot of courage); the bad guys are not native Americans (for once…), etc.
As for Wild Is the Wind since the movie was made in 1957, Dolores still only have a supporting role. We don’t see so much of her except at the beginning of the film and a bit toward the end, but she has a beautiful and touching scene with Italian actress Anna Magnani. Despite her short career in films, Dolores had the occasion to share the screen with some big names of the industry.
When I started watching Dolores Hart movies, her acting was a beautiful revelation to me. She was a versatile actress and as her career progressed, we feel she was gaining a lot of confidence. To me, some of her best performances are the ones in Where the Boys Are (George Welles, 1960), which is also my favourite film of hers, Lisa aka The Inspector Philip Dunne, 1962), and in her last film, Come Fly With Me (Henry Levin, 1963). But she was a delight in everything and was never miscast. I saw most of her films in 2015 and watched the ones remaining in the years to follow. The great thing about her roles is that, even if she had a small part, she always had her “15 minutes of glory”, meaning that there never was a film without a scene where she would shine and steal the show, even if it was for a short time.
Interestingly, Dolores Hart was compared to Grace Kelly. As I love Grace Kelly, this was another reason for me to explore her films. The comparison was first made for their physical resemblance, and then, for their short career in the movie industry. The only (big) difference is that she chose the religious life instead of the royal one. The roles Dolores Hart played on the screen where however quite different from the ones played by Kelly. If Grace often played the sophisticated high society ladies (expect in The Country Girl), Dolores Hart was more of the “girl next door” type which could allow us to identify more easily with her. Her variety of roles also allowed different types of person find themselves in her characters. For example, we agree that her Lisa was pretty different from Elinor Harrison (Sail A Crooked Ship). But despite everything, Dolores Hart always reminded faithful to herself in her acting and therefore developed her own “trademarks”. Those where an honest and devoted acting (she always seemed to be very much into her character), a good timing and a sensibility to the other characters’ presence. I also like the fact that she played characters who are true to themselves and aren’t afraid to say no or say what they think. This applied to her character with a more “soft” attitude like Ellie in The Plunderers or the more “daring” ones like Merritt in Where the Boys Are. Lastly, Dolores excelled both at drama and comedy. She had a great sense of drama as much as she had a great comic timing. One of her most overlooked comedies is Sail A Crooked Ship (Irving Brecher, 1961, also starring Robert Wagner, Carolyn Jones, Frankie Avalon, and Frank Gorshin. It’s not THE best comedy ever but it surely worths the watch as it’s a fun entertainment!
If my first interest in Dolores was more connected to her acting career, I must support the admiration people can have for her choosing the religious life. If we come back to Grace Kelly, when she became a princess, she actually thought she would do more films (she was initially supposed to star in Hitchcock’s Marnie). Unfortunately, things took a different path. But when one becomes a nun, they are conscious they have to quit the movie industry for good and, of course, it probably takes a lot of courage, except if you really hate it, but I doubt it was the case for Dolores. As a matter of fact, another reason why I admire Dolores is that she never “denied” her former acting career and continued to encourage the entertainment industry. For example, she encourages theatre at the abbey is a voting member of the AMPAS. In 2012, she actually attended the Academy Award Ceremony as a documentary about her life, God Is the Bigger Elvis, was nominated for Best Documentary (Short Subject). Dolores Hart reminded friend with people of the movie industry (some are still alive today, some not). Her great friend Patricia Neal was buried at the Abbey when she died in 2010.
My uncle had the chance to actually meet Dolores Hart when he was writing his book. In 2011, he went to the abbey! They are still in contact to this day, which I think is quite marvelous. On my side, I also wanted to establish a contact with the woman who had become one of my favourite actresses and, last year, I wrote her a (long) fan letter. It was not the first letter I was writing to a celebrity, but it was perhaps the most personal and touching answered I received. Actually, Dolores sent me back TWO letters. A shorter one at first, and a longer one after. I was indeed on a cloud.
The first one says:
“Indeed it is dear Virginie. Your uncle André has told me all about you.
Mother Dolores Hart (signature)”
Of course, it was a huge surprise when a second one came in the mail!
“My dear Virginia,
I could not return a letter to you earlier because I just found your wonderful letter to me. You are so good to me and your love of films is superb. I really hope that we can stay in communication.
Please let me know when you receive this. My email address is ****. I’m afraid I did not put your address in correctly. If we can speak I would really appreciate it.
Mother Dolores (signature)”
Well, isn’t that just FANTASTIC? One of my favourite actresses wants to stay in contact with me! Mother Dolores Hart is a beautiful person inside and outside. Such a thrilling event made me think that it was about time to honour her with a blogathon. AND since she is 80 today, the occasion was perfect. Dolores Hart is very special to me. I never met her (one day maybe??), but the first contact me made through the mail was a highly significant one. I feel so special and privileged!
Mother Dolores Hart deserves more recognition than she has now. People know about her transition to the religious life, but I think her career as an actress tends to be a bit overlooked. She was an actress with a true talent! Hopefully, this article will make you want to check some of her films and, since she didn’t make many, seeing all of them is not impossible. *wink wink*
Before concluding this article, I would like to present my own ranking of Dolores Hart’s 10 fiction films:
1- Where the Boys Are?
2- The Plunderers
3- Come Fly With Me
4- Sail A Crooked Ship
5- Loving You
6- Lisa aka The Inspector
7- King Creole
8- Wild Is the Wind
10- Francis of Assisi
It was a pleasure for me to write this tribute for the From the Stars to A Star: Celebrating Dolores Hart, the blogathon I am currently hosting in honour of this extraordinary woman. I invite you to read the other entries here.
A very happy 80th birthday to you dear Mother Dolores!