OFF BEAT

OFFBEAT: Actress-turned-nun Dolores Hart back at Oscars on the red carpet

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2012-02-27T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Actress-turned-nun Dolores Hart back at Oscars on the red carpetBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

I wrote in April about the new play "Nunset Boulevard" by Dan Goggin opening at Theatre at the Center in Munster.

In this stage comedy, a group of nuns trying to raise money to save its convent dares to risk a cross-country trip to face the evils of today's Hollywood and audition for a new movie based on the life of Dolores Hart.

Although the play was pure silly imagination, Hart, now 73, is the very real actress who had a successful film career in 1950s Hollywood opposite famous leading men such as Elvis Presley, Montgomery Clift, Robert Wagner and George Hamilton.

But in 1963, at age 25, Hart, who was born and raised in Chicago, gave up her movie career to become a nun.

And Sunday, wearing her full black and white habit, she walked the red carpet of the Academy Awards for the first time in decades and for a very good cause: to raise money and awareness for her order of nuns, which needs help to save her convent.

Also, a movie about her life was nominated for Best Documentary.

Suddenly, Goggin's stage play that entertained audiences in Munster doesn't seem nearly as far-fetched.

Hart's order of sisterhood is from the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn.

Mother Dolores, as she is now known, is the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary short "God is the Bigger Elvis," which will air April 5 on HBO.

It chronicles her life as a nun after a Hollywood career in which she co-starred with Presley in "Loving You" in 1957 and "King Creole" in 1958, Anthony Quinn in "Wild is the Wind" in 1957 and Hamilton in "Where the Boys Are" in 1960.

The name of the documentary plays up her tag as "the nun who kissed Elvis." In her roles opposite Presley, just years before her calling to become a nun, she had scenes sharing passionate kisses and embraces.

The last time Hart walked the Oscars' red carpet, there wasn't a Joan Rivers, TMZ or "Entertainment Tonight."

It was April 9, 1962, at the Santa Monica Civic, and it was syndicated Hollywood columnists such as Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons and Army Archerd of "Variety" who ruled media coverage.

She said she dropped her Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences membership after accepting her nun vows, but agreed to have it reinstated in 1990 at the urging of our own region Oscar-winning actor Karl Malden, who then was president of the Film Academy and who had worked with her on her final film, "Come Fly With Me."

"They could send me films to be evaluated, which they couldn't do in the 1960s," she told writer Susan King of the Los Angeles Times last week.

"He (Malden) felt my opinion would be important to them. He felt to have an opinion of someone who had led a contemplative life would have significance. The lady abbess (her superior) was completely convinced by him. I was reinstated. I had to pay my dues; we didn't want to take any privileges that weren't appropriate."

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

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