Somewhere in a cloister, there is a nun who kissed Elvis Presley.
There must be some people in the world who live a life without surprises. Most of us, however, find that life unfolds in ways we never expected, showing us that absolutely anything is possible. Mother Dolores Hart of the Order of St. Benedict has lived just such a life, from kissing the King to working for her god.
In her new interview-format autobiography, “The Ear of the Heart,” an aging and respected nun tells a story almost too unpredictable to be believed. Born in 1938, Hart had a difficult start in life. She describes her early life as fraught with the troubles of alcoholism and the terrible effects it had on both her parents, but she is able to look back without malice. Dolores grew up to be as beautiful as them, moving toward a career in film and on the stage. In 1957, she made her debut in “Loving You,” starring with Elvis Presley. Her agent advised the press to call her the girl all other girls would hate, because the script called for her to kiss Elvis. As with any story that passes through the orbit of a star of that magnitude, the interviewer asked Dolores what she made of the King. She describes him very differently than others have, focusing on his gentlemanly qualities and his adherence to religion. Hart recalls an Elvis who was always ready with a Bible quote and did not try to seduce her.
The book leads Hart through recollections of stardom and increasing notoriety in the 1950s. in 1960, she appeared in the well-received film “Where the Boys Are,” which dealt with sexuality in a fairly forthright way for its time. In 1961, she appeared in “Francis of Assisi” in the role of Saint Clare. In the movie, she went through the process of investiture (the ceremony of becoming a nun) on screen, in an odd foreshadowing of the direction her life would take. Later, Hart does not recall that this influenced her decision to enter the order, but it stands as a remarkable signpost of things to come. She starred in several more films until 1963, when her life came to a crossroads.
“The Ear of the Heart” tells the crux of Hart’s life with a kind and open honesty. The interview format keeps the book conversational, almost confessional. She was engaged to Don Robinson and loved him. She had hesitantly said yes, accepting the ring and insisting on keeping it secret for six months. Her career was destined for greatness; one promoter told her she could be as big as Elizabeth Taylor. She had beauty, talent and that indefinable quality necessary to constructing the mythos of a movie star. She had a future and a person who loved her and wanted to marry her. The decision she made would shock everyone; instead of pursuing any part of that life, she entered a monastery and took vows to become a Benedictine monk. In the book, she explains simply that her faith was the only thing she could not live without.
This story is exhaustive but does not answer the question of why this story must be told now — or at all. Mother Dolores may not profit from the work herself, but perhaps this mining of Hollywood history can be made to benefit her mission for people suffering from neuropathy. Loaded with reminiscences of mega-stars and glossy photographs of bygone days, “The Ear of the Hart” will likely find its way into the hands of many old movie fans and makes a great gift for the aging Catholic in your life.
Contact Meg Elison at [email protected].