MIA: ‘The Nun Who Kissed Elvis’

Once again, let me stress that I know that newspapers and magazines are going to have to receive payments — somehow — for the work they produce. It’s hard to keep giving your product away day after day and stay in business.

At the same time, the digital world wants to be interconnected and the ability to link — somehow — to news reports is part of what the blogosphere is all about. This drives traffic to sites. It provides feedback. Yes, this is also what helps sites such as GetReligion to do what we do. I admit that.

So I would like to comment on the recent Entertainment Weekly story that ran under this grab-you headline: “The Nun Who Kissed Elvis.”

I would like to, but I can’t. Not really. And I’m not alone. It seems that quite a few people would like to comment on it. As the MediaBistro noted:

Because Thom Geier’s February 4th-11th Entertainment Weekly interview feature “The Nun Who Kissed Elvis” was never posted online, it failed to get passed around the Internet the way it should have. In great detail, he outlines how one-time Elvis Presley co-star Dolores Hart turned her back on Hollywood in 1963 to become a Benedictine nun at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, CT.

The caveat is that she has remained an actor’s branch voting member of the Academy, which allows for the detailing of some pretty hysterical Oscar season activities. Last year for example, she was very unpopular with the other nuns because she chose to give Avatar her 2009 Best Picture vote instead of The Hurt Locker. But the real kicker is the way she views her Academy DVDs:

Hart watches the films in her basement office, a 12-by-12 foot room with high ceilings and a slanted floor that was once the art studio of one of the order’s founders. … Her TV is a 20-year-old model that sits on a stand. “It’s a tiny little thing, maybe eight inches,” she says. “I never got past to the big stuff.”

No wonder Hart flipped when she got to see Avatar in 3D on the big screen. She insists she can discern just fine on her eight-inch TV, but someone in Hollywood, get this nun a plasma screen!

And then there’s the part about watching Natalie Portman’s masturbation scene in The Black Swan, which really isn’t anything new to a sister who has listened to young people open their hearts and souls in decades of spiritual retreats. You know, it’s the old “nuns are so out of it” thing, only this nun used to be a Hollywood actress. It’s an interesting angle, sort of.

All in all, this is an interesting profile and it spends — justifiably — quite a bit of time on the factors that went into Hart’s decision to enter the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn. At the top of the list was her decision to walk away from her fiance and her wedding date that loomed in the near future. That’s all well and good. It’s also interesting that Hart has, to some degree, kept in touch with her roots — especially when a much more famous actress, Patricia Neal, came to the abbey to wrestle with the tragic issues that dominated several decades of her life and work. Was Hart the sister who yelled and cursed right back at Neal during one of their counseling sessions?

There’s some good material in this article. However, what is striking — surprise, surprise — is that her faith and its role in her life-changing decision is given very little attention, until the very end of the article. Even then, it’s hard to write a length piece about a nun without mentioning one particular man in her life, as in Jesus of Nazareth. And what about the Catholic Church? Did love of the church play any role in all of this?

I realize that Entertainment Weekly is a publication that managed, somehow, to be world weary in its very first issue (I think I still have that filed away somewhere). This is not the publication to which one turns for spiritual depth. So be it.

But still, come on people. The story ends with a dash of faith. Why wait until the end?

Even though she hasn’t appeared on a soundstage in nearly 50 years, Mother Dolores still considers herself an actress. Only now, she says, she channels her training into being a better Christian, more empathetic and attuned to the lives of others. … At the Abbey of Regina Laudis, Mother Dolores believes she has found the role of a lifetime, performing daily for an audience of One.

Meanwhile, I know that, to see what I am talking about in this post, readers really need to see the whole text of this feature.

Sorry about that. Let’s hope that, sooner or later, the EW business model let’s that happen.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.com/ Randy

    This is an awesome story. Great to see Entertainment Weekly is writing about it. There are so many great stories of people being motivated by faith to do counter-cultural things. Generally the press stays away. So it is great to acknowledge they did tell this story even if they didn’t make it free online!

  • astorian

    And here Ithought “the nun who kissed Elvis” was Mary Tyler Moore.



  • Lynn

    This is a story which seems to get covered by the secular media every few years or so, but with little attention to why she chose religious life.

    For example, the Associated Press in 2006:
    Actress turned nun revisits Hollywood

    Or the Columbus Post-Dispatch in 2008:
    Nun using film fame for abbey

    The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette seems to cover Catholic matters better than most news outlets, and its 1998 article did mention her decision to enter the convent. She had never been interested in the religious life. Her first visit occurred after being turned down for a deeply desired film role.

    “A friend suggested visiting this very tranquil place in Connecticut one weekend and it was Regina Laudis Abbey,” she said. “After that, whenever I was on the East Coast, I would go there. I began to notice each time I went it was becoming harder and harder to leave. I had this feeling. I was home.”

    A few years passed and she continued doing movies until one titled “Lisa,” which dealt with the Holocaust and experiments done on prisoners at Auschwitz, sparked something inside her.

    “It affected me so deeply and more and more I found myself drawn to the abbey, almost like magnetism.”

    Dolores Hart: How a movie actress left Hollywood for a contract with God

    Learning more about why exactly she felt at home at the abbey would be interesting to many Christians, but are such details of more interest to the audience of religious media, rather than to the audience of general news or entertainment news outlets?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Lynn–I agree that some of the media’s audience wouldn’t be interested in Dolores Hart’s religious pilgrimage. But the two audiences -the audience of religious media and the audience for general news- are not mutually exclusive. AND that general news audience is in all likelihood made up of a Christian majority who may have an interest.
    Also, I have seen in general news stories–especially in sidebars–detailed background that probes fairly deeply and one wonders how many readers are interested.

  • Maureen

    If I had to guess which nun at Regina Laudis could cuss, I’d have to guess it’s the one who’s Patton’s niece. :)

  • shadeheart

    I am surprised at the negative critiques, though few of the article on Mother Dolores. I find it hard to believe that such a relevant story in a popular piece could not fail to inspire vocations in the young. Lack of positive and meaningful articles have been decried over and over. It would be hard for me, who was raised Catholic in the presence of nuns, a saner, earthy, wise and attractive model for commitment to a life in Christ. She brings Christ right into the marketplace. She also displays the attitude of Jesus of not condemnation, but looking for the redemptive and salvific element in things. I was pleased to point out this article to a few friends who were appreciative and in awe. Small minded religion indeed if we think that Jesus can’t be found even in Hollywood.

  • http://irelandtoo.blogspot.com Maurice Colgan

    Mother Dolores Hart has been exchanging notes and letters with this particular Elvis Presley fan for more than a decade. She is presently working on her autobiography a book that will be in great demand throughout the world, because of her amazing faith, Hollywood career, and firm vocation.