In the sultry climate of New Orleans, where she broke into films in 1957’s “Loving You,” co-starring a young singer named Elvis Presley, Dolores Hart locked lips with the hottest musical sensation of the day. That kiss — a first for both on screen, and in Technicolor, no less — was a stunning start to a brief film career.
Six years later, the young actress entered the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn., and began a life far removed from the flash and glamour of Hollywood. Today, she is the Rev. Mother Dolores Hart, prioress, or second-in-charge, at the abbey.
“The kiss from Elvis was the thing that put me right smack into the middle of Hollywood; it’s where I wanted to be,” Mother Dolores said in a telephone interview Tuesday. However, she added, “My vocation, it really was a gift from God, a call from God. Something I knew I really I had to do.”
Mother Dolores tells her story in “The Ear of the Heart: An Actress’ Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows,” a book just released by Ignatius Press. She’s due in the District for events on June 6 and 9, at the Catholic Information Center and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
A documentary film about her journey, “God Is the Bigger Elvis,” was up for a 2012 Academy Award, but didn’t win. Ironically, Mother Dolores, who joined the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1960, is a voting member who casts an annual Oscar ballot. The film later aired on HBO and can be viewed online.
Although she was raised Roman Catholic and Elvis was a Protestant, that didn’t stop the two young adults — she was 19, he was 21 — from palling around during filming, when Presley was mobbed by local teens.
“He carried a guitar even between scenes, and they would sing gospel music,” Mother Dolores recalled. “I loved it.”
The two went their separate ways, with Mother Dolores acting in nine more films, including Presley’s “King Creole” a year later. By 1963, Mother Dolores, who was engaged to businessman Don Robinson, left Hollywood and her pending marriage for a religious life.
Robinson, initially crushed, never married, but remained a friend and visitor to the abbey until his death at the end of 2011.