23 November 2011

A Shame? - The Young Actress Who Became a Nun

She was the talented and beautiful girl to give Elvis Presley his first movie kiss. The future promised her a life bathed in glory, fame and fortune, she made 10 films in 5 years and then it suddenly ended. She chose to become a nun. Well, "ended" is perhaps a bit too strong a word. After all, she didn't die or anything (though certain people might find the change of career utterly idiotic and fatal).
She simply had a change of heart.

I always saw Dolores Hart (1938- ) as one of the most beautiful creatures ever to appear on the screen. With her childlike, pure features, yet mature and intelligent eyes and calm manners - all which indicated a strong spirit in a determined, wholehearted and somewhat enigmatic young girl - she illuminated the otherwise typical, silly American comedies of the '60s. A younger version of me used to watch "Where the Boys Are" (1960), "Come Fly with Me" (1963) and "The Inspector" (1962) with same amount of admiration, awe and curiosity every time she appeared; she mystified me already then with her ambiguous mimic and acting. It was as if she was never quite pleased with her life or what she was doing, yet at other times she acted relaxed - as if she was unaware of or had gone unnoticed by the camera. She could be restless without really being it, at times her big expressive eyes hinted a certain touch of cynicism or bitterness (consciously or not, I don't think it was always the intention regarding her portrayals of her characters), but mostly melancholy. Though her blue, pensive eyes slightly betrayed her, she never really told everything. She always held back a bit; reserved, cautious and almost controlled, sometimes with a knowing look or smile hiding somewhere beneath. Despite of that, or because of that, I liked her. A lot. Perhaps it was because of her fascinating beauty. Perhaps I could see some of myself in her because of her young age and innocence that ironically held a rather precocious, sarcastic, almost self-deprecating mind. Always seeming to know more than everyone else, but never letting it on.

Anyway, imagine my disappointment when I found out she'd hardly made any films besides those I'd seen; that she had joined the convent already at an early age and - I slowly realized - would never come back to the screen. In the beginning I blamed her the same way I blamed another talented, beauty who left the motion picture industry for another, "greater" purpose - much too soon, in my opinion: Grace Kelly. Well, in Grace's case, she did it out of love for a man - and that's perhaps not so different from what Dolores did, after all. She loved God more. I guess it's possible for some people to love God more than movies (being a nutty film nerd I can tell you it's a tough realization), so much that they'll devote their entire lives in His service, but what makes all this even harder is perhaps the biggest (and most selfish) cliché of them all - and this will sound banal: that she was such an incredibly beautiful and talented young woman who disappeared from the screen, only to cover herself up and devote herself to something entirely different and rather impalpable than us - the audience! Why?, we ask. Her own answer is this:

"It was not a lifelong dream," she said. "I did not grow up wanting to be a nun. I wanted to be an actress. If it had ever been suggested I would one day be a nun, it would have been the last thing on my mind. It was a million to one shot I would ever be a nun."

Though I'm not Catholic or hardly religious, I think I understand her. It was basically the same I experienced when I chose my academic study not so long ago. It was a rather sudden decision - though it had been in the back of my head for many years. But until then I'd always thought I should do film studies in the capital - and now I'm here learning stuff that includes everything I'm passionate about and not just films. In that sense, Dolores Hart is a role model that never fades (though she's far too underrated an actress which is indeed a shame).

By the way, I found this great article including an interview with her (also where I got the quote from) that explains her passions and choices in life, and it has this wonderful ending:

Friends send movies to the abbey and she watches more than many of the other nuns because of her background, but there usually isn't time to see many. She watched "Titanic" and she had hoped Dame Judi Dench would win the Oscar for "Mrs. Brown."
Would Hollywood ever see her return?
The odds, she says, are a million to one.
But those were the same odds she would ever become a nun.


  1. Oh, wonderful post!! Read it two times! Thank you very much for this!

  2. @Irene Palfy
    Thank you for the sweet comment, I'm so glad you liked it :)