Friday, February 17, 2012

Mother Dolores & Hollywood

It was not too long ago that I tried to travel to see the Abbey of Regina Laudis while staying in Bethlehem, Conn. I was greeted with a sign that forbid any entrance to even the driveway.

I had heard that one of the cloistered nuns lived behind the giant sign. I also knew that she was the celebrated former movie star.

That and cloistered nun will be returning to the Oscars later this month — and walking the red carpet in her habit.

Details, from USA TODAY:

If you spot a nun roaming the red carpet during the Oscar telecast Feb. 26, don’t adjust your set.

Mother Dolores is not flying or singing, but the real deal — and the focus of God Is the Bigger Elvis, which is nominated in the best documentary short category and premieres April 5 on HBO.

“It will be so nice to be back at the Oscars,” says Mother Dolores, 73, the Benedictine nun who stars in the 37-minute visit to the Abbey of Regina Laudis, appropriately located in Bethlehem, Conn. “It’s such a fun night.”

Did she say back to the Oscars?

The last time I was there was in 1959, when I was a presenter,” says Mother Dolores, who is spiritual counselor to 38 other cloistered sisters. “This will be different.”

Different defines the life of a young woman named Dolores Hart. Rewind to 1963. Hart is a wholesome 25-year-old starlet whose leading men have included Elvis Presley (Loving You, 1957), Montgomery Clift (Lonelyhearts, 1958) and George Hamilton (Where the Boys Are, 1960). She is about to sign a seven-figure contract with producer Hal Wallis. She is happily engaged to Los Angeles businessman Don Robinson.

And she walks away from it all to head behind the walls of Regina Laudis.

Crazy? No, just quietly confident.

“I adored Hollywood. I didn’t leave because it was a place of sin,” she says in a measured but upbeat tone that animates God Is the Bigger Elvis (a title taken from her simple explanation for her defection from the high life).

“I left Hollywood at the urging of a mysterious thing called vocation. It’s a call that comes from another place that we call God because we don’t have any other way to say it. It’s a call of love. Why do you climb a mountain?”

What makes the documentary unique is that Regina Laudis is a profoundly private place. Visitors must remain outside the compound. Daily life is laced with prayer, song and a lot of hard work tending to gardens, livestock and crumbling infrastructure for which the sisters are trying to raise money through the New Horizons Renovation Project (

Mother Dolores says she allowed access to cameras not to help with fundraising but rather to assist with soul searching.

“We wanted to invite the world into another order of life that might give some hope,” she says.

God director Rebecca Cammisa (her fellow Oscar nominee is producer Julie Anderson) felt an instant connection to the topic. Cammisa’s mother was a nun for 10 years before changing course.

“The question I had was, what makes someone with Dolores Hart’s level of success choose this way of life?” says Cammisa, a 2010 Oscar nominee for her documentary about Mexican migrant children, Which Way Home.

“It’s a countercultural choice, but this film will show people that these are highly educated, attractive women who had boyfriends and lovers but were living in a world that didn’t have enough for them,” she says.