Mother Dolores Hart commanded a $5,000 dollar a week salary as a working screen actress in 1963. But then she did something we don't usually associate with Hollywood starlets, she gave up her movie career to become a Benedictine nun instead.
Now her new biography explains her move from the movie studios to the cloistered religious life.
'I have used the analogy of falling from a 20 story building because that’s what I felt like the first night after I entered,' Mother Hart told the Catholic News Agency this week.
It was a memoir that might never have happened, she reveals. Approached by her lifelong friend Richard DeNeut about the possibility of writing it, she feared that she would have neither the time nor the memory to write all 'the wonderful things that happened' into a book.
But DeNeut persisted, believing in his friend and the story she had to tell.
But once written they found that publishers wanted the book to start with her role in Loving You, the 1957 film where she gave Elvis Presley his first onscreen kiss.
This was not the opening Hart envisioned. It left out crucial details of her turbulent upbringing and childhood conversion to Catholicism, she said.
When she gave up film to enter a monastery in 1963, the 24 year-old actress reportedly shocked her friends, family and the rest of Hollywood. The then-actress was engaged to be married, had a multi-film contract with Metro Goldwyn Mayer and was pulling in $5,000 a week. It was handy work, she would have been nuts to give it up, they reasoned.
Hart eventually left the bright lights of Hollywood for leafy Connecticut where she met with the Mother Abbess to discuss the possibility of her vocation to the religious life.
'Many people don't understand the difference between a vocation and your own idea about something. A vocation is a call – one you don't necessarily want. The only thing I ever wanted to be was an actress. But I was called by God.'
50 years later Mother Hart is now the prioress of the Abbey and looking back, she realizes how she’s been able to use the gifts that God gave her which made her a successful actress, namely listening.
'I never would have thought that except when I really got into acting and found out that a good actor or a good actress really has to listen first of all to the character that you have to portray,' she said.
'When I did finally come to Regina Laudis, I was touched by the fact that the first words of the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict read, 'Listen my daughter, my son, to the voice of your Master with the ear of your heart.'
The Ear of the Heart: An Actress’ Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows by Mother Dolores Hart and Richard DeNeut is published by the Ignatius Press.