With her stunning looks, elegant demeanor and a memorable screen debut -- giving Elvis Presley his first kiss in the 1957 musical "Loving You" -- it's no wonder Dolores Hart was touted by producer Hal Wallis as the next Grace Kelly.
Like Kelly, she left films after a few years, not for a prince, but to enter the sisterhood at the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis, a cloistered monastery in Bethlehem, Connecticut, where she's resided since 1963.
On Friday, Mother Dolores, 76, will share her story and sign copies of "The Ear Is the Heart," her 2013 autobiography, at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue. (Sales of the book will go toward the monastery's renovation.) She talked about her journey from Hollywood to the monastery via Skype.
What was it like kissing Elvis?
We were just beginning the film and the kiss is at the end, but they shot that first. . . . We had not yet gotten to know each other except for a lovely interview in the office. When we went in to do it, we noticed that there were about 50 people on the ceiling making adjustments to the lights. It was hardly the atmosphere to kiss anybody with any kind of intimacy. . . . The director yelled roll 'em, and after 10 seconds he yelled cut. He came over and said, "Makeup man, I'd like you to put something on her ears because they're turning red." We started it again, and after two seconds he yelled for the makeup man again. Elvis' ears had turned red.
What did you think of being billed as the next Grace Kelly?
I didn't expect it. I figured that meant I'd have to start dressing really nice. I adored Grace Kelly. . . . One day I walked into Edith Head's office and Grace was just walking out, and I said "hello" and she said "goodbye."
A friend recommended visiting the monastery during your run on Broadway in 1959 when you were feeling overworked. Why did she suggest it?
There are so many trees, ponds. It's just a beautiful, enormous park. She had been here as a guest, and she thought I'd have some time of my own, which would be peaceful. I asked if there were nuns there. She said yes, and I said I went to Catholic school -- I don't want to get anywhere near nuns. She said, "They don't talk, they're enclosed." Mother Placid was the guest mistress, and she was a darling nymph of a woman. . . . I won't say she was the reason I entered, but she certainly gave me a positive entrance. I also met the abbess, and I said, "Do you think I could ever do anything like this?" And she said, "Oh, Dolores, go back and do your movie thing."
Hal B. Wallis was not happy about you entering the monastery, and neither was your family or your fiancé, Don Robinson. With all of that pressure, did it make you want to reconsider your decision?
I think the pressure made me think more deeply, and the more deeply I thought about it, I knew my heart had opened to this. It's like a love relationship. If you really love someone, nobody tells you not to love them because something deep inside you say this is right.
You attended the Academy Awards a few years ago when "God Is the Bigger Elvis," the movie about you, was a short documentary nominee. What was it like going back to Hollywood after so many years?
Hollywood seemed so different. The difference was that nobody I knew was there anymore.
Do you wonder what you might have done with your career had you stayed in films?
From the time I was 8 years old, I wanted to be an actress. And the one thing I always wanted was to get an Oscar, and to play a part that was absolutely delicious and new. In the context of the dream, I would have loved to have stayed and gotten that Oscar. Then I thought, Gary Cooper had loaned me his Oscar for a while and I had it on my table and it didn't mean that much.
You stayed in touch with Don Robinson until he died, which was remarkable. What has that relationship meant to you for all these years?
When I told him I had to break the engagement, he was so mad. But then after he calmed down, he said, "Dolores, I want you to know I'll be with you." I said, "Don, you don't have to say that. You'll meet someone, and your life will have a different role." And he said, "No, I love you, and I will stay with you." At least twice a year he would send whatever funds I needed, and he would often come to see me. And he was amazing.
WHO Mother Dolores Hart speaks about her life and signs copies of her memoir.
WHEN | WHERE Friday at 3 p.m., St. Joseph's College, The Muriel and Virginia Pless Center for Performing Arts, 155 W. Roe Blvd., Patchogue
INFO 631-654-0199, sjcny.edu/long-island