CONVENT STATION It’s amazing to realize that the lips of Mother Dolores Hart — in her younger days as a Hollywood actress — once gave singer Elvis Presley his very first on-screen kiss in the 1957 movie “Loving You.”
What’s also amazing is that the lips of Mother Dolores, who today serves as prioress of the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut, now speak the undeniable truths of the Catholic Church that are bigger than any Hollywood fame — and, yes, even Elvis. She told her remarkable story of how she abandoned a star-studded career as a lead actress to follow God’s call to become a contemplative religious sister May 31 during a luncheon for the Legal Center for the Defense of Life at the Madison Hotel here. Mother Dolores credited her mother, Harriett Hicks, for making that extraordinary life possible, thanks to her courageous pro-life “stance” early on.
“My parents had to get married earlier than planned [because Mother Dolores’ mother was pregnant with her]. My mother’s mother and stepfather told her, ‘I think that you should get a divorce and an abortion.’ My mother totally rejected that advice. She wrote a note to her mother, saying that she would not come back to her house unless she could bring her baby with her. Her mother accepted and paid for all the maternity expenses. It’s because of my mother’s stance that I am alive and I exist,” said Mother Dolores, whose parents, including father, actor Bert Hicks, separated when she was 3 and eventually divorced. “That [story of her mother’s pregnancy] made me aware of what a crime it [abortion] is. I treasure my life and am grateful for everything that has happened to me. I was a pretty lucky kid,” said the religious sister, reviewing her incredible life.
Mother Dolores not only told stories about her adventures in “Tinseltown,” but also spoke the truth about Respect for Life — a reality that she has lived personally. She spoke about consoling her friend, famed actress Patricia Neal, who lived with the pain of having aborted a baby in the wake of an affair with the fellow actor Gary Cooper, who was married at the time. “We wept many times over that baby. Patricia said that the abortion was her one regret in life. If she could have done it again, she would have had that baby,” said Mother Dolores, who converted to Catholicism when she was 10.
But long before God called, Mother Dolores — born Dolores Hicks — dreamed of an acting career. While starring in college productions, she received a call from a representative of Paramount pictures, who offered her a screen test, which went well, and then offered her first movie role with Presley in “Loving You,” as a teen-ager. She admitted that she was not familiar with the young singer at the time.
“Elvis was nice. When I first met him, he took my hand and said, ‘How do you do, Miss Dolores?’ That’s a gentlemen’s way of addressing a lady,” said Mother Dolores, who recounted her story in her 2013 memoir, “The Ear of the Heart: An Actress’ Journey From Hollywood to Holy Vows,” and the 2011 Academy-Award-nominated documentary, “God Is Bigger Than Elvis.”
“We shot the final scene with the kiss first. It was Elvis’ first kiss in Technicolor. It was my first kiss. It took four seconds and then ‘cut.’ We did it again and again. They had to put makeup on my ears, because I was blushing,” she told the audience, which responded with laughter.
Soon, Mother Dolores became an in-demand actress, starring in movies alongside legends, such as Anthony Quinn, Robert Wagner and Montgomery Cliff. Among the many films she appeared in were: with Presley in “King Creole” and also in “Where the Boys Are”; as St. Clare of Assisi in “St. Francis of Assisi”; and “Come Fly with Me,” her last role in 1963. That year, the 24-year-old took a one-way car ride to Regina Laudis, where she had visited and befriended Mother Placid Dempsey, and entered the Benedictine order. She professed her final vows in 1970.
“I didn’t know if I wanted this [a religious vocation], but I knew that God wanted me to do this,” Mother Dolores said.
By pursuing religious life, Mother Dolores bid farewell to Hollywood and also to a possible married life with her fiancé, Don Robinson, a Los Angeles architect. He responded to the news by saying, “I will stay with you in your decision.” She remained friends with Robinson, who never married and who visited her at Regina Laudis every year until his death in 2011.
Mother Dolores said that she left behind all the trappings of Hollywood success — including the fancy clothes, big mansions and fast cars — to seek the love of the Lord in a special way.
She called the act of abortion “a lack of love” and the result of when “fear takes over.”
“What’s important is the gift of love — what makes us be ourselves by who we love and how we love. Fear tells a woman, ‘I can’t do it [bare and care for a child].’ If men would stand up [to their responsibilities] and if women would believe [that they can be mothers], it would be heaven. But we are so far from that now,” said Mother Dolores, who promised that her Benedictines would pray for the efforts of the Morristown-based Legal Center for the Defense of Life.
Afterward, Andrew Schlafly, Legal Center for the Defense of Life president, called Mother Dolores’ talk “inspirational.” The center is a non-profit organization that provides legal services to protect human life, from conception to natural death, especially the life of the unborn baby in the womb.
“She made a choice to leave Hollywood and follow what God wanted her to do. Many of her co-stars have died [under tragic circumstances]. We can learn from that,” Schlafly said. “Mother Dolores gave us a perspective that we don’t hear everyday.”