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From starlet to nun

Dolores Hart's story is sketched in the short film "God Is the Bigger Elvis."

  • Dolores Hart and Elvis Presley in the 1957 film "Loving You."
Dolores Hart and Elvis Presley in the 1957 film "Loving You." (Everett Collection )

"God Is the Bigger Elvis," Rebecca Cammisa's Oscar-nominated short subject, which comes to HBO Thursday -- Holy Thursday, by the Catholic calendar -- tells the story of Dolores Hart, who turned her back on Hollywood stardom in the early 1960s to become a Benedictine nun.

"I often wonder why the Lord gave me such an opportunity to audition for Elvis," wonders Hart, who still gets and answers fan mail. ("What are you doing now?" one young admirer writes.)

She made her movie debut opposite Presley in the 1957 "Loving You," reteamed with him the next year in "King Creole," and made eight more movies and starred on Broadway before entering the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn., of which she is now the mother prioress.

"I grew up fast," Hart remembers, without elaborating, of her glamour-magazine Hollywood life.

She was a practicing Catholic that whole time, however, and had been contemplating a life of contemplation almost to the eve of her marriage to architect Don Hamilton. He has never gotten over her and, the implication is, as we see them reunite and part again, she has never completely gotten over him.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, April 10, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
"God Is the Bigger Elvis": A review of the documentary "God Is the Bigger Elvis" in the April 5 Calendar section said that Dolores Hart had been engaged to architect Don Hamilton before deciding to become a nun. Her fiance's name was Don Robinson.

According to the church of our popular culture, there is nothing better to be than a Hollywood star; and even the regular rest of us are supposed to want as much sex and stuff as possible. But even the less worldly may regard Hart's path to spiritual bridehood as a kind of pathology, a running away from life, an easy way out. Yet as pictured here, that life is as real as anyone's, and as complicated and rich -- and more consciously appreciated.

The sisters we meet seem self-aware and good-humored; no nuns in frigid cells, they. There is wine with dinner, there are flowers on the table. There is singing, which one sister likens to sex. They farm the land and work with animals. (That the abbey is also home to Sister Noella Marcellino, "The Cheese Nun," and the subject herself of a 2002 documentary, is not mentioned.)

Cammisa's sweet and unexpectedly moving film is merely a sketch -- as much as it manages to show and tell, it won't answer all the questions it raises either about Hart or life among the nuns.

But as a reminder that other people's lives are theirs to imagine and live, it is eminently useful.



'God Is the Bigger Elvis'

Where: HBO

When: 8 p.m. Thursday

Rating: Not rated

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