From the late ‘50s to the early ‘60s, Hollywood starlet Dolores Hart appeared in ten films, acting opposite such big names as Elvis Presley, Montgomery Clift and Anthony Quinn. But in 1963, she shocked family, friends and fans by abandoning her blossoming career to become a Benedictine nun.
In GOD IS THE BIGGER ELVIS, Hart (now Mother Prioress of the Abbey of Regina Laudis) tells her story with insightful candor and humor, offering a unique glimpse at the spiritual journey of a former rising star, her fateful decision and her current life in a rural Connecticut abbey. Recently nominated for a Best Documentary Short Oscar®, the exclusive HBO presentation debuts THURSDAY, APRIL 5 (8:00-8:40 p.m. ET/PT). Rebecca Cammisa (the Oscar®-nominated “Which Way Home”) directs.
The only child of divorced Chicago parents, Dolores Hart was plucked from obscurity to play Elvis’ love interest in 1957’s “Loving You,” and when she received his first on-screen kiss, Hollywood instantly fell for the gorgeous 19-year-old. She was subsequently engaged to handsome young architect Don Robinson and starred in a number of other high-profile movies, including 1957’s “Wild Is the Wind,” with Anthony Quinn, 1958’s “King Creole” (also with Elvis), 1960’s “Where the Boys Are,” 1961’s “Francis of Assisi” and 1963’s “Come Fly with Me,” her final film.
Hart surprised Hollywood, her friends and especially her fiancé when she joined the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn. to become a cloistered Benedictine nun. “I never felt I was leaving Hollywood,” says Mother Prioress Dolores Hart, recalling her decision today. “God was the vehicle, the ‘bigger Elvis,’ ” she asserts with a smile.
Having first visited the Abbey at a friend’s suggestion in 1959, as a way to recharge from the rigors of her Broadway role in “The Pleasure of His Company,” Hart returned to Hollywood, although the Abbey never left her mind. She received a letter from Regina Laudis informing her that if she was to become a nun, now was the time. Hart admits she was torn, while her fiancé, Don Robertson, was devastated and speaks candidly on film about his heartbreak. After Hart made her choice, he would visit the monastery once a year.
GOD IS THE BIGGER ELVIS provides an unprecedented look at the daily activities inside the enclosed Benedictine monastery. One of the only abbeys of its kind, Regina Laudis is a 400-acre working farm that is home to 36 nuns, who follow a strict prayer regimen and daily periods of silence, as well as participating in farming, animal care and crafts.
The young Sister Dolores felt lost and alone upon entering Regina Laudis, but soon embraced the life and won the respect of her fellow nuns. Today, Mother Prioress Dolores Hart is the second-highest-ranking abbey nun, below the Mother Abbess, and offers important spiritual counsel to young nuns who are following the same path, some of whom share their stories in the film.
As the daughter of a former nun, director Rebecca Cammisa brings a unique perspective to the film. Her other credits include “Sister Helen” (2002 Sundance Film Festival Documentary Directing Award), which aired on CINEMAX, and the 2009 HBO feature documentary “Which Way Home” (Oscar® nominee and Emmy® winner).
GOD IS THE BIGGER ELVIS is directed and produced by Rebecca Cammisa; produced by Julie Anderson; editor, Geeta Gandbhir; director of photography, Claudia Raschke-Robinson; original music, James Lavino; supervising producer, Sara Bernstein; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.