The Ear of the Heart: An Actress' Journey From Hollywood to Holy Vows is a perfect read for this Year of Consecrated Life
Why would a rising Hollywood star leave it all behind and enter a monastery?
The fascinating story is told in full in The Ear of the Heart: An Actress' Journey From Hollywood to Holy Vows (Ignatius Press, 2013), by Mother Dolores Hart, OSB, and Richard DeNeut. It is especially timely during this Year of Consecrated Life, which began on the first Sunday of Advent and concludes on the World Day of Consecrated Life on February 2, 2016.
Even if you haven't heard of Dolores Hart, you have probably seen her. She has the distinction of appearing in not one but two Elvis Presley movies—Loving You and King Creole—as well as many other box office hits. Written, over many years, with Richard DeNeut, a Hollywood PR man (and a former suitor), The Ear of the Heart is part autobiography, part biography.
I first set eyes on Dolores Hart during Christmas 1977 when the BBC showed a season of Presley films following his death earlier that summer. She always played the “good girl” who saves the hero from crime and much worse—often an older siren. Of course, to my 12-year-old eyes, this beautiful actress was welcome to save me too, anytime she liked. And there it stayed for years until I read somewhere she ended up a nun. Stranger things have happened, I thought, but I did wonder how that had come about. Later searches on the internet came up with information as general as it was vague, leaving me none the wiser. So, when I spied this publication of her life story, I ordered and then opened it eagerly, all in the hope it would fill in the gaps. It did. But, what I also found was something much more besides.
For some reason, I expected Dolores to have come from a privileged background, albeit one with heavy doses of Catholicism—a la Grace Kelly—only to find that her upbringing couldn't have been more different. For a start, her mother was almost forced to undergo an abortion once it was discovered she was pregnant with the future star. Thankfully, she refused, and instead, with parents hastily wed, the child lived. That said, the family home was not only not Catholic, but also deeply unhappy. Her father, a handsome but struggling actor, was violent and soon the marriage fell apart. Consequently, young Dolores was constantly on the move, changing both locations and family configurations. Then something truly miraculous happened.
In 1946, aged just eight years old, Dolores decided to become a Catholic. This was even more remarkable given that she had only ended up at the local Catholic school on account of it being the closest to where she was then living. The local priest, however, was initially hesitant. Then Dolores' mother appeared, and told the priest that if he didn't instruct her daughter she would come back and smash every one of his stainglass windows. Dolores was soon after baptised; from then on the book chronicles how her newfound faith became the guiding force in her life.
Her entry into Hollywood was as sudden as had been her conversion.