— Elvis Presley fans will be marking the 25th anniversary of the King's death this week. But before Elvis became a sexy, hip-swiveling idol, he was a somewhat shy young man who blushed in his first onscreen kiss. And Dolores Hart, the woman who gave Elvis that kiss, has an extraordinary story of her own.
In the late 1950s, Hart was one of the most visible and envied women in Hollywood. She was a beautiful young starlet billed as the next Grace Kelly.
She starred in films with Anthony Quinn, Robert Wagner, Jeff Chandler, and Montgomery Clift, and was the top-billed actress in MGM's highest-grossing movie of 1962: Where the Boys Are.
Today she is Mother Dolores. She lives at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in rural Connecticut, where she has been a cloistered nun for 37 years.
Through a special dispensation from the Abbey, ABCNEWS' Bob Brown was able to talk with her.
Baptized in Hollywood's Glow
Hart was a child of the silver screen — both of her parents were actors. Early on, Hart thought she too would have a career in the movies.
"I grew up on Mulholland Drive, watching the klieg lights, just enamored at the lights from Sunset Boulevard," she says. "You can imagine what that meant to me, as a 6-year-old, to suddenly find myself wandering around 20th Century Fox movie lots, thinking that was going to be my future."
Though her parents were not religious, they sent her to a parochial school in Chicago where she lived with her grandparents. Leaving Hollywood, however, was a brief diversion from her path to the silver screen.
Hart grew into a striking beauty and in 1957, at the age of 18, she signed a contract with famed movie producer Hal Wallis. That year she was catapulted to fame, starring opposite a 22-year-old Presley in the film Loving You.
Hart recalled that when she and Elvis were supposed to kiss, they blushed. "My ears started getting purple, and even his ears started getting purple," she recalls. "They brought everybody over to brush our ears down with, um, paint or whatever it is."
She has fond memories of working with Elvis: "If there is one thing that I am most grateful for, it's the privilege of being one of the few persons left to acknowledge his innocence."
Finding Peace in the Country
Despite her success and celebrity, however, Hart remembers her time in show business as filled with heartache.
As successful and talented as she was, Hart found that working on films was not unlike the breakup of her family. She found it emotionally difficult to separate from her colleagues after bonding with them while shooting a movie.
"You work intensely for maybe eight to 10 weeks. And then you break," she says. "And you never see the person again. It's terrible … I think that's one of the most anguishing parts of Hollywood."
During a period in which she worked in New York, starring in a Broadway play, Hart would often retreat to the country on her days off. On the suggestion of a friend, she took refuge in the guest house of a Connecticut convent, Abbey of Regina Laudis.
Hart was initially hesitant about the abbey, thinking back on her experience as a Catholic schoolgirl in Chicago. But unlike Hollywood, it offered community and continuity. Its members worked hard and stayed together.
Hart was hooked: "I felt that I was going to be back here sometime."