The life of Mother Dolores Hart
THE EAR OF THE HEART:
An Actress’ Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows,
By Mother Dolores Hart OSB and Richard DeNeut
Ignatius Press, HB, pp.427, ISBN 978-1-58617-747-8. Rec. price: $45.00. Available from Freedom Publishing.
Mention Hollywood actors, and most people think of celebrities whose private lives are marked by all sorts of bizarre behaviours with scant regard for religion.
The Ear of the Heart challenges many of the stereotypes associated with Hollywood.
It explores the life of Mother Dolores Hart. A promising actress, she left Hollywood as her career was blossoming, and broke off her engagement to Don Robinson to enter Regina Laudis, a Benedictine monastery in Connecticut.
The work is co-authored by Richard DeNeut whom Hart first met soon after she commenced her Hollywood career.
After her community urged Hart to write her autobiography, she turned to DeNeut for assistance, as he had previously assisted her in editing actress Patricia Neal’s autobiography, Neal being a friend of the monastery.
Born Dolores Hicks in 1938, to teenage parents Bert and Harriett Hicks, her parents’ marriage ended in divorce, with her parents separating when she was a small child.
However, even at an early age there were connections to the movies. Her father worked in Hollywood, obtaining small roles in pictures.
Raised by her grandparents, Dolores developed a strong bond with her grandfather, and accompanied him to his work as a movie projectionist.
Although she had Catholic relatives – one relative being a nun – Dolores herself is a convert.
Sent to a parochial Catholic school by her grandparents, she entered the Church at age 10, before she joined her mother in Beverly Hills.
Her first exposure to acting was in High School, after which Dolores gained a scholarship to attend Marymount College, granted on the basis of her acting Joan of Arc in a scene of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan.
As a first year student she met Don Barbeau, a mature aged student. Convinced she had movie potential, he successfully organised Paramount Studios to observe her acting in a college play.
This was soon followed by a screen test, and a movie contract. Taking the stage name Dolores Hart, her debut appearance was in Loving You (1957), where she co-starred with Elvis Presley.
In the next five years, she starred in ten movies, and some Broadway plays.
Whilst acting on Broadway, Hart first visited Regina Laudis monastery. Wanting a quiet retreat, a friend suggested the monastery to her, which she first visited at the end of 1958.
She was to make several subsequent visits in the following years. Despite her engagement to Don Robinson, Hart gradually discerned a vocation.
Breaking off the engagement, she entered Regina Laudis monastery in 1963. Robinson never married, but became a strong supporter of the monastery, visiting it every year until his death.
The second half of the book examines her life as a nun.
Taking her final vows in 1970, she has fulfilled a number of duties in the monastery, including manual tasks such as woodwork, to being the co-ordinator of monastery’s education deanery.
When entering, Hart was convinced that she would be leaving her acting career behind; however, Mother Abbess stressed to her that she would bring to her religious life skills and insights she had learnt whilst being an actress.
This section of the work also explores some of the initiatives undertaken by the monastery, and gives readers an insight into the life of a contemplative nun.
Although this is a contemplative monastery with an enclosure, Regina Laudis has undertaken some interesting initiatives, including a land program, in which the nuns have shared their agricultural and animal husbandry skills with students, and an acting program where external actors have delivered performances in the monastery grounds.
Through their involvement in such initiatives, some women have discerned vocations to Regina Laudis. One interesting observation made is that most of those who entered had successful careers, and they brought their talents and skills with them into the monastery.
A latter section of the work focuses on Hart suffering from neuropathy that she began to suffer from in 1997.
An extremely painful condition, Hart bore her suffering patiently, and it was the catalyst for her community insisting she write her autobiography, which she did with the assistance of Richard DeNeut.
Ironically, it was this condition that was the catalyst for her return to Hollywood in 2006, which she visited to raise awareness for neuropathy.
She is also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body that selects Oscar winners. Hart casts her votes after watching films sent to her on DVD.
The Ear of the Heart is a fascinating insight into the life and spiritual journey of a Hollywood actress.
It is a profoundly moving work that challenges many of the stereotypes about actors, and was a work that this reviewer found very hard to put down. Highly recommended.