As if to test her resolve in those weeks before she left Hollywood, Universal Studios offered her a role opposite Marlon Brando, a role she turned down shortly after she broke off her engagement to Don Robinson, a kind and handsome businessman who loved her intensely.
“Even my best friend, who was a priest, Father Doody, said, ‘You’re crazy. This is absolutely insane to do this,’ ” Mother Delores Hart remembered in a recent interview, conducted 50 years after she entered the Order of St. Benedict.
To try to explain her decision to a world that’s perhaps even more enamored of celebrity than it was a half century ago, Hart, 74, has written “The Ear of the Heart,” a memoir of her life on screen and behind the convent walls.
Even though she wasn’t raised Catholic, 9-year-old Dolores decided to convert when she found meaning and comfort in the rituals of her Catholic school. At 24, she quit Hollywood to answer a call she heard from God. “I left the world I knew in order to reenter it on a more profound level,” she writes.
But others took the abandonment of her career as an almost personal affront.
“It just offends so many that I would somehow look at that and say, ‘It’s useless, it’s meaningless, there is something more important. Because for most persons, success and money and fame are the things that really make life worthwhile, and so you don’t just dismiss that,’ ” she said.
“Even my beloved aunt, who was a Sister of St. Joseph, she was livid,” Hart continued. “Because she loved having a niece who was famous.”
Hart’s book tour will take her across the country, and away from the place she has rarely left since she abandoned her movie star dream life, and where she is now prioress. The Abbey of Regina Laudis is 450 acres of farmland, barns and chapels in rural Connecticut, 100 miles north of New York City — an abbey that, not coincidentally, includes a working theater.
Founded by Hart and the late actress Patricia Neal, the open-air theater seats 300 and stages both dramas and musicals at reasonable prices for people who could not otherwise enjoy live theater. And yes, they have produced “The Sound of Music,” Hart confirmed without having to be asked.
Hart made 10 Hollywood movies from 1957 to 1963, including two with Elvis, and “Where The Boys Are,” the blockbuster 1960 comedy in which she stars as a college girl looking for spring break fun — and perhaps premarital sex.
She is most proud of her supporting role in the 1959 Broadway comedy, “The Pleasure of His Company,” for which she received a Tony Award nomination, and the film “Lisa,” (1962) in which she stars as a Jewish woman tortured in a Nazi concentration camp.