The Benedictine nun at the center of the Oscar-nominated short "God Is the Bigger Elvis" has a great story to tell: 54 years ago she was the young actress who gave Elvis Presley his first screen kiss, and now she's returning as a guest to the Academy Awards, which she last attended when she was a presenter in 1959.
But neither of those things are exactly true.
Since I was raised Catholic and schooled by nuns, I would hardly accuse one of them of anything worse than a faulty memory. But no evidence exists that the actress formerly known as Dolores Hart, who is now Mother Prioress at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut, was ever an Oscar presenter.
And as for that kiss, it was Elvis's third onscreen liplock.
(Photo of Mother Prioress by Julie Anderson/HBO)
Her story, one of those that the Academy will showcase in its "Docs!" program Wednesday night at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, is still fascinating. As Dolores Hart, the now 73-year-old woman acted in 10 movies between 1957 and 1963 and then left behind a promising career, and a fiancé, to become a nun.
And though she abandoned her movie career, Mother Prioress also happens to still be a voting member of the Academy, though there's little evidence in the film of her ever watching movies. (It doesn't mention that she's an AMPAS member, either.)
Also read: 2012 Oscars: Complete List of Nominees
Mother Prioress will be in Los Angeles for the Academy Awards show – the first time she's been to the Oscars, she told USA Today, since "1959, when I was a presenter."
But according to "Inside Oscar," the exhaustive chronicle of every Academy Awards show, presenters at the Pantages Theater in 1959 included Bette Davis and Anthony Quinn, Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, Jane Wyman and Charlton Heston, Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner, Doris Day and Rock Hudson, Kim Novak and James Cagney … but not Hart, who at the time was a 21-year-old actress with four films and three television appearances to her credit.
Randy Haberkamp, the Academy's Director of Education Programs and Special Projects, checked AMPAS records and confirmed to TheWrap that while Hart attended the Oscars in 1959, 1960 and 1961, "Our records show no instance of her presenting any award at the show."
(In 1961, three of her co-stars in "Where the Boys Are" did participate in the show, Paula Prentiss and James Hutton as presenters and Connie Francis as a performer.)
Another Hart myth, which was spread by "20/20" when the show did a piece on her a decade ago and has been repeated ever since, is that she gave Elvis Presley his first onscreen kiss when she played the ingénue in his second movie, 1957's "Loving You." (She starred with him in another film, "King Creole," the following year.)
It's uncertain the order in which the kisses were filmed, but Elvis kisses Jana Lund about 50 minutes into the film, and Lizabeth Scott half an hour later; it isn't until the movie's final scene, below, that he finally locks lips with Hart (despite a couple of near-misses earlier in the movie).
(While Elvis' character was married to co-star Debra Paget in his first movie, "Love Me Tender," they never kissed onscreen – though they did so in publicity photos for the movie.)
But director Rebecca Cammisa's movie doesn't spend any time on the kiss, apart from giving us a quick glimpse; instead, it focuses on Hart's decision to leave an acting career for her religious vocation, and on the factors that drew other nuns to the abbey.
In an additional odd twist, "God Is the Bigger Elvis" is the only one of the 15 nominated shorts in the animated, live-action and documentary categories not to be included in the ShortsHD and Magnolia Pictures programs currently playing in theaters.
A ShortsHD release attributes its absence only to "licensing issues." The film is an HBO Documentary that debuts on the cable channel on April 5; HBO's only response to TheWrap's repeated requests for additional information was to expand the phrase to "Elvis licensing issues."
Since the film already had quiet one-week qualifying runs in Los Angeles County and New York City, the implication is that HBO negotiated a theatrical license with the always-tough Elvis Presley Estate only for those runs, and not for subsequent theatrical bookings.
Whatever the reason, withholding the film from theatrical package could actually work to its advantage: Since members can only vote in the category if they've seen all five films in a theater, it restricts the group of voters to the Academy members who attended one of four doc-shorts screenings in Los Angeles or two in New York.
The audience at those screenings tends to be made up of older Academy members – in other words, likelier contemporaries of Dolores Hart.
(In the animated and live-action shorts categories, the Academy for the first time allowed voters to qualify by attending the ShortsHD/Magnolia theatrical showings, a rule that one AMPAS member called "a game-changer" in expanding the field of voters.)
Mother Prioress has not said whether she voted in the category in which she's featured, but the licensing issues would have made it much harder for her to do so.
If "God Is the Bigger Elvis" had been part of the program, she could have seen all five nominees at any time during a week-long run in New Haven, Connecticut, about 45 miles from the abbey in Bethlehem – but with it not included in that program, she could only have voted by making the trip to New York City, which is more than twice as far, for one of two official AMPAS screenings last Wednesday or Thursday evenings.
An excerpt from the film will screen on Wednesday at the Academy's "Docs!" program, and Los Angeles-based doc fans will be able to see it as part of the International Documentary Association's DocuDay screening on Saturday.
The "Docs!" program, which will be hosted by Academy governor Michael Moore, will stream live on the Academy website on Wednesday night. A feature animation program on Thursday, and foreign-language and makeup symposiums on Saturday, will also stream live at http://oscar.go.com/blogs/oscar-news/oscar-events-and-exhibitions.