Values

Hollywood Hypocrisy? Age and the Academy

Mary Claire Kendall

Karl Malden called Mother Dolores Hart one day in 1998.

This former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (1989-1992), known for A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), for which he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, On the Waterfront (1954), and Patton (1969), had an important message and special invitation.

“We want to hear what you say and what you experience because you have experienced it from a different place,” Hart said Malden told her.

So it was that Karl Malden brought Mother Dolores out of retirement—making her the only nun to vote for Oscar nominees.

It was the 25th anniversary year of her leaving Hollywood to love the king of kings after having starred opposite the king of rock ‘n roll in Loving You (1957). She was known for Where the Boys Are (1960), King Creole (1958), and Francis of Assisi (1961), and was being groomed to be the next Grace Kelly. But, in 1963, at the end of the Come Fly with Me press junket – just as sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll were revving up – she left it all behind for spiritual gold at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn., her limousine’s final destination.

Last year, she and some 70 other seasoned members of the Academy were sent back into retirement.

They got entangled in the Academy’s push for diversity after no black actors were nominated for Oscars in January 2016.

Cheryl Boone Isaacs, current Academy president, said in a press statement the day the Oscars were announced, she was “heartbroken and frustrated about the lack of inclusion” and vowed “big changes.” They came a week later when the Academy’s board of governors held an emergency meeting and voted in a diversity plan that would: A) aggressively recruit new members; and B) shift old members to “emeritus status”—namely those who had been inactive in the industry the previous ten years, excepting those with cumulative credits over three decades or an Oscar nomination.

Last June, a record 1,683 new members (46% female; 41% non-white) were announced.

Boone Isaacs said the purge of the older members was unrelated to the racial diversity issue. Which does strain credulity since getting action led to the purge vote, as if two wrongs make a right.

Mother Dolores Hart told me in January 2016 after the vote, that it “hurts” not only for herself but for the sake of her Academy friends, who, she said, are “precious and have such value.”

These members, she said, are the “wisdom figures.” And, when the Academy loses them it “is going to destroy something of the essence of how people look at” it and “the quality” with which they associate it.

“It’s always been the star in the sky” among all the guilds. “And, I think they are going to lose that,” Hart said.

On Monday, a packed audience at Leo House, founded with the help of Pope Leo XIII, will get to hear Hart’s wisdom. Which is wonderful. 

Still, I can’t help wondering, why, if Malden saw what a gem Mother Dolores was to the Academy, the current cast of characters is so blind.

Mary Claire Kendall is author of Oasis: Conversion Stories of Hollywood Legends, recently published in Madrid under the title También Dios pasa por Hollywood.