I’ve already written about the one place that Hollywood seemingly is more than willing to part ways with any pretense toward realism. And that would be in the fact that so many nuns in Hollywood films are as beautiful as movie stars. Precisely because it is movie stars who play them. Television has played around with the idea that nuns are inordinately beautiful as well, but TV history is also littered with the legacy of nuns who are neither too beautiful inside nor out.
The Flying Nun
“The Flying Nun” is where TV tossed all pretense toward realism aside. First off, as the title suggests, it is about a nun that flies. And then it is about a nun that bears a striking resemblance to the eternally peppy beach girl Gidget. Who could have predicted that Sally Field would go from playing a nun with the ability to fly to becoming a two-time Oscar winner for Best Actress? Who could have predicted that “The Flying Nun” would connect with audiences. Doesn’t the very act of flying seem a bit sacrilegious?
Going My Way
It was only a few short years between the premiere of the TV version of the Oscar-winning movie “Going My Way” and the premiere of “The Flying Nun.” Hard to believe. The nuns on “Going My Way” could not have been more traditional. And, as a result, far less memorable than one that could fly.
In the Beginning
About a decade after “The Flying Nun” television had changed enough that the streetwise nun became the rule rather than the exception. “In the Beginning” was yet another attempt by McLean Stevenson to prove that he had not made one of the biggest mistakes in TV history by leaving “MASH.” Since his character was infamously killed off, there was no going back. And, as a result, Stevenson found himself playing a part in the history of the evolution of nuns on TV. His Father Cleary was constantly being assaulted by the streetwise credibility of Sister Agnes. Which, truth be told, was about as close to the reality of streetwise nuns as her appearance. In all probability.
Frankly, the song as performed by the Ditty Bops may be more memorable, but “Sister Kate” was one of the first TV shows to actually center around the life of a nun. As a result, that makes Kate the very definition of a memorable nun in TV history. Once again, of course, we have Hollywood’s reality when it comes to what nuns should look like in the form of buxom Stephanie Beacham in the title role. This nun’s attempts to bring some stability to the life kids in an orphanage just never really quite caught on with viewers.