Questioning the Question Mark

This blog has been on hiatus.  For the past year and a half, I’ve been working on a major, long-form writing project and I vowed that I wouldn’t blog again until it was finished.  There have been several times during the last 18 months that I’ve felt an urge to post something but have resisted, telling myself, “If you’ve got enough time to write a blog post, sister, you’ve got enough time to work on the big project.”   And I’ve stuck with my vow to not post again until the other thing is finished.  Well, it’s still not finished. And while I do intend to keep the blog on hold until it is, I had to make an exception, just this once. Because when your heart tells you to do something, when you’re called to action by that still, small voice in your head, you just have to do it.

Dolores Hart was a beautiful and talented Hollywood actress in the 1950s and early 60s.   She co-starred with actors like Montgomery Clift, Robert Wagner, and Hugh O’Brian. In 1957, she had the unique privilege of being on the receiving end of Elvis Presley’s first on-screen kiss in the film Loving You. She starred a second time with the King in King Creole (1958).

She was  pretty hot stuff.


Dolores Hart had a big career and a big future as an actress. But unbeknownst to her fans or anyone else, she was secretly questioning her life.  She had a feeling that God had a bigger plan for her.  In 1963, at the age of 24, at the height of her beauty, success and popularity, Dolores Hart stunned Hollywood. While in New York City to promote her new film Fly With Me, she took a one-way ride to the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut and became a nun.

In 2001, she became the abbey’s prioress. Mother Dolores Hart, O.S.B. is now 76 years old and still heads that religious community.

Mother Dolores Hart, O.S.B.

Mother Dolores Hart, O.S.B.

If you saw the wonderful 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary that tells Dolores Hart’s life story, God is the Bigger Elvis, then you already know all of this. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do.

So a few weeks ago my favorite Dolores Hart movie, MGM’s Where the Boys Are from 1960, shows up on TCM.  Where the Boys Are is the original coming-of-age Spring Break story about a group of four Midwestern college girls who head to Fort Lauderdale for some fun in the sun and because it’s, well, where the boys are. 

In addition to Dolores, the movie stars George Hamilton, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Hutton, and introduces Connie Francis (who also sings the iconic hit theme song), and the fantastic Paula Prentiss.

Dolores Hart, Paula Prentiss, Connie Francis, and Yvette Mimieux

Dolores Hart, Paula Prentiss, Connie Francis, and Yvette Mimieux

There’s a scene early in the film where Dolores’s character, Merritt Andrews, is sitting on the crowded beach with her friends. A dashing Ivy-leaguer named Ryder Smith (played by the eternally tanned Hamilton) spots her, walks over, leans down, and draws a question mark in the sand right in front of her. Who are you? Will you talk to me? Are we going to fall madly in love?

The rest of the film’s plot is immaterial to this blog post and I’m no spoiler, but if you have never seen Where the Boys Are, you need to fix that mistake as soon as possible. It’s a terrific time capsule of American youth and the evolving social mores of the time. See it.

In the film’s final scene, Merritt once again finds herself sitting on the now deserted beach pondering the events of the week. Thinking of Ryder, she reaches down and draws a question mark in the sand.

I have probably seen Where the Boys Are a dozen or more times. I’ve been watching this movie my entire life. But as I watch it on this day I notice something about this scene that I have never noticed before: Merritt draws the question mark in the sand backwards.

It leaps off the screen at me and I’m baffled. Why on earth would she draw the question mark backwards?   I Google it, figuring that surely this is a bit of trivia that somebody has discussed at some point in film’s 55-year history.  There’s a whole sub-culture of movie buffs who relish spotting and discussing film discrepancies like this.  But I find nothing.

I locate the scene and watch it several more times. Please, see for yourself. The question mark happens at :35 . . .

Merritt and Ryder walk off into their happily ever after and all I can think about is, “Why did she draw that question mark backwards?!”

The question of the backward question mark bugs me for several days. It stews in my head.  Was it written into the script this way? Did the director tell her to write it backwards? Did the editor flip the scene’s negative, either accidentally or on purpose? Was it an inside joke?  Was Dolores Hart dyslexic?

I have to find out and I decide to go straight to the source.  I sit down and write a letter to Mother Dolores Hart, O.S.B. at the Abbey of Regina Laudis. I know, I know.  I’m a total film geek.  Go ahead.  Judge me.  But guess what, haters . . .

She writes me back.


How cool is that?   No one had ever asked her before!  And I wasn’t the only person she heard from.  And how about that adorable little backward question mark she put before her signature?  I love it.  And I love her.  Best of all, I have my answer: the negative got flipped. But, as Mother Dolores points out, it kind of works.

Thank you, Dolores Hart, for all your work on the silver screen and thank you, Reverend Mother, for being a very cool chick.

Now, like Dolores Hart, I have a vow to keep. No more blog posts until my other project is done.


13 responses to “Questioning the Question Mark

  1. Dear Mrs. Burke, I had so missed your posts!  Your writing is exquisite, as ever. It flows, seemingly effortlessly.  And I, too, love Where the Boys Are.  Wish I could watch it this morning instead of the doing the stuff I have to do. xxm

  2. Hi Donna!

    Your blog just stirred my memory. I may be confusing Mother Dolores with someone else because it has been so long ago, but it seems one of the cocktail girls I worked with at the Dresden told me a story about her father going out with Dolores Hart on a date. He was a grip.

    Just a bit of trivia…

  3. Donna–I found your blog when I noticed the backwards question mark and qoogled for an answer. I love that Mother Dolores wrote you back with an explanation, but I think she may have either mis-remembered or was being coy without really telling you what happened. She seems to be giving two theories–either it happened in the editing room (flipping the negative) or that she deliberately wrote the question mark backwards as a statement of sorts regarding marriage, sex, and her man–or just for her own amusement. Look at the clip again. Look at Dolores’ dress and George’s hair and shirt. The dress buttons on the same side as in previous scene from the motel. And, George’s shirt buttons the way a man’s shirt buttons and his hair is parted on his right–the way it had been parted throughout the entire film. The film could not have been flipped.

    I think Mother Dolores was being coy and was leaving it up to you to decide. I think she definitely wrote the question mark backwards deliberately. And I bet no-one (the director, the editor, George, crew) noticed!! And I think it delighted her!

    • Thanks for your post! I noticed that the movie was showing on TCM this afternoon and I wondered if it would lead anyone to my blog post. Glad it did. Your message prompted me to look at a bunch of clips and trailers on YouTube. Actually, George Hamilton’s part is NOT on the right side throughout the entire film. Check out this one:

      His hair is parted firmly on the left at 2:37 in the beach scene, and again at 7:24 in the yacht scene. But cut to the beach at night at 7:59 and it’s parted on the right.

      However, the one thing that never moves is that mole on the right side above his lip. The part in his hair swings both ways, but that mole stays put! So the mole seems to confirm your theory in itself.

      In addition to the mole, the other dead give-away, as you say, are the buttons. Men’s shirt buttons are always on the right and his are always in the right place, no matter the scene.

      So I guess Mother Dolores did give me an ambiguous non-answer answer. What’s cool is that she pulled a prank 56 years ago that’s still giving her enjoyment. Good catch!

  4. The mole! I should have used that as the standard. I thought George had parted his hair on the right “throughout the entire film” because I remembered noticing his part in an earlier scene because there was a strange shadow on his forehead near the part. I see from the clip you above, his part did flip flop, but as you also mentioned..his mole never did!! As a man, I can tell you, I have parted my hair on the same side my entire life, as most men I know do. I find it absolutely crazy that George Hamilton (or the flim stylist) would part his hair on different sides throughout the shoot. It makes no sense. But it was brilliantined to an inch of its life flat to his head, so I guess he never knew which side his part was on.

    Thanks for the blog post on this subject. It would have driven me absolutely bonkers if I felt that I was the only one who noticed the question mark. By the way, I have probably seen “Where the Boys Are” at least a dozen times and today was the first time I noticed the backwards “?.”


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