||THE FLYING NUN
Sitcom about a lightweight nun who discovers she can fly.
82 episodes of 30 minute duration. ABC 1967-1970.
Of all the fantasy situation comedies that aired in the 1960's, 'The Flying Nun' was one for the books. A 90 pound Catholic nun who takes flight when the wind blows up her habit? Even My Mother The Car was only slightly less ridiculous. But for three seasons, a loyal audience tuned in every week to watch young actress Sally Field go airborne; her eagerness and freshness, which served her well in 'Gidget', made this slight comedy rather watchable.
Based on the novel "The Fifteenth Pelican" by author Tere Rios, "Nun" was the story of Sister Bertrille (the former Elsie Ethington), an American novice nun assigned to the Convent San Tanco near San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her energy and grit to help solve the cash-strapped convent's problems endeared her to some, including her mentor Sister Jacqueline (Marge Redmond); Sister Ana (Linda Dangcil) and Sister Sixto (played by Shelley Morrison, who would later portray Rosario, the insult-laden maid of sloshed society matron Karen Walker on "Will & Grace"). Sister Bertrille's major critic was her "boss", the stern Mother Superior (Madeline Sherwood). Alejandro Rey was Carlos Ramirez, the playboy disco owner who always got suckered into Sister Bertrille's latest scheme.
The explanation for Sister Bertrille's flights of fancy was somewhat convoluted: "when lift plus thrust is greater than load plus drag, any object can fly". Translation: The young sister's light weight, the strong Puerto Rico winds, and her starched headdress and clothing allowed her to circle over the country like a bird. Her flying, combined with her tendency to get into unusual situations, formed the basis for the plots.
When Gidget went off the air in 1966, ABC and Columbia's Screen Gems television production unit badly wanted Field to return to series television. (Field was unhappy about the demise of Gidget; calling it "the best show there ever was"). It was Screen Gems chief Harry Ackerman who found the Flying Nun property and urged Field to accept the role. At first, she refused; only when she was warned by her stepfather, the actor Jock Mahoney, that rejecting the role could end her Hollywood career, did she reluctantly agree to do the show. (To their credit, Screen Gems executives tried to make Field happy; when they heard she liked driving around in a Ferrari, the studio gave her a blue Ferrari 330 convertible for her birthday.)
In later years, Field called the Flying Nun role a "good experience" (in part because she learned about acting from co-star Sherwood). But she was not happy about wearing a heavy nun's outfit every day, and not a happy camper about the slight scripts. During the show's run, Field married and became pregnant; her "condition" had to be hidden for a time until she gave birth.
The show's core audience was 12 to 24-year-old girls (and a few of their brothers, no doubt) who helped make the show a hit for the ABC network. As a result, Flying Nun merchandise was made available, everything from lunch pails to paper dolls. Field also recorded several albums linked to the series, including a vocal version of the show's theme song "Who Needs Wings To Fly?"
Even before The Flying Nun went off the air on September 18th, 1970, some religious orders actually commended the series for "humanizing" the work of Catholic nuns.
Three years later, Sally Field starred in what would be her last regular television series for nearly three decades. The Girl With Something Extra, which also came from the Screen Gems factory, was the story of housewife and newlywed Sally Burton, who had extra-sensory perception and could read minds--including the mind of her new hubby John, played by singer-actor John Davidson. (Teri Garr co-starred in this comedy, which ran from September 1973 until May 1974 on NBC.) A few years later, with roles in the TV movie Sybil and such films as Norma Rae and Places In The Heart, Field was able to carve a new and successful phase in her acting career. She occasionally did television (appearing as a guest in made-for-TV movies and miniseries, along with guest appearances in such series as Murphy Brown and ER), but Field wouldn't return to series television until 2002, when she played a Supreme Court justice on the short-lived legal drama The Bench. With accolades and awards for her movie and television work, there's no doubt Sally Field, the former Flying Nun, has earned her wings.
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