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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

The Flying Nun: “It was just drivel!”

Feb 27, 2023 09:55AM ● By Randal C. Hill
“I was in heaven, learning as much as I could learn. I loved, loved, loved every minute of it,” Sally Field once enthused to a writer from O, The Oprah Magazine.
Was this reaction about her time spent as “The Flying Nun”? Actually, no. Field was waxing nostalgic about her first television series, “Gidget,” a 1965 show on ABC based on the Sandra Dee movie of the same name. (In 1959, “Gidget” had kicked off the beach party/surfing film craze of the early 1960s.) 
Field’s recollections of her “Flying Nun” years was quite different. She had landed the “Gidget” role right out of Birmingham High School in the Los Angeles suburb of Van Nuys. Shortly after, she was spotted by a casting agent at an acting workshop. 
When “Gidget” folded after a year of mediocre ratings, Field was devastated. She was then offered the lead role in another ABC series, this time as a Puerto Rico-based Catholic sister who could soar through the air. (“The Flying Nun” was based on Tere Rios’ 1965 book, “The Fifteenth Pelican.”) 
Field rejected the role, later explaining, “The show just made no sense to me. It was just drivel! There wasn’t any piece of it that had human behavior in it.” 
Her stepfather was a stuntman/actor named Jock Mahoney, who Field found intimidating and controlling. When Mahoney warned her, “If you don’t take this part, you may never work again,” she capitulated and signed to play the cartoonish sister. When she later requested more depth to the scripts, Field was told, “[People] want to know what they’re going to see before they see it. They don’t want to be touched. They don’t want to be surprised. They don’t want to think.” 
The series ran from 1967 to 1970 for a total of 82 episodes. It quickly became a ratings winner, but as the weekly stories unfolded, viewership dropped steadily. By the third year, the show was on life support. 
In the meantime, Field had married her first husband, Steve Craig, and was pregnant during the last season’s filming. 
“You can only imagine what a pregnant flying nun looked like. I was a walking sight gag,” Field said. 
The show’s producers used props and scenery to block the view of Field’s body below the chest. 
Eventually Field came to realize that the time she spent on “The Flying Nun” did, to her surprise, have an actual upside. 
“Something in me started to take care of myself in a way that I hadn’t been able to before,” she said later. “I started to change and heal. I grew up and moved out of the fog. And ultimately, the experience of being on the series gave me tremendous strength. It made me want to be a real actor, no matter what.”
She certainly achieved that goal. In her superlative movie career, Field carried home an armful of Tinseltown trophies, including two Academy Awards for Best Actress for “Norma Rae” and “Places in the Heart.” 

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