Many daytime performers – famous for playing a particular kind of role, be it hero or villain – have spread their wings and tried their hand at unconventional roles. And some of them have worked alongside entertainment royalty. All of these actresses either currently star on, or are alums of ABC’s sole surviving daytime drama – General Hospital.
But only one of them can claim that she starred opposite Elvis Presley in a feature film – and did so while playing a nun! Who can that actress be? Is it Leslie Charleson (Dr. Monica Quartermaine), Anna Lee (ex-Lila Quartermaine), Donna Mills (ex-Madeline Reeves), Constance Towers (ex-Helena Cassadine), or Jane Elliot (ex-Tracy Quartermaine)?
Charleson was a life-long Elvis devotee. And though she never acted with him, she certainly had a very memorable encounter with The King. “I had been flown out to [do a guest spot] on The Wild Wild West with Bob Conrad. And I happened to know that [actor/stuntman] Red West was a good friend of Bob’s and also one of Elvis’s sidekicks.
“So, I sort of sealed myself to Red West’s hips while we were shooting [laughs] in hopes of meeting Elvis. Well, finally, on a Friday, Red said, ‘All right, if you follow me over to Paramount [where Presley was filming Charro!], I’ll introduce you to Elvis.’
“When we got on the stage, Elvis was shooting a scene. Red asked me if I wanted anything, and I said some coffee. So, Red went and got me coffee, and then Elvis came over and he was wearing a white jumpsuit.
“Red said, ‘El, I’d like you to meet a little girl who’s working with Bobby Conrad. This is Leslie.’ So, I thrust out my hand very eagerly — but that was the hand in which I was holding my hot coffee. It went all over his white suit! The only thing I could think of to say was, ‘When you were in the Army, you were U.S. Private 533310761.”
Unlike her on-screen daughter-in-law, Lee was not an admirer of Elvis – though he did run in the same circles as her daughter, Venetia Stevenson. But she did know a thing or two about playing nuns.
She played Sister Margaretta in the 1965 musical drama, The Sound of Music. The part was small, but memorable, owing to her assisting the tuneful Von Trapp family in their escape from pursuing Nazis.
Presley appeared on the January 5, 1985 cover of TV Guide, and Mills graced the following week’s frontage. That was about the closest she ever got to The King. However, Mills was no stranger to the simple garments worn by nuns.
After all, when she debuted on Love is a Many Splendored Thing in 1967, her character, Laura Donnelly (the younger sister of Leslie Charleson’s Iris), was known as Sister Cecilia.
Towers had little interaction with Presley – though she was very good friends with Jerry Weintraub, one of the crooner’s managers and promoters. But during her tenure as Helena Cassadine, Towers did don a nun’s habit – due to Helena’s hiding out in a convent.
She thought the role of Sister Barbara Bennett was beneath her and she didn’t think much of the film’s lead actor, Elvis Presley. But money’s money and a job’s a job. So Elliot agreed to appear in Change of Habit.
“Elvis to me was tacky, kitsch America. That was my image of him… We all had our names on our chairs. He was the only one that had a tall director’s chair. And I looked up at him, in my snotty little Manhattan private school way, and said, ‘Gee, don’t you feel self-conscious all the way up there?’
“He looked down at me and he said, ‘You know, as a matter of fact I do.’ He got off the chair, he put it to the side, and he went over and he grabbed the chair that said ‘Guest’ on it and sat on the guest chair. He had somebody take his name off the tall chair and make a short chair for himself.”
Post-incident, and for the duration of the film, Elliot and Presley became extremely close and served as each other’s sounding boards. “I did a complete 180,” Elliot later said in reference to her attitude towards him. “Elvis was a lovely, lovely man, a real gentleman and so sweet and fun and funny. I had the best time working with him and everyone else.”
So if you hazarded a guess that perhaps Jane Elliot – best known for her turn as GH’s snobbish, spoiled, and spiteful Tracy Quartermaine – was the answer to today’s query, then you were absolutely correct!
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