The Flying Nun
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This article is about the TV show. For the record label, see Flying Nun Records.
The Flying Nun is an American sitcom produced by Screen Gems for ABC based on the 1965 book The Fifteenth Pelican, written by Tere Rios. It starred Sally Field as Sister Bertrille. The series originally ran on ABC from September 7, 1967, to September 18, 1970, producing 82 episodes, including a one-hour pilot episode.
Main article: List of The Flying Nun episodes
Developed by Bernard Slade, the series centered on the adventures of a community of nuns in the Convent San Tanco in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The comic elements of the storyline were provided by the flying ability of a novice nun, Sister Bertrille.
In the hour-long series pilot, Chicago native Elsie Ethrington arrives in San Juan from New York City after her arrest for having been involved in a protest; she then adopts the name of Sister Bertrille. It is also later learned (in the episode "My Sister, The Sister") that Sister Bertrille comes from a family of physicians, and that she is the only member of that family who did not follow in their footsteps. She instead became a nun, joining the Convento San Tanco, after being impressed by the missionary work of her aunt, and broke up with her boyfriend of eight months, a toy salesman.
Sister Bertrille could be relied upon to solve any problem that came her way by her ability to catch a passing breeze and fly. This was generally attributed to her weighing under 90 pounds (41 kilograms), high winds at the Convent high on the ocean bluffs, and the large, heavily starched cornette that was the headpiece for her habit. (The cornette was based on one worn until the middle 1960s by the Daughters of Charity, although Sister Bertrille was never said to belong to that order. Indeed, the order which included the Convento San Tanco was never actually specified in the series.) Her flying talents caused as many problems as they solved. She explains her ability to fly by stating, "When lift plus thrust is greater than load plus drag, anything can fly." In one episode, she tries to gain weight so she could stay grounded, but the attempt fails. Additionally, in the first-season episode "Young Man with a Cornette," she specifically tells a young boy who intended to use her cornette to fly that there were many factors other than her weight (which was distributed differently than that of the boy) that made her flying possible. The only times she was unable to take off was when heavy rains or storms occurred and caused her starched cornette to lose its shape, when she had to wear something that would keep her grounded at all times, or even once when she had an inner ear infection that caused her to lose her balance. (See the episode titled "The Flying Dodo.")
After the cancellation of ABC's Gidget, in which Sally Field starred in the title role, producers sought a way to keep Field on the air. As a result, The Flying Nun was developed. Field refused the role at first, only to resettle on it after her stepfather, Jock Mahoney, warned her that she might not work again in show business if she did not accept the role. Screen Gems dismissed its second choice, Ronne Troup, who had already begun filming the pilot. Field recalled hanging from a crane and being humiliated by a parade of episodic television directors, one of whom actually grabbed her shoulders and moved her into position as if she were a prop. She credits co-star Madeleine Sherwood for encouraging her to enroll in acting classes. Field has commented that she has great affection for her young Gidget persona and was proud of her work on that show, but she has also admitted that she was embarrassed with The Flying Nun.
Prior to the production of The Flying Nun, producers were concerned with how the series would be received by Catholics. In an effort to prevent religious criticism, the National Catholic Office for Radio and Television (NCORT), served as a series adviser with on-screen credit. (The NCORT, like its motion-picture counterpart, the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures, was ultimately absorbed into the United States Catholic Conference, and both were later merged into the Office for Film and Broadcasting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or USCCB.)
The San Juan convent courtyard exterior was actually the rear area of a house facade at the Warner Brothers Ranch's suburban street/backlot in Burbank, California, along Hollywood Way north of West Oak Street. However, the pilot episode and the series opening and closing credits were actually filmed on location in Puerto Rico.
The series gradually changed comedic gears in its second season, focusing on slapstick and other forms of broad humor, which overzealous but bungling police Captain Gaspar Fomento, played by Vito Scotti, usually fomented. Beginning in the show's third (and final) season, changes were made to revert the series to a "warm and slightly saccharine" tone as seen in the first season. Another problem the show's producers had to contend with during its last season was the fact that at the beginning of the filming schedule, Field was noticeably pregnant with her first child. This was a logistical nightmare for a series in which Field's character was supposed to be a religious celibate, and skinny enough to fly away in the wind. The producers solved the problem by using props and scenery to block view of Field's body below the chest, and using long shots of Field's stunt double for the flying sequences.
When the show ended, Field starred in another situation comedy, The Girl with Something Extra. She later turned to doing drama and movies as she wanted to move from comedic roles to serious ones.
During its first two seasons, The Flying Nun aired on Thursday nights at 8:00pm EST, where the series competed in the ratings with Daniel Boone. The show was an instant hit, with high ratings and was declared the "hit of the season;" however, the ratings dropped as the season progressed. During its second year, the series was scheduled against Daniel Boone and Hawaii Five-O. During its final season, the series was moved to Wednesday nights at 7:30pm EST, scheduled opposite The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. All of the competing shows ranked higher in the ratings than The Flying Nun, which eventually led to its cancellation. During its three-year-run, the series was a part of a three-show comedy block on ABC that also consisted of Bewitched and That Girl. Despite its early popularity, the show's ratings never broke the Nielsen top thirty.
Despite the show being unpopular with critics, Marge Redmond was nominated for an Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Sister Jacqueline during the 1967–68 season. She lost to Marion Lorne, who won posthumously for her role as "Aunt Clara" on Bewitched.
A series of novels, all based on characters and dialog of the series, was written by William Johnston and published by Ace Books in the 1960s.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the first season of The Flying Nun on March 21, 2006 on DVD in Region 1. This was followed by the release of the show's second season on DVD on August 15, 2006. The third and final season had yet to be released as the month of December of 2016 drew to a close.
On August 27, 2013, it was announced that Mill Creek Entertainment had acquired the rights to various television series from the Sony Pictures library, including The Flying Nun. They re-released the first and second seasons in a 2-season combo pack DVD on October 7, 2014.