The Flying Nun

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The Flying Nun
FlyingNunTitleCard67.jpeg
GenreSitcom
Created by
Based onThe Fifteenth Pelican
by Tere Ríos
Developed byBernard Slade
Starring
Theme music composerDominic Frontiere
Opening theme"Who Needs Wings to Fly?"
ComposersDominic Frontiere
Warren Barker
Harry Geller
Hugo Montenegro
Will Schaefer
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons3
No. of episodes82 (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producerHarry Ackerman
Producers
  • Jon Epstein
  • Ed Jurist
  • William Sackheim
Running time25 minutes
Production companyScreen Gems
Distributor
  • Screen Gems (1967–1974)
  • Columbia Pictures Television (1974–1984)
  • Colex Enterprises (1984–1986)
  • Sony Pictures Television (2002–present)
Release
Original networkABC
Audio formatMonaural
Original releaseSeptember 7, 1967 (1967-09-07) –
April 3, 1970 (1970-04-03)

The Flying Nun is an American sitcom about a community of nuns which included one who could fly when the wind caught her cornette. It was produced by Screen Gems for ABC based on the 1965 book The Fifteenth Pelican, written by Tere Rios. Sally Field starred as the title character, Sister Bertrille.

The series originally ran on ABC from September 7, 1967, to April 3, 1970, producing 82 episodes, including a one-hour pilot episode.

Overview[edit]

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 series focuses on Sister Bertrille, a young, idealistic novice nun who discovers she can fly, whose order teaches largely underprivileged and orphaned children and assists the poor of a diverse Hispanic community (a rare setting for American network TV in the era).

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 free speech 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 Convent San Tanco, after being impressed by the missionary work of her aunt, and broke up with her toy salesman boyfriend of eight months.

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 kg), 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.[1] Indeed, the order which included the Convent San Tanco was never actually specified in the series.). Her flying talents could cause as many problems as they solved, per the sitcom format, but she most often used her gift to help people, or at least with good intentions.

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 from that of the boy) that made her flying possible. She was unable to take off when heavy rains caused her starched cornette to lose its shape, when she had to wear something that would keep her grounded at all times, or, on one occasion in the episode titled "The Flying Dodo", when an inner ear infection caused her to lose her balance.

For a series often accused of being outlandish (often by its title rather than its true content), The Flying Nun treated Sister Bertrille's gift of flight more realistically than other fantasy comedies of the era. Usually on fantasy series of the 1960s, there were frantic and elaborate attempts to hide and keep secret the special powers, a constant dilemma on Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie and My Favorite Martian. In most cases, The Flying Nun dealt with its premise more logically. Quite often, Sister Bertrille and the nuns freely admitted her ability to fly, asking for discretion in hopes that it would not draw attention to the needs and efforts of the convent. Secrecy was only necessary (and occasionally humorously so) for any characters who would not understand, or might make the situation exploitative, widely public, subject to ridicule, or otherwise disruptive.

One especially memorable episode (without a laugh track) featured just two actors, Sally Field and actor/director Henry Jaglom, trapped in a cave, in an often-bitter exchange. Upon learning she could fly so she could rescue them, he began to consider, not in an absurdly miraculous but believable way, to reconsider his shattered perspective on life.[2]

Cast[edit]

Redmond, Rey, Morrison, and Field. Missing from picture: Sherwood.
  • Sally Field as Sister Bertrille/Elsie Ethrington, a novice nun who weighs only 90 pounds, allowing her to fly while wearing her cornette and when the wind is right. This was Field's second situation-comedy role, following Gidget.
  • Madeleine Sherwood as Reverend Mother Placido, the somber but gentle woman who runs the convent.
  • Marge Redmond as Sister Jacqueline, a wise nun with a sense of humor and Sister Bertrille's friend. Her voice is also heard as the narrator, who provides a friendly, tongue-in-cheek narration throughout each episode.
  • Alejandro Rey as Carlos Ramirez, a local casino owner and playboy. Ramirez is an orphan raised by the nuns, and though his is a "sinful" life by comparison to their ideals, he still maintains his gratitude, helping them whenever he can. This constantly leads him to get swept, usually against his will, into Sister Bertrille's zany schemes, which she concocts with alarming frequency. Rey also appeared in a dual role in two episodes as Carlos's mild-mannered, inventive but naive twin cousin Luis Ramirez.
  • Shelley Morrison as Sister Sixto, a Puerto Rican nun who always misinterprets English slang. In the third season, after someone corrected her, she replied with a rejoinder with logic for the phrase.
  • Linda Dangcil as Sister Ana, another young novice.
  • Vito Scotti as Captain Gaspar Fomento, the local police officer and the only regular character in the series who never knew about Sister Bertrille's ability to fly.
  • Elinor Donahue as Jennifer Ethrington, Sister Bertrille's sister, a dedicated, if overscheduled, pediatrician. Jennifer politely declined Carlos' proposal of marriage and eventually married a doctor.
  • Rich Little as Brother Paul, a brilliant but disaster-prone monk.
  • Don Diamond as Dr. Tapia, San Tanco's local physician (season one) and Chief Galindo, Captain Fomento's long-suffering superior.
  • Michael Pataki as Sgt. Salazar, sidekick to Captain Fomento (season two); Roberto, Carlo's good-natured assistant (season three); and Pedro (season one).

Production[edit]

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.[3] Seeking more mature roles, Field found the concept of the show ridiculous and refused the role at first, only to reconsider after her stepfather Jock Mahoney warned her that she might not work again in show business if she did not accept the role.[3] 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.[4] 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 did not have as pleasant an experience working on The Flying Nun, especially due to constant jokes from comedians, unflattering spoofs, and negative press that ridiculed the premise, which she took to mean herself. The title was used as a punchline without considering the series or its leads.

In the Season One DVD interview, Field states that it was Harry Ackerman's decision to give the series the instantly mockable but easily marketable title, "The Flying Nun" rather than give it the book's title, "The Fifteenth Pelican," which would have been better. In essence the title invited ridicule without any reference to the program itself. The entertainment industry did little to help Field's morale either, to the point of having her "fly in" to an Emmy Awards broadcast. Nevertheless, Field also expressed tremendous affection and admiration for her Flying Nun co-stars, including Marge Redmond ("She was so down to earth") and Alejandro Rey, whom she said was not only kind and considerate to her but taught her by example to speak up for herself, indicating that The Flying Nun ultimately was a tough but crucial training ground for the career that was to unfold before her.[4]

Prior to the production of The Flying Nun, producers were concerned with how the series would be received by the Catholic Church as well as individual 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.[5] 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. Due to the generally positive portrayal of the nuns' religious and social activities, the series was rarely criticized by Catholic authorities and was favorably received by many.

The San Juan convent courtyard exterior was the rear area of a house façade at the Warner Brothers Ranch's suburban street/backlot in Burbank, California, along Hollywood Way north of West Oak Street.[6] The pilot episode and the series opening and closing credits were filmed on location in Puerto Rico. Serra Retreat Center, Malibu, has photos in one of their conference rooms stating the exterior was shot there. On September 25, 1970, the Malibu Canyon Wildfire destroyed the original buildings.[7]

The series gradually changed comedic gears in its second season with a bit more slapstick and broad humor, usually focusing on bungling police Captain Gaspar Fomento, played by Vito Scotti, as well as sometimes incongruous flying scenes for Field. Other than a few brief mentions early in the series run, few attempts were made to concoct a scientifically believable explanation for Field's flying abilities.

Beginning in the show's third (and final) season, changes were made to revert the series to the warmer tone of the first season and more socially relevant storylines.[8]

Throughout the entire run, most stories concerned helping people in need, community service, literacy, education and the diversity of people and their faiths. This series was one of the few American '60s sitcoms set in a low-income ethnic community. By the third season, the series had found its footing, and the flying premise became unnecessary enough to the storylines that often the scripts would have to contrive reasons for at least one "flight" per episode.

Had Ackerman not insisted on the gimmick title of "The Flying Nun," instead of "The Fifteenth Pelican," "San Tanco," or simply "Sister Bertrille," the overall content of the series might have been better perceived and recognized in its day. With the spread of socially-relevant sitcom characters and storylines in the 1970s, the series might have been better received had it continued for additional seasons.

During its third season, at the beginning of the filming schedule, Field was noticeably expecting her first child. As had been done many times in the past in movies and television to conceal unexpected and seemingly awkward or inappropriate pregnancies, the producers used props and scenery to block specific views of Field and using long shots of stunt doubles for the flying sequences.[9] Field missed several filming sessions around the birth of her son Peter in November 1969, resulting in the absence of Sister Bertrille from one episode. Following the baby's birth, Field returned to filming.

Following the deaths of Shelley Morrison in 2019 and Marge Redmond in 2020, Sally Field is the only surviving cast member of the series.

Music[edit]

Like The Donna Reed Show and The Monkees TV series, Screen Gems made potential hit music an aspect of The Flying Nun. Under the supervision of Lester Sill, many of the foremost composers, lyricists and arrangers contributed to The Flying Nun, including Carole Bayer Sager, Howard Greenfield, Jack Keller, Ernie Freeman and Dominic Frontiere. Sally Field, Star of The Flying Nun, an LP recording featuring music from the series' soundtrack plus additional songs, sung by Sally Field and the Bob Mitchell Choir (who sang in Going My Way, Peter Pan, The Bishop's Wife and many other films and recordings), was released by Colgems in 1967.[10] One of the songs from the album, "Felicidad (The Happiness Word)" was released as single and was heard in the pilot episode.

In addition to the album, two additional singles were released by Colgems Records: the soundtrack of Sally Field, Marge Redmond and Madeleine Sherwood of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley's "Gonna Build a Mountain" from the second season episode "Sister Socko in San Tanco" and Sally Field singing "Golden Days," a song not heard on the series.

In 1968, Abbe Lane guest starred in the second season episode "The Organ Transplant" and sang the Burt Bacharach and Hal David hit, "The Look of Love" from the feature film Casino Royale, released in 1967 by Columbia Pictures, parent company of Screen Gems. The soundtrack of that film was also on Colgems Records.

Broadcast history[edit]

SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
131September 7, 1967April 11, 1968
226September 26, 1968April 10, 1969
326September 17, 1969April 3, 1970

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 on NBC and Cimarron Strip on CBS.[11] 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.[12] 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.[13] Despite its early popularity, the show's ratings never broke the Nielsen top thirty and the final episode aired on April 3, 1970. However, its 83 episodes have consistently attracted new audiences since its initial run.

Syndication[edit]

Beginning in the summer of 2011, the show was transmitted on weekends on Antenna TV.[14] The complete first season also became available on iTunes.[15] Beginning in 2018, it began broadcasting on FETV. It currently airs on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 2-4am ET (3 hours earlier PT). The entire series, including the third season which had not been released on DVD, is available on Tubi via livestream,

Awards[edit]

Despite the show being an easy target for 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.[16]

Novels, Comics and Toys[edit]

A series of novels, all based on characters and dialog of the series, were written by William Johnston and published by Ace Books in the 1960s. Dell Comics published 4 issues of a comic book based on The Flying Nun from February to November 1968.[17] View-Master adapted the episode "Love Me, Love My Dog" into a three-reel 3-D packet with a storybook. Milton Bradley released a board game and several puzzles and coloring books were published by Saalfield.

Home media[edit]

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the first season of The Flying Nun on March 21, 2006, on DVD in Region 1.[18] This was followed by the release of the show's second season on DVD on August 15, 2006.[19]

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.[20] They re-released the first and second seasons in a 2-season combo pack DVD on October 7, 2014.[21]

As of the Fall of 2022, you can find the first 3 seasons of The Flying Nun on the Crackle App.

DVD name Ep # Release date
The Complete 1st Season 30 March 21, 2006
October 7, 2014 (re-release)
The Complete 2nd Season 26 August 15, 2006
October 7, 2014 (re-release)

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Today in Catholic History – The Last Episode of The Flying Nun". Catholic: Under the Hood. September 18, 2010. Retrieved September 5, 2020.
  2. ^ The Flying Nun S01:E15 - The Dig In, retrieved January 9, 2022
  3. ^ a b Winfrey, Oprah (March 2008). "Oprah Talks to Sally Field". O, The Oprah Magazine. p. 4. Retrieved February 28, 2013.
  4. ^ a b Sally Field (March 21, 2006). The Flying Nun – The Complete First Season: Interview featurette with Sally Field (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. ASIN B000E3L7EQ.
  5. ^ Wolff, Richard (March 25, 2010). The Church on TV: Portrayals of Priests, Pastors and Nuns on American Television Series. Continuum. pp. 39–40. ISBN 978-1441157973.
  6. ^ "The PF Ranch Tour". C'mon, Get Happy. February 2000. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
  7. ^ Photo Display viewed by editor in a conference room at Serra Retreat Center, Malibu on March 10, 2018
  8. ^ Lowry, Cynthia (August 11, 1969). "Many TV Series Being Overhauled". The Register-Guard. Associated Press. Retrieved February 27, 2013 – via Google News.
  9. ^ "Bun in the Oven: A Flying, Not to Mention Pregnant, Nun". Time. February 2009. Archived from the original on February 13, 2009. Retrieved February 28, 2013.
  10. ^ "The Flying Nun – Soundtrack Details". Soundtrack Collector. Retrieved February 26, 2013.
  11. ^ "Complete Television Programs for Thursday". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. February 6, 1969. Retrieved February 27, 2013 – via Google News.
  12. ^ Laurent, Lawrence (September 12, 1968). "Marge Gets Bigger In 'Flying Nun' Role". St. Petersburg Times. The Washington Post. Retrieved February 27, 2013 – via Google News.
  13. ^ Lowry, Cynthia (November 15, 1968). "Nielson Ratings Smashing Several Television Shows". The Sumter Daily Item. Associated Press. Retrieved February 27, 2013 – via Google News.
  14. ^ "TV Listings – The Flying Nun". Antenna TV. Tribune Broadcasting. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
  15. ^ "iTunes – TV Shows – The Flying Nun". iTunes. Apple Inc. Retrieved February 28, 2013.
  16. ^ "The Flying Nun (1967) – Awards". IMDb. Amazon. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
  17. ^ "GCD :: Series :: The Flying Nun".
  18. ^ Lambert, David (January 9, 2006). "The Flying Nun – Nun Spotted Flying Onto DVD At Last!". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
  19. ^ Lacey, Gord (June 5, 2006). "The Flying Nun – It's a bird, it's a plane, it's The Flying Nun Season 2!". TVShowsOnDVD.com. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
  20. ^ Mill Creek Entertainment Signs Deals With Sony Pictures Home Entertainment To Expand Their Distribution Partnership Archived October 6, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Packaging Art and New Info for Mill Creek's 'Seasons 1 & 2' Archived April 12, 2015, at the Wayback Machine

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]