Change of Habit.
An in-depth Look at the movie “Change of Habit”
Elvis' thirty-first and last film as an actor was “Change of Habit”. The film was part of the deal that Colonel Parker worked out with NBC for the 1968 NBC TV Special entitled “Elvis”. It was co-produced by NBC and Universal Pictures. The film was shot in the Los Angeles area and at the Universal Studios during March and April of 1969. It was released nationwide on November 10, 1969 and spent four weeks on the Variety Box Office Survey, peaking at #17.
The film was directed by Will A. Graham who has directed a number of television movies and series including “Dr. Killdare”, “The Fugitive” and “Get Christie Love”. He was nominated in 1980 for an Emmy Award for his work in “Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones”.
The writing was done by several acclaimed writers - Eric Bercovici, James Lee, Richard Morris, John Joseph and S. S. Schweitzer.
Bercovici received an Emmy Award in 1981 for his work in “Shogun”. He was also nominated for an Emmy in 1978 for “Washington Behind Closed Doors” and in 1973 he was nominated for a Writer's Guild Award for “The Culpepper Cattle Company”.
Lee was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1963, 1977, and 1980 for his work in “The Invincible Mr. Disraeli”, “Roots”, and “This Year's Blonde” respectively.
Morris won a Writer's Guild Award in 1968 for “Thoroughly Modern Millie”.
Joseph worked on the TV series “Bonanza”.
Schweitzer wrote for TV series such as “Cannon” and “Police Woman” among others.
The story centers on a doctor and three nuns working in a clinic in a very poor, ethnically mixed neighborhood. Elvis played Dr. John Carpenter. Elvis later used the character's name as one of his aliases when traveling incognito.
Sister Michelle Gallagher was played by Mary Tyler Moore. The writers based her character loosely on a real nun,
Sister Mary Olivia Gibson, who was in charge of the speech clinic at Maria Regina College in Syracuse, New York. This Catholic College opened in 1934 and closed in 1990. While there, Sister Mary used some of the same techniques as depicted in the film in her work with handicapped children.
Mary Tyler Moore started out as a dancer before becoming an actress. Her first TV appearance was in 1955 as the dancing elf “Happy Hotpoint” in Hotpoint brand appliance commercials for the TV series “The Ozzie and Harriet Show”. She also played the answering service worker, Sam, in the 1959 CBS show “Richard Diamond, Private Detective”. In that role, her voice was heard, but only her legs were seen. She won stardom and the hearts of TV viewers in her long running roles in the “Dick Van Dyke Show” and the “Mary Tyler Moore Show”, both of which she won Emmy and Golden Globe Awards for. She also starred in a number of films for the big screen as well as for TV. She was nominated for an Academy Award in 1981 for her work in “Ordinary People”. She was nominated for an Emmy for 1979's “First, You Cry”, 1985's “Heartsounds”, and 1988's “Lincoln”. She won an Emmy for the 1993's “Stolen Babies”. She and former husband Grant Tinker formed MTM Enterprises in 1969 and, in addition to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, co-produced such TV series as “Lou Grant”, “Hill Street Blues”, “St. Elsewhere”, “The Bob Newhart Show”, and “WKRP In Cincinnati”. They sold MTM in 1990. As a longtime sufferer of type 1 diabetes, Ms. Moore has been an activist for diabetes research and its funding. On May 8, 2002, a bronze statue of her famous hat-toss in opening titles of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was dedicated. It is displayed at the same Minneapolis intersection where the scene was filmed for the show.
Elvis' thirty-first and last film as an actor was “Change of Habit”, shot in 1969. Elvis' character, Dr. John Carpenter, works closely with three social workers who have arrived to assist him in his inner-city neighborhood clinic. He is unaware until late in the film that the ladies are, in fact, nuns. They are part of an experimental program, working in the community without revealing their identities as nuns, wearing regular clothes instead of their nun's habit (traditional robe and headdress) - thus the title of the film, “Change of Habit”.
The point of the program is to see if they could, perhaps, be more effective in connecting with inner-city citizens and serving their needs by blending into their community.
The cinematographer was the award-winning Russel Metty, whose work can also be seen in “Imitation of Life”, “That Touch of Mink”, “Bus Riley's Back In Town”, “Madame X”, and “Thoroughly Modern Millie”. He was nominated for an Academy Award for “Flower Drum Song” and won one for “Spartacus”.
The film editor was Douglas Stewart, who won an Academy Award for “The Right Stuff” and was nominated for Emmy Awards for “Rich Man, Poor Man” and “The Bold Ones”.
Makeup was done by Bud Westmore of the famous Westmore family of makeup artists.
Hair styles were done by Larry Germain, who was nominated five times for Emmy Awards, winning one for his work in the 1979 version of “The Miracle Worker”.
One of the nuns, Sister Irene Hawkins, was played by singer / actress Barbara McNair. Born in Chicago and raised in Wisconsin, Ms. McNair is a formally trained musician. She moved to New York and worked as a secretary until she established herself as a talented singer, performing in such notable nightclubs as The Purple Onion, The Persian Room of the The Plaza Hotel and, in Los Angeles, The Coconut Grove. She made her Broadway debut in a musical called “The Body Beautiful”. She starred in her own TV series “The Barbara McNair Show” and has had many acting roles in film and television. In 1972, she co-authored a beauty book called “The Complete Book of Beauty For the Black Woman”. Recently, she has been on stage in Europe appearing in “Sophisticated Ladies”, a celebration of the music of Duke Ellington.
Sister Barbara Bennett, was played by Jane Elliot. You might recognize Ms. Elliot from her many roles in television, most notably her long-running role of the villainous Tracy Quartermaine in the popular soap opera “General Hospital”. She has been nominated three times for a Daytime Emmy Award for her work in that role, winning in 1981. She has been nominated five times for Soap Opera Digest Awards, winning twice.
The late Leora Dana played Mother Joseph. She was a character actress who was often seen in the 1950's on programs such as “Kraft Television Theatre”, “The Philco Television Playhouse” and “Masterpiece Playhouse”. She had roles in such films as “Some Came Running”, “Pollyanna” and “The Boston Strangler”.
Longtime character actor Regis Toomey played Father Gibbons. His career in films reaches back to 1929. He had many roles in ffilm and television. Among them was a recurring role as Dr. Barton Stuart on both the “Green Acres” and “Petticoat Junction” television series.
Edward Asner has a small part in this film as police officer Lt. Moretti. Very early in his career, Mr. Asner played an uncredited role in the Elvis film “Kid Galahad”. In 1970, he assumed the role that would make him famous - the character of Lou Grant on the now-classic television series “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”. When that long-running show ended, he reprised the role on his own “Lou Grant” TV series. Asner had powerful roles in the TV mini-series “Rich Man, Poor Man” and “Roots”. He has been nominated fifteen times for Emmy Awards, winning seven, and he has been nominated eleven times for Golden Globe Awards, winning five. He received the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 2002. Recently, he has been working on projects not yet released, including “The Commission” and “Elf”.
Robert Emhardt was an actor known for playing the villain. “Change of Habit” of was no different. In it, his characther is idenified as “The Banker”, a merciless loan shark wielding his evil influence over the community. However, in the Elvis movie “Kid Galahad” he played the likable cook Maynard, connoisseur of corned beef.
The female vocal group The Blossoms had appeared with Elvis in his 1968 TV special “Elvis”. The group also performed with him on musical numbers in “Change of Habit”.
Among the members for both gigs was Darlene Love, who later made a name for herself as a solo performer and an actress. One of her better known acting roles is that of the wife of Danny Glover's character in the series of “Lethal Weapon” movies starring Glover and Mel Gibson.
Several other actors in “Change of Habit” had roles in other Elvis films.
David Renard played Colom in this film and was an uncredited photographer in “Fun In Acapulco”.
Troy Melton was an uncredited “2nd. underling” in this film and an uncredited poker player in “It Happened At The World's Fair”.
Stella Garcia played Maria in this film and an uncredited senorita at Torito's in “Fun In Acapulco”.
Caitlin Wyles played an uncredited “2nd. stiletto deb” in this film and Marlene Standing Rattle in “Stay Away Joe”.
John Macaluso played an uncredited teenager in this film while 11 years earlier in 1958 he was an uncredited teenager in “King Creole”.
Look carefully and you'll see actor A. Martinez in a small uncredited role as a teenager. Mr. Martinez is known today for his Emmy Award winning role as Cruz in the television soap opera “Santa Barbara”, as well as his recent roles on “For The People”, “General Hospital”, “Profiler”, and “L.A. Law”. Also a singer, Martinez, made his public singing debut in a talent competition. But, singing took a back seat to acting. His debut album was released this year. (2004)