The Flying Nun

The Flying Nun is a sitcom produced by Screen Gems for ABC based on the book The Fifteenth Pelican, by Tere Rios. The sitcom ran for three seasons, and produced 82 color episodes from 1967 until 1970.

Series background

Developed by Bernard Slade, it centered on the adventures of a community of Daughters of Charity nuns in the Convent San Tanco in Puerto Rico. The comic elements of the storyline were provided by the flying ability of a novice nun, Sister Bertrille played by Sally Field in her second sitcom role after Gidget.

In the series pilot Sister Bertrille, a native of Chicago, arrived from New York City after having been arrested for being involved in a protest. It was also later learned in the episode "My Sister, the Sister" that Sister Bertrille had come from a family of doctors and is the only one who did not follow in their footsteps. Also, it was revealed in the same episode that her real name was Elsie Ethrington.

She could be relied upon to solve any problem that came her way by her ability to catch a passing breeze and fly (attributed to her small stature and heavily starched cornette—the headgear for her habit). Her flying talents caused as many problems as they solved. She once explained her ability to fly as, "When lift plus thrust is greater than load plus drag, anything can fly." The reason behind that statement was that Sister Bertrille weighed only 90 pounds, and in one episode tried to gain more weight so she could stay grounded, but those attempts proved to be a failure.

The unusual premise caught the attention of the public and the program was a success, yet the storylines were limited, and by the end of the show's run, the writers were struggling to create new situations that would allow the heroine to take flight. Critics never responded favorably to the show, and credited most of its success to the appeal of Sally Field.

Madeleine Sherwood played the Mother Superior, Marge Redmond played Sister Jacqueline, Shelley Morrison played Sister Sixto, and Alejandro Rey played local playboy Carlos Ramirez, whom Sister Bertrille would run into with alarming frequency.

The show was commended by several Roman Catholic orders in the late 1960s for humanizing nuns and their work. It also offered a difficult typecasting obstacle for star Sally Field to overcome. Its three season run left such an indelible impression upon its viewers that, more than 30 years after it ceased production, it continues to be satirized and referenced in modern films and television. These concerns are what has kept the series from being revisited during any of the "nostalgia" or "retro" phases of modern pop culture. In fact, a TV movie had been proposed by ABC in the late 1980s, where Field's character would have appeared as the new Mother Superior, Mother Bertrille, for the convent, and having to deal not only with another diminutive nun who learns that she too can fly, but the fact that she is jealous of this new "flying nun" because she can no longer fly due to her finally putting on weight over the years. Field, seeking to distance herself from this role further, vehemently declined the offer.

Production notes

Field spoke on a DVD featurette for season 1, and she talked of taking the role after her stepfather Jock Mahoney scared her by saying she should not refuse the role as she might not work again in show business. She finally accepted the nun role and Screen Gems fired their 2nd choice lead Ronne Troup who had begun filming the pilot. Field recalled hanging from a crane (which a TV network would never allow a series lead to do now) and being disrespected by a parade of episodic TV directors, one of whom actually grabbed her shoulders and moved her into position like she was a prop. She credits co-star Madeleine Sherwood for mentoring her to enroll in acting classes during her evenings and weekends.

Another problem the show's producers had to contend with was the fact that during much of the filming schedule of The Flying Nun's third (final) season, Sally 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 show 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.

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, CA along Hollywood Way north of West Oak Street.

A soundtrack LP featuring songs from the series sung by Sally Field was released in 1967.

Field followed her 3 years as the Flying Nun with her 3rd Screen Gems series called The Girl with Something Extra as a wife with ESP. Field returned to television in 2006 with the series Brothers and Sisters (replacing Betty Buckley).

DVD releases

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released the first and second seasons of The Flying Nun on DVD in Region 1. The 3rd Season has yet to be released.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Complete 1st Season 30 March 21 2006
The Complete 2nd Season 26 August 15 2006
The Complete 3rd Season 26 TBA


Brooks, Tim and Marsh, Earl. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946 - Present. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.

External links

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