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The Flying Nunn

The Flying Nunn

The Flying Nun is an American sitcom produced by Screen Gems for ABC based on the book The Fifteenth Pelican, by Tere Rios, which starred Sally Field as Sister Bertrille. The sitcom ran for three seasons, and produced 82 color episodes from September 7, 1967, to September 18, 1970, on ABC.

Developed by Bernard Slade, the series centered on the adventures of a community of 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 by stating, "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 story lines 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, with the notable exception of Cleveland Amory, never responded favorably to the show, and credited most of its success to the appeal of Sally Field.

Madeleine Sherwood played the stern Reverend Mother Plaseato; Marge Redmond played the tolerant Sister Jacqueline, whose voice also served as set-up narration for the episodes; Shelley Morrison played Sister Sixto, who repeatedly mangled English phrases; Linda Dangcil played Sister Ana; 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.

Although "The Flying Nun" never became a top ten hit show, its ratings were respectable enough to warrant a three-year run.

 

 

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