“Sister Act” wasn’t about female siblings, but rather a story of gangsters and nuns. Follow along as Tidbits delves into the particulars about this 1992 film.
• Whoopi Goldberg plays the role of a lounge singer with a gangster boyfriend named Vince. When her character, Deloris Van Cartier, witnesses Vince killing an informant, Deloris is placed in the witness protection program, in this case, St. Katherine’s, a convent in a rough San Francisco neighborhood.
• The convent’s Reverend Mother, played by Maggie Smith, grudgingly agrees to accept Deloris, only because the police are paying a stipend. The Reverend Mother dubs Deloris “Sister Mary Clarence,” and cites the three vows the new nun must accept – poverty, obedience, and chastity. When Deloris is caught in a local tavern, the Reverend Mother makes her join the convent choir. Deloris soon transforms the struggling choir into a group that is so successful, it is featured on national television and receives a visit from the Pope himself. The nuns also begin a revitalization of the neighborhood.
• Maggie Smith plays the stern Mother perfectly, although Anjelica Huston and Diane Keaton were both considered for the role. The screenwriter had Bette Midler in mind for the role of Deloris, but Midler turned it down.
• The script had to be rewritten in several places, and several new screenwriters were hired, including “Star Wars” actress Carrie Fisher.
• Filming took three months, from September to December, 1991, on a budget of around $31 million. “Sister Act” was a huge box office success, with its opening weekend in May, 1992 grossing nearly $12 million in the U.S. Overall, domestic gross was nearly $140 million, with a worldwide figure of almost $232 million, the eighth-highest-grossing film in 1992. It held the Number Two spot at the box office for four weeks.
• Not one, but two lawsuits were filed against the production company, claiming plagiarism. The first was by actress Donna Douglas of “Beverly Hillbillies” fame, who claimed that she and a partner had developed a screenplay from the book “A Nun in the Closet” seven years before “Sister Act” was released, citing more than 100 similarities and plagiarisms between the movie and her screenplay. The second suit was filed by a nun named Delois Blakely, declaring that her 1987 autobiography “The Harlem Street Nun” was really the basis for the movie, and that a movie executive had approached her for the rights. The ruling judges awarded no damages to either party.
• “Sister Act” was nominated for two Golden Globes -- Best Motion Picture and a Best Actress nomination for Whoopi Goldberg. A sequel “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit” was released the following year, when Sister Mary Clarence returned to teach music at a run-down Catholic school slated for closure. It was nowhere nearly as successful as the original. On a $38 million budget, its worldwide gross was just over $57 million.
• The movie was turned into a stage musical, premiering in 2006 in Pasadena, California. It opened in London in 2009, and Whoopi Goldberg appeared for several appearances there as Mother Superior. The musical opened on Broadway in 2011, and had a run of 561 performances over a period of 16 months, nominated for five Tony Awards.