Sally Field in Palm Springs on Saturday (Photo: John Shearer/Invision/AP Images)
Sally Field has romanced the best of them onscreen — James Garner, Paul Newman, Burt Reynolds, Daniel Day-Lewis — but a pelican?
Field — whose weepy “Norma Rae” acceptance speech lives in Oscar history — scored another memorable one at the Palm Springs International Film Festival this past Saturday when she accepted the career achievement award. The Wrap dubbed her look back as a “killer speech,” and the Los Angeles Times said she “brought down the house.”
In her reminiscing, Field said, “I did a scene in a suit of armor, and dressed as a bear. I’ve done love scenes with a pelican. Yes, it’s true, I’ve done love scenes with a pelican. But I’ve also done love scenes with Paul Newman.”
Newman, yes (“Absence of Malice”), but a water bird? The cross-species romance happened back in 1967, during the first season of “The Flying Nun,” in which Field played — of course — a nun who could fly. In the episode called “With Love From Irving,” Field — as Sister Bertrille — comes across an injured pelican and bandages its leg. The water bird, which she dubs Irving, then won’t leave her side. (To be fair, she introduces herself with the line, “What’s a nice bird like you doing all by yourself?”)
Apparently the yuks get compounded with a visit from no-nonsense Father Sweeney (played by longtime character actor Harold Gould), visiting the Puerto Rico nunnery to observe the Reverend Mother Placido for a job opening. The pesky pelican doesn’t make a good impression, and Field has to say things like “Will you please stop following me around? People are starting to talk” and be courted with dead fish and midnight-serenade squawks at her window.
At one point, Field has a breakup scene with the bird. “What you should do is find a nice pelican girl and settle down,” Field says to the bird, as music plays in the background. “Oh, I’m sorry, Irving, that’s just the way it is. It’s over.” Ultimately, she consoles the pining pelican by parading females of his species (courtesy of the local vet) until he finally takes off with one named Emmy Lou. “How do you like that? He never even said goodbye,” Field/Sister Bertrille observes upon their departure.
“The Flying Nun,” incidentally, was based on a book called “The Fifteenth Pelican: The Original Adventures of Sister Bertrille” (written by a woman who at one point served as a Civil Air Patrol pilot during World War II). Field landed the role of Sister Bertrille because ABC was trying to remedy its massive error of canceling “Gidget” and to get her back on TV. Field told Entertainment Weekly back in 2010, “I hated the whole idea,” and instead she wanted to follow that “flower-power youth” hippie movement. Her stepfather — who played Tarzan twice — advised her, “If you don’t do this, you may never work again.” So she put on the habit.
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