When TV star Melissa Joan Hart’s memoir, Melissa Explains it All, came out in October 2013, the New York Daily News wrote a brief article about it. “She seems to be pretty rude. About the guys she dated [sic],” wrote one commentator. “Just another way to make a buck. …I use to be a fan [sic]. Not anymore.” Another wrote, “She has kids and she’s spilling the beans to how much of a fast [cakes] she was? She’s no diff than J-HO. [sic]”
What prompted this explosion of slut-shaming? In the book, Hart writes about kissing a few leading men such as James Van Der Beek, whom she calls James Van Der “Blah” because kissing him was awful; Adrian Grenier, who was the best kisser; and current co-star Joey Lawrence, who wears so much lip balm that “there’s hardly any skin-on-skin contact. It’s hard to get turned on when it feels like you’re kissing one of Madame Tussauds wax statues.”
By the way, she’s kissing these men on set as part of her job. (Proving that either the New York Daily News can make anything salacious or some people just seek out ways to be offended.) Hart does write about cheating on her first boyfriend with a young Ryan Reynolds (and then strangely and inexplicably dumping Reynolds in favor of the boyfriend), but Hart’s book is definitely not a kiss-and-tell.
This is not surprising given Melissa Joan Hart’s good-girl image in Hollywood. Hart grew up in a small town in New York and decided she wanted to be an actress when she was 4 years old. She was watching the children’s show Romper Room and at the end the host would look into the camera and name all of the kids she could see in her magic mirror.
“Sadly, ‘Melissa’ wasn’t too common a name back then, so she never said mine,” writes Hart. “But while most of my friends just stared back at their TVs, willing this woman and her mildly creepy bumblebee sidekick to notice them, I knew there were better ways to be recognized. I had my aha moment. I need to be on that floor with those kids, I thought. I need to be on TV.”
She has so little gossip, it’s a wonder the press keeps referring to the book as a “tell-all.” The book’s biggest scandal unfolds in 1999, when Hart went to her first Playboy Mansion party, dropped ecstasy and wound up making out with “another half-naked lady” on the way home.
Hart appeared in commercials and after-school specials, before turning to theater where she found an acting mentor and role model in Calista Flockhart, who would go on to star in the popular television shows Ally McBeal and Brothers & Sisters. Hart’s performance of the monologue The Valerie of Now (about a teenager dealing with her first menstrual period and being sexually and physically abused by her father) led Hart to get called to audition to be the star of Clarissa Explains it All, a family sitcom. She got the part and the show ran on Nickelodeon from 1991 to 1994. Hart played a teen living in Ohio who programmed video game simulations to help her work through her problems, had a best friend who usually entered through her bedroom window, and constantly fought with her brother. Clarissa encountered typical teen problems like dealing with a crush, preparing for college, and getting an after-school job.
A few years later, Hart returned to television with Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, (1996-2000 ABC, 2000-2003 The WB) by far her most popular show. She played Sabrina, a high school student who lives with her aunts. During the first episode, Sabrina discovers that all three of them are witches and must navigate high school while also learning about her new powers. For those who grew up watching Hart, this book portrays her like one of her TV characters—as your funny best friend.
But even with help from a ghost writer, the writing is not good. Hart enjoys making the groan-worthy puns with her last name such as “straight from the Hart,” or a “special place in my Hart.” She even warns readers what they’re in for on page 2. “It was hard to write without smiley faces and LOLs to get my tone across. I hope you’ll tell people that this made you LMFAO anyway.”
Of course, most people don’t turn to Hollywood memoirs for the wonderful writing, but rather for the salacious gossip. Regrettably, for the prurient-minded reader, Hart’s life has been “abnormally normal” by Hollywood standards, as mentioned above. She hasn’t gone to rehab. She didn’t sleep with a lot of famous men. She didn’t even have a lot of famous friends. She has so little gossip, it’s a wonder the press keeps referring to the book as a “tell-all.” The book’s biggest scandal unfolds in 1999, when Hart goes to her first Playboy Mansion party, drops ecstasy and winds up making out with “another half-naked lady” on the way home.
“This was the only time I’d really made out with a woman to this kind of lengthy degree,” she writes. “On X my tongue tingled and my libido surged. Of course, after twenty minutes of this, I looked over and noticed that two of the guys we were with had passed out and the other was on his phone. All that hot girl-on-girl action did more for us than for the boys.”
After a brief nap, Hart goes to a photo shoot for Maxim still high. “Senses impaired, I knew I was there for a cover shoot but felt unfazed when I saw the wardrobe rack full of bras, panties and nothing else … I’d been at shoots before where they tried to get me to wear barely anything, but I would never consent to that. This time, however, after having just come from a party full of naked people, with me in my skivvies, and still coming down from rolling, I wasn’t feeling like my more modest self.”
Maxim’s cover line with the near naked photos was “Sabrina: Your Favorite Witch without a Stitch.” Using Sabrina’s name with a nearly naked image was considered breach of contract and Archie Comics threatened to fire Hart and her mother, who had licensed the Archie character for the show and was Hart’s manager for most of her career. The news made the tabloids, but the whole thing blew over when Hart apologized.
In truth, Hart’s book improves when her life becomes even more ordinary after she marries. She writes about parenting snafus, farting in front of her husband, disasters in the kitchen and taking her kids to see Elf.
“We hit a mess of traffic, the kids fell asleep in the car and woke up cranky, they refused to eat their BBQ dinner in Times Square, Tucker [8 weeks old at the time] pooped up the back of his diaper without a change of clothes…and by the time we hit the play’s red carpet we were a mess. In one publicity shot taken at the backdrop known as the step-and-retreat, Mason’s literally pulling my hair. When the curtain went up, Tucker cried as soon as the loud music played, and I spent seventy-five minutes rocking and breast-feeding him in the bathroom…We left at intermission covered in doody, breast milk, and clingy kids.”
Though Hart is still on TV, in the ABC Family series Melissa & Joey, she accepts that she’s no longer A-list. She writes that many of her fans grew up watching her and now recognize her without remembering who she is. Almost every day someone will tell her she looks like “that girl on that witch show!”
“There really is no reply for this,” Hart writes. “My choices are limited to sounding like a pompous jackass by saying, ‘I think you mean Sabrina, and yeah, I did play her. Would you like my autograph?’ Or I could give a relaxed ‘Oh thanks’ and walk away. I usually go with the latter since that lets me get on with running my errands.”
When she does admit she played Sabrina, “the conversation plays out like a Three Stooges sketch,” she writes.
“ ‘No way …’ they’ll say.
“ ‘Okay, I’m not,’ I’ll tell them.
“ ‘Wait, are you?’
“ ‘No way.’
“ ‘Ok, I have to run. … ’
“ ‘Prove it. Show me your ID.’ ”
Hart also enjoys writing about her husband. She devotes a whole chapter to his love of football, specifically University of Alabama football. The chapter is wonderfully passive-aggressive, one of the few times that a little of Hart’s actual feelings about an incident peek through.
“When Mark and I first met, I thought it was healthy for him to have a hobby, even if it involved men wrestling in the dirt over a ball…But the more I allowed this and possibly egged him on by acting grateful and interested, the more Alabama football began to tackle our lives.”
She writes about how the house was taken over by football memorabilia and he even insisted they buy their car in Alabama crimson.
“When we lived in Encino, I thought I’d show my husband how much I loved him by throwing a Super Bowl party in our impressive home theater,” Hart writes. “[Mark] told me he didn’t like entertaining and chatter during Super Bowl Sundays, since it distracted from the game itself. Though I had a great time surrounded by friends and comfort food, Mark sarcastically thanked me at the night’s end for ‘trashing up his sport.’ I was angling for Wife of the Year, but I’d have been better off leaving him a seven-layer dip and taking off for the mall.”
But Hart’s stories, though often amusing, are disappointingly shallow. The book reads like a US Weekly article rather than a serious memoir. Even her mother, whom Hart writes a whole chapter about, isn’t really a developed character. Most of the people in the book don’t even get a voice through reconstructed dialogue. That’s probably why some critics have accused Hart of “bragging” when she recounts her days of Hollywood excess and telling “awkward” stories. I (charitably) wouldn’t accuse her of either. Her stories may come across that way because they never add up to anything. Though she candidly shares when she lost her virginity and even when she struggled to cry on Law & Order, she never reveals any real moments of self-doubt or insight. She hints at being a conservative, but doesn’t delve into it, perhaps fearing it will distract from the character she’s tried to create in her book of the mom-next-door. Or maybe in Hollywood sincerity isn’t a part of normalcy, which makes Hart more Hollywood than she thinks.