Previously Known For: Clarissa Explains It All and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch
|Currently Known For: Melissa & Joey|
“I’m not a happy ending person. I want to know what happens once Cinderella rides off with Prince Charming.” The oldest of eight children raised in a blended family in New York City after her parents, a producer and a lobster wholesaler, divorced in the early 1990s, Melissa Joan Hart made her grand entrance into the world on April 18, 1976 and got her start in show business just four years later when she landed a spot in a commercial for a popular bathtub toy. Showing a natural talent for acting, the young Hart appeared in over two dozen commercials over the next year before she made her television debut in the ABC Weekend Special and in an episode of Kane & Abel in 1985. Luckily, even bigger things were on the horizon!
Wrapping up the decade with credits in The Equalizer and Another World as well as a starring role in the 1986 Emmy Award-winning television film Christmas Snow, Hart’s career blossomed after her mother stepped in as her manager and established the Hartbreak Films production company to ensure her daughter had a greater advantage in the business. Then, after spending a few months working as an understudy in the Broadway production of The Crucible, Hart finally caught her first big break when Nickelodeon cast her as the star of their newest series, Clarissa Explains It All. With the sitcom based on Clarissa navigating her teen years, the 15-year-old Hart was the perfect fit as she earned four Young Artist Award nominations with three wins for her performance.
“Clarissa kind of invented social media,” Hart says nostalgically of her character. “I mean she did all that Snapchat stuff before anyone did—all the drawing of the pictures and the graphics and computer games and interactive stuff, so she would’ve been at the forefront of that. I mean, she probably would have invented Facebook before Zuckerberg.”
Amid her success on Clarissa Explains It All, Hart cashed in on Clarissa’s fame and released two albums—Peter and the Wolf and This Is What ‘Na Na’ Means—while also starring in the FMV video game for Nickelodeon’s Director’s Lab. She filmed the pilot for a spinoff series that was meant to take Clarissa to college but the show was never picked up as Hart wrapped up Clarissa in 1994 and enrolled at New York University while sporadically making appearances in shows like Touched by an Angel and Weinerville.
In 1996, Hart’s focus briefly shifted from her college classes at NYU back to Hollywood when she was cast as Sabrina Spellman in the television film, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, which was such a hit among audiences that the network extended the film into a television series. Although Hart was cast in the starring role, she was determined to experience college life and spent the next seven years dividing her time between the set and campus. “I attended NYU for seven years but never graduated,” she said. “Someday I will. I was working on Sabrina the whole time and trying to go to school in Manhattan, so I didn’t end up getting a lot of credits.”
Amid her success as Sabrina, Hart worked on projects like Can’t Hardly Wait and Drive Me Crazy while gracing the covers of magazines like Maxim. She made her directorial debut in an episode of So Weird on the Disney Channel in 1999 and directed six episodes of Sabrina before wrapping up the series in 2003. Over the next few years, she married musician Mark Wilkerson and started a family with the birth of sons Mason in 2006, Braydon in 2008 and Tucker in 2012 while making cameos in The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, North Shore, Robot Chicken, Justice League Unlimited, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Dancing with the Stars. Then, in 2010, she surprised her fans when she returned to primetime television in a starring role opposite Joey Lawrence in the sitcom, Melissa & Joey.
Also working as the show’s executive producer and director, Hart rekindled her early fame on Melissa & Joey and spent five seasons on the series, often reminiscing behind the scenes about how much television hand changed over the last two decades. “I think teen shows these days have really matured a lot,” Hart said. “They’re not written for the same age demographic that Clarissa or Sabrina was written for. If you look at Sabrina or Clarissa, my mom wouldn’t let them pluck my eyebrows; I really didn’t have lipstick, like I had some foundation and a little bit of rouge and that was it. I was not all made up. If you look at Miley Cyrus in Hannah Montana at 13, she was like MADE UP! And if you look at the kids, it’s a whole different thing.”
Wrapping up Melissa & Joey in 2015, Hart starred in God’s Not Dead 2 in 2016 and launched the King of Harts fashion line alongside her husband. “It’s really been such fun to start a business, to be a CEO, and to design these clothes and to go out to the trade shows and the factories, and we’re making it in the USA, so I’m really excited about that,” Hart said of the line. “That’s such a fun adventure for me, my parents were entrepreneurs and so I like the idea of being in the business world. The art world, there’s nothing tangible. When I make the clothes, there they are, I get to touch them and feel them and have them and give them away…”
Today, the 41-year-old former child star turned entrepreneur continues to find work in front of the camera with credits in Hallmark Channel films like Broadcasting Christmas, Christmas Hours and CarGo. She’s also released her autobiography, Melissa Explains It All: Tales from My Abnormally Normal Life, where she shares everything from details of her childhood to her life as a wife, mother and CEO. Of course, the biggest question fans seem to have is what character she relates to the most and, unsurprisingly, Hart says Clarissa has always been close to her heart. “I was probably the most like Clarissa,” she says. “Sabrina was too… not wishy-washy, but she didn’t stand up for herself, she wanted to blend in and I don’t relate to that at all… So, I didn’t really relate to her but I had a blast on the set. With Mel, she was the most fun character to play for sure because I got to be so over the top, so silly, so selfish, so flawed, so drunk, you know… but if I was friends with any of them, it would probably be Clarissa.” Now that explains it all!