Melissa Explains It All: Tales from My Abnormally Normal Life

Melissa Explains It All: Tales from My Abnormally Normal Life

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by Melissa Joan Hart

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Melissa Joan Hart explained it all-from dating to bullies-in her groundbreaking role as Clarissa Darling on Clarissa Explains It All. She cast a spell on millions more viewers as Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Now, in Melissa Explains It All, Melissa tells the frank and funny behind-the-scenes stories from her extraordinary past and her

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Melissa Joan Hart explained it all-from dating to bullies-in her groundbreaking role as Clarissa Darling on Clarissa Explains It All. She cast a spell on millions more viewers as Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. Now, in Melissa Explains It All, Melissa tells the frank and funny behind-the-scenes stories from her extraordinary past and her refreshingly normal present.

Melissa has been entertaining audiences most of her life; when there were no girls named Melissa on her favorite show, the forceful four year old decided she'd get on television her way. From that moment on, Melissa has shown a singular determination and focus-whether it's for booking three national commercials so her dad would build her a tree house or for nailing the audition for Clarissa.

From her first commercial to her current starring role in ABC Family's hit Melissa and Joey, Hart never let fame go to her head. She always had one foot in Hollywood and one foot in reality-and still does. Melissa makes us laugh along with her as she talks about:

--guest appearances in shows like Saturday Night Live and The Equalizer
--auditioning for Punky Brewster and Clarissa
--her early Broadway days
--wacky parties she's thrown and attended
-- the actors who influenced her and whom she befriended, worked with and competed against
--her experiences both on and off-set-with Sabrina's Salem the Cat and Elvis the Alligator on Clarissa
--how she met the love of her life at the Kentucky Derby
Melissa Joan Hart explains all that she's learned along the way-what's kept her grounded, normal and working when others have not been so fortunate-and that she's the approachable, hilarious girl-next-door her fans have always thought she'd be.

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Editorial Reviews

Melissa Joan Hart claims that her life has been abnormally normal, but it certainly hasn't been typical: She starred in her first television commercial when she was only four and before her twentieth birthday, she was already appeared as the lead in a TV show (Clarissa Explains It All) and a TV movie that blossomed into a long-running, mega-popular TV show (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch). In this diverting tell-all, she describes the strange effects of her double life as a pint-sized Hollywood icon and a young girl trying to make sense of it all. One for her millions of adoring, nostalgic fans. (P.S. Ms. Hart is still very much among us. She co-stars in the occasionally autobiographical Melissa and Joey.)

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Melissa Explains It All

Tales from My Abnormally Normal Life

By Melissa Joan Hart, Kristina Grish

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2013 Melissa Joan Hart with Kristina Grish
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-03284-3



Actors often joke that show business should be called "the broke business." Us Weekly only writes about celebrities who've made it big enough to have massive homes, designer clothes, and swank personal lives. But most entertainment people actually struggle their whole careers to succeed in music, movies, or TV — only to end up as background artists, stand-ins, and piano men at their local pubs. Lucky for me and my family, my career started rolling at four years old and hasn't stopped since. In fact, it helped rescue us from being broke, rather than caused it.

I come from a long line of blue-collar folks who pride themselves on their hardscrabble work ethic. Dad was a twenty-year-old cabdriver in Northport, New York, when he met my mom and got her a job as a cab dispatcher at the age of sixteen. Four years later, when they got pregnant with me and decided to have a shotgun wedding in the backyard of my grandparents' house (I guess all that "free love" of the '70s came with some consequences), Dad had just started working with his brother Charlie, breeding clams and oysters at Charlie's shop on Long Island. Every night, Dad came home from work in his dirty T-shirts and cut-off jean shorts, with grime under his fingernails and smelling like low tide. But Mom didn't mind at all. She knew what it was like to pound the pavement, too, since she occasionally sold trippy tie-dyed baby tees at street fairs, and after I was born, spent the next ten years either pregnant or breastfeeding my siblings, Trisha, Elizabeth, Brian, and Emily, all while managing our acting gigs. Mom and Dad were also following in their parents' footsteps. Dad's mom, Ethel, worked as a phone operator to support her four children when her husband died just weeks after my dad was born, and my mom's father was a plumber, willing to build or fix anything for anyone to help support his wife and kids. So from a young age, I was aware that you had to work hard to pay for the things you needed or wanted — and for what your family needed or wanted, too.

My parents never let on about any financial stress or struggle when I was young, though times were hard with a baseball-team-size family and seasonal careers, at best. In fact, my mom almost didn't take me to my callback for Splashy, my first acting gig, because the thirty-dollar train ticket was too expensive. She changed her mind when my manager convinced her I'd make good money if I got the part. But I always felt secure, since we had a house, a car, and food on the table. I never had a reason to feel that other people's lives were better than mine.

My parents did a good job helping us feel happy and safe, so I'd have had to look really close to see how frighteningly broke we were, though the signs were there. For instance, every night Dad dropped his pocket change into a five- gallon water jug in his closet, hoping to save up for his dream boat, a Bertram yacht; Mom routinely dumped it out to give us milk money and pay a neighbor to cut the lawn (the jug never got more than a quarter full). We ate simple homemade meals mostly made with clams, since Dad brought them home from work for free. (To this day, Anthony Bourdain himself couldn't convince Mom to touch a slimy mollusk, in any recipe.) Even at Christmas, when my siblings and I made really long wish lists, thinking Santa was our ticket to rake it in, we were fed the super-confusing line, "Pick five things. Mommy has to pay Santa for the presents." But it really wasn't until the owner of my dance school called me out for wearing torn ballet tights for the third day in a row, in front of all the other girls in their new Danskin wardrobes, that I realized how bad things were and how upset it could make me. Her words stung, especially since I took dancing very seriously and didn't want to be judged for anything but my skill. At least we were able to pay for my classes, and when they exceeded our family's spending limit, this same owner let me student teach the four-year-olds on Saturdays to pay for an extra day of pointe lessons. The little ballerinas called me "Miss Melissa" back then, as I taught them to jeté across the studio. I was only ten years old.

Acting and modeling were mainly how I contributed to the family pot, though it never felt like "work." To this day, I have no clue about how much money I made on a commercial, guest star role, or any other gig until well into my Clarissa years. All I remember is that at an early age, I booked a lot of jobs, partly because Mom rewarded me with toys when I did. By the end of my eight-year commercial acting career when I was twelve years old, which nicely corresponded with the age I outgrew plastic figurines, I'd acquired over a hundred Barbies, plus dozens of Strawberry Shortcakes and a bunch of My Little Ponies. Holidays may not have been lucrative, but working sure was.

While I loved the idea of winning a job, I never worried too much about losing it, for money reasons or otherwise. I liked acting like a goof during auditions, letting nice women do my hair and makeup, and then shooting the commercial, TV show, or movie with encouraging and creative people. Some of my favorite shoots were also very kid-centric and involved junk food, which helped — like a Twinkies commercial at seven years old and a Life Savers Fruit Flavor spot at eleven. In this last one, I played paddleball and checkers with giant Life Savers and kids I knew from the audition scene. (Nobody you'd know, unless you followed kids' commercials.) We did this wearing neon outfits and eating rolls of sticky Life Savers, so I basically rode a major sugar high for eight hours, while dressed like a young Debbie Gibson. What kid wouldn't love to spend her day like this — plus take home the clothes every once in a while?

As soon as they could gurgle and coo, my other four siblings began landing jobs, too. In their own ways, they helped our family pay the bills, and if Mom was shlepping one of us into the city for auditions, she figured she might as well give my siblings the option to join in the fun. My sister Emily's ultrasound was even used in All My Children for a pregnant character on the soap (our agent knew about Mom's baby bump and passed along Emily's first "head shot" to the producers). Once she was born, she was supposed to play the baby, but production moved up the shoot date, and since Mom wasn't due for another twelve weeks, she couldn't save the job, short of a scheduled C-section. My siblings and I collaborated sometimes, as when Trisha and I did a Tylenol commercial playing sisters. One of our most fun family performances was a silly little Showtime movie my mom produced many years later, in 1996, called The Right Connections. It starred me, Elizabeth, Brian, Emily, our two-year-old sister Ali from Mom's second marriage — and believe it or not, MC Hammer. We knew it wouldn't win us an Emmy, but it was a blast to be on set with family, cracking jokes and doing our best white-kid rap with Hammer. By then, the guy had blown most of the fortune he'd earned from his music career, and if that wasn't embarrassing enough, here he was being upstaged by my two-year-old sister in a cable movie.

* * *

Like anyone, my parents were always trying to move up in the world, so they moved a lot when I was young — first from a friend's converted garage when I was born, then to a condo, and finally to the ranch my dad still lives in. This last house was on a dead end, with only five other homes on the block, and the street was close enough to the railroad that the house shook like an old roller coaster whenever a train passed by. The surrounding woods made it feel like we owned more property than we did, especially in the winter, when the whole neighborhood came over to ice-skate on a nearby pond they thought was ours. (We never corrected them.)

I was in my twenties when my friend Joe, who also grew up in Sayville, teased me about literally living on the "other side of the tracks." This was when I realized that my family raised us in the less affluent area of a rich town. We swam in other people's pools and admired their beautiful homes and pesticide- rich yards. I also coveted their wheels. My sisters, friends, and I played a lot of MASH, a game that's meant to predict the home, spouse, number of kids, and car you'll have as an adult (MASH stood for mansion, apartment, shack, house). This is how I learned about luxury cars like BMWs, Mercedes, Jaguars, and Porsches — all of which made my MASH list, and as an adult, turned out to be the order in which I owned each one. But back then, my parents were often on the outside, looking in. It's hard to keep up with the Joneses when your Oldsmobile doesn't burn rubber.

By contrast, my childhood BFF Nicole, who I met in second grade, also lived in my town but seemed to have it all. She was sweet, gorgeous, and an only child — an enviable trifecta, even for a confident actress with awesome siblings. Because her Dutch-born mom worked for an airline, and her dad was a football coach during the school year and a lifeguard on Fire Island in the summer, Nicole traveled a ton — Paris, Hawaii, Holland — and had a boat. In the summer, she'd invite me to the beach, where we'd sunbathe on her skiff and eat butter-and-Dutch-chocolate-sprinkle sandwiches from a real picnic basket. What a difference from the PB&J my own mom threw in an old Macy's shopping bag when we hit the shore.

Nicole always got a kick out of spending time with my huge, loud, and crazy family, as I envied that Nicole got all her parents' attention and could travel on a whim, since they were a small unit. Meanwhile, my family's vacation splurge was to a corny Poconos time-share at a family ski resort, once a year. My siblings and I thought we were rolling with the homies because we had a "vacation home." After a day on the slopes, we put on our swimsuits and dove into a deep, cherry red bathtub, which we called our "hot tub." We spent hours splashing around and talking about how many times we skied Renegade, the only "serious" black diamond run on the mountain. Years later, my sister Trisha and I went back to the resort during her college winter break and couldn't believe what an anthill Renegade really was. Another surprise: that our tiny "hot tub" only fit two kids, much less five.

As a grown-up, I live on the right side of the tracks, in a well-off coastal suburb outside Manhattan, not so unlike the one I grew up in. I'm not oblivious to the similarities, or the fact that I upgraded from my childhood. But the life my parents gave me offered a perspective I'm grateful for and that some of my neighbors lack. I can see the value of making my boys share a room (in a six- bedroom house), wear hand-me-down clothes, and learn to fix a bike chain and a clogged toilet. So I don't regret my beginnings, because they helped me become a grounded mom, wife, and friend. They also helped me appreciate pool-hopping. Why deal with all that time, money, and maintenance when you can slide on your Havaianas and head to the neighbor's?

By the time my brother was born in 1984 (my mom's fourth child), my siblings and I had found our showbiz grooves — commercials, modeling, voice-overs, soap operas, miniseries, feature films — and thus, began upping our collective finances. And as it worked out, around the same time, Dad started a construction business that began making good money, so our lifestyle got much better. He built an addition to our house, which went from squishing six people into three bedrooms to seven people into four. We only added a second floor and whirlpool tub in my parents' room, but it felt like a mansion. With more gigs coming in, my parents could also put away some of our earnings for college and weddings for the four girls.

The income my siblings and I made now helped with fun "extras" like trips, better holiday presents, and other comforts. Suddenly, Santa was a little more generous, and the shrubs outside our house were full of twinkle lights, since we could afford a higher electric bill for a month. We started trading our Poconos time-share for upgraded locations in Breckenridge, Colorado, and Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. If we wanted a new bike, we bought it ourselves. I could also afford to start collecting Franklin Mint Shirley Temple dolls, though I paid in installments. The irony is that now that I have money, I get them free from fans for my birthday.

One of my proudest moments as a kid happened when I was about eight years old, and I asked my dad to build me a clubhouse in our backyard. I was big on naming and forming clubs at the time, which I blame on my love for Romper Room, The Mickey Mouse Club, and Grease's Pink Ladies, and I was constantly trying to get neighborhood girls to join. I clearly remember my dad saying, "Sure. If you get three national commercials, I will build you a clubhouse." Perhaps this was our equivalent of "Get straight As, and I'll take you to Baskin-Robbins." I also think Dad was placating me so I'd leave him alone and let him watch his beloved 60 Minutes, but he shouldn't have doubted the Hart work ethic.

Two months later, I had shot those three commercials, and though Dad was floored — he thought the challenge would take me a year to complete — the man sure did deliver. In just a few weeks, he built me a towering room on stilts, six feet off the ground, made from cleverly reclaimed goods from our yard. He used our old greenhouse roof, complete with skylights, and turned an upside-down picket fence into the clubhouse's exterior walls. Though the place could use a remodel and a fireman's pole, it's still around and has withstood tough hurricanes and rowdy sleepovers with screaming, giddy girls. It will always be my oasis in the sky.

* * *

I know it's easy to assume that the Harts had a Toddlers & Tiaras situation going on, with parents who got work for their kids to give their own lives purpose and cash flow. But that wasn't the case. Mom and Dad weren't like Joe Simpson or Kris Kardashian-Jenner, who've been accused of using their kids as a bullet train to success and to making their own situations better. For us, acting was something my siblings and I wanted to do, and Mom made it happen. We were a pretty lively bunch, and acting let us ham it up in front of an audience that gave us more attention than our parents did when we performed dance routines in the living room. What began as entertaining a little girl's dream became a family business, with the perk that the residuals from one national commercial covered an entire year's worth of mortgage payments. Okay, so we walked a fine line — but I did score an awesome clubhouse and a kickass, lifelong career from the deal.

While a lot of "child stars" can become pretty confused or resentful as adults, maybe one of the reasons I turned out so sane is that I wouldn't consider myself a "child star." I was a child with a serious hobby that segued into an amazing career — in the same way the kid who loves to swim becomes an Olympic gold medalist, or the child who practices piano every day becomes a Carnegie Hall performer. As Malcolm Gladwell would say, I put in my ten thousand hours. I simply loved to act, and I didn't care about the rejection, which for me has been key to having such a long career; from a young age, Mom taught me that if I didn't manage my expectations, and take the good with the bad, life would feel like a real pisser. Between work and auditions, I enjoyed a "normal childhood," like other kids on Long Island. I played in the sprinklers in our backyard, climbed trees, hunted frogs, and rode my bike to get Italian ices or to a friend's house to play Battleship.

While our whole family clearly benefited from the money I earned, showbiz was never all about the cash, or else my childhood would have played out very differently. My family would have moved closer to Manhattan or to L.A. for more frequent auditions, and we'd have spent anything we had left on a high-profile publicist instead of refurnishing the cramped home we'd grown to love. All that pressure would've also caused me to obsess over whether casting people liked me, or how upset I'd be if I didn't get a part or a new toy. This would've killed the childlike glee that made me so good at peddling cereal and snacks — and nobody likes to buy Twinkies from a desperate, beaten-down child. The only upside to this fantasy is that I might have dated another child star like Fred Savage, who I always wanted to be my first on-screen kiss. Hey, Fred, if you're reading this, let's grab the families and do dinner. It's on me.


Excerpted from Melissa Explains It All by Melissa Joan Hart, Kristina Grish. Copyright © 2013 Melissa Joan Hart with Kristina Grish. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Melissa Explains It All: Tales from My Abnormally Normal Life 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book made me feel strange after reading it. I found myself going from really liking Melissa Joan Hart and her work to feeling annoyed and simultaneously bad for her. She comes across as full-of-herself throughout the entire second half of it, and the celebrity name dropping seems to come across that she's trying to convince herself that she is/was relevant. Her mom also seemed a bit Kardashian-like even though she claims her mom was her biggest supporter. I think I would have enjoyed it more if she came across more humble and "normal" as she claimed to be. Overall, the book made me like her less.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Makes you love her more!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Carstairs38 More than 1 year ago
Melissa Talks About Life - Hers That Is Since I'm about the same age as Melissa Joan Hart, it was only natural I'd become a fan early on, and I've watched most of her work, including some of all three TV shows (didn't watch much TV growing up, so I've only see a few episodes of Clarissa) and her one big movie.  Naturally, I was interested in reading this book. Starting with her career in commercials, Melissa talks about everything in her life, from her big hits to her parent's divorce and meeting the love of her life.  It's pretty much what you'd expect from a celebrity autobiography, which can be good and bad.  As a fan, I enjoyed it, however if I weren't a fan, I wouldn't be that interested. A couple of the chapters were filled with a bit too much information for my tastes, and she does have a story or two that puts celebrities in a not so flattering light.  However, she doesn't spread too much dirt around. My bigger disappointment was that I wanted more info on what happened behind the scenes on her shows.  She shares some, but I wanted more.  Heck, I could take an entire book about the behind the scenes decisions on Sabrina alone. Still, I am glad I read this book and I enjoyed getting to know an actress I like a little bit better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
bleacherbum99 More than 1 year ago
I liked MJ Hart before, but am a HUGE fan after I read her book. She gives you a look behind the scenes of her shows. I wish she would have spent more time with her shows, though. Quite a bit of the book is her life as a mother. Even still, a good, entertaining book from a funny, hard-working woman. You even learn on Sabrina the Cat worked.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Let me start off by saying that this book was great and I could barely put it down. I really don't like how other reviewers are saying that she is full of herself. The whole point of the book is that she is very humble and appreciates not be an A list celebrity because she wouldn't lead a semi-normal life if she was. The spotlight for her growing up was a lot different then how kids now a days have to deal with being known. I think you should read this book because you are interested in finding out more about Melissa. I found it to really interesting and I loved all the juicy details of her past that I never would have thought she would do.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love MJH! Great book with lots of interesting facts about her life.
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Just turn to porn like all the other actress s .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm returning this book. I struggle to read almost all of it. I just couldn't get interested in it. She does brag about herself in the whole book. She jumped around in the chapters. The last few chapters she wrote about made me think she had nothing else to write about, so she just made up stuff. For example, the chapter she wrote about her husbands obsession with the Alabama Crimsons. I get her husband likes the football team but do you have to write 13 pages about it. I got so sick of reading about the football team I just skipped to the next chapter. I'm so disappointed. It makes me like her less now.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While an ok read she shows her conceited side. Disappointed with her as a writer. Could have been worse.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This woman is so full of herself. I can almost hear her narrating in an obnoxious know it all teen voice. Very disappointing. The book has no message. Just talks about how great she is and how boring and lame other child stars were. Insulting to people...wishing she could hit Oprah because she wasnt able to promote her book on her allowing Ryan Reynolds to make out with her. Pathetic attempt at a memoir. Reads more like a diary.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While I have not read this book, the reviews confirm my impression of this person. I have seen her in many interviews, and she comes off as being rude and very full of herself. I have no desire to read this book.