It was Easter Sunday, April 18, 1976, in Smithtown, New York, that Melissa Joan Hart was born to a young carpenter, Billy Hart and his wife, Paula Hart. Melissa was soon joined by a sister, Trisha, and the family moved to the village of Sayville, New York. Melissa, at four, told her mother she wanted to hear her name on the children’s program “Romper Room” and that she wanted to be on television. Following the birth of Melissa’s second sister, Elizabeth, Paula began taking Melissa to New York City to audition for roles in commercials. She demonstrated talent and they booked the first of four commercials for which she auditioned. The first commercial was for a doll called “Splashy.”
Melissa loved acting, and her mother traveled as often as possible to NYC for her to perform in commercials and on television (Saturday Night Live among others). Trisha and Elizabeth became involved in acting as well, and soon they were joined by a brother, Brian. Melissa’s first major role came in 1986 in a television movie called “Christmas Snow,” acting opposite Katherine Helmond and Sid Caesar.
This same year Melissa’s youngest “Hart” sister, Emily was born. Even though the family was involved in acting roles, their roles at home were the same as any normal family. They attended school, played with friends and participated in after-school activities. Melissa’s enjoyed learning to play the flute and girl scouts. In the eighth grade, Melissa completed her Catholic Confirmation, at which time she chose the name “Catherine,” hence her full name as seen online, Melissa Joan Catherine Hart.
In 1989, Melissa auditioned for one of her most famous roles, Clarissa, for the Nickelodeon television show “Clarissa Explains it All”. She would film 65 episodes (from 1990 to 1994) at Nickelodeon Studios in Orlando, Florida. Melissa relocated temporarily (13 weeks out of the year) to a Florida apartment. During this experience, Melissa’s parents divorced and her mother and four siblings moved to New York City. Her father began working as a shellfish wholesaler and her mother began working in the entertainment industry as a casting director.
Melissa’s new-found fame took her by surprise and she became more guarded and cautious about her surroundings and the people she associated with. Bright, and from a very close knit, and loving family, she realized that her life directly impacted others, and she made the choice to live a moral and upstanding life so young girls would find in her a role model. Although she never attended a formal “high school” she completed her education with tutors and held a graduation ceremony on the set of “Clarissa,” the year filming of the show completed. She then moved back to New York City with most of her family and began attending New York University (NYU).
During this time, Melissa stayed out of the spotlight, but still filmed a tv movie and made television appearances. In 1994, Melissa moved with her NYC family once again, this time having added two new family members: stepfather, Leslie Gilliams and half-sister, Alexandra “Ali” Gilliams. They moved to Englewood, New Jersey. Melissa’s father remarried as well to stepmother, Lisa Hart, and remained in Sayville. The Hart/Gilliams family enjoyed reading Archie Comics, which were introduced to them by a family friend. Noting the character Sabrina and the resemblance to Melissa, her mother drew on her experience as a manager/casting director to begin production on a movie entitled “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”. At the same time her mother created a production company shared by Paula and Melissa called Hartbreak Films. Sabrina was a great success, and the family uprooted once more and moved to Los Angeles to begin filming Melissa’s next famous show, “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” for ABC.
Melissa continued to study through NYU study-abroad program, but focused mainly on creating and sustaining a loveable character who could provide family-friendly entertainment with moral undertones. While Sabrina was in production, Melissa’s family grew again when a girl, Samantha Gilliams, was born to her mother and a baby girl, Mackenzie Hart was born to her father, bringing the family children to 8.
In October 1999 Melissa was faced with her first major controversy, brought on by her cover shot on Maxim Magazine. Although Melissa was a 23 year old woman, the world still viewed her as the teenager she portrayed on tv. Melissa was not indecently exposed in the photos, and she showed no more skin than she did on the covers of Bikini Magazine, Details Magazine or Movieline, but Archie Comics did not view the photos as appropriate because they promoted Melissa’s film “Drive Me Crazy” and not Sabrina. This contoversy threatened her career. Around this time, Sabrina the Teenage Witch moved from ABC to the hip-new television station called WB.
During Sabrina’s 7 season (160 episode) run, Melissa was a dedicated professional actress. She enjoyed the company of friends and occasionally went out. She filmed television movies and played parts in sit-coms, as well as small appearances in feature films. Her priority in life was always her work and home-life.
On May 3, 2002 Melissa was attending the Kentucky Derby and introduced a talented new band called Course of Nature. The lead singer, Mark Wilkerson, caught her eye, and she caught his. Mark was different from Melissa’s past boyfriends. He was a southern gentleman from Enterprise, Alabama. His family includes his mother and father, Jen and Walt Wilkerson, as well as two sisters, Holly, married to Girod with two boys, Hayes and Pierson, and Sally. For Melissa and Mark it was “love at first sight.” They spoke and dated as often as possible, although both were working. On December 26, 2002 Mark surprised Melissa by proposing marriage, which she accepted. The two romantics decided to marry in one of the most romantic places on earth, Firenze, Italy. Surrounded by friends and family, they celebrated with week-long festivities before exchanging traditional vows on July 19, 2003. The ceremony was officiated by the Wilkersons’ hometown pastor.
The honeymoon included a month-long trip around Europe The couple then returned to California and begin making a home together. The family included Melissa’s two dogs, Pele and Halleakala “Halle,” and a new puppy named Copper.
The next two years for were as exciting and eventful for the young newlywed couple. Melissa was busy with public events, charities, homemaking tasks and taking care of herself as she learned she and Mark were expecting their first child. While pregnant, Melissa produced and directed a short-film in called “Mute” starring Melissa’s sister Emily. After post-production completed, Melissa traveled extensively to promote “MUTE”. She attended film festivals in 2005 and 2006, including Palm Springs International Festival, Sonoma Film Fest and Tribeca Film Festival. When she was finished promoting, Melissa returned home to prepare for the birth of their first child.
On January 11, 2006, Melissa and Mark welcomed their first child, a son named Mason Walter Wilkerson. Before and after Mason’s birth, Melissa continued to work as a director and as a voiceover artist. She made numerous public appearances for events and charities, filmed guest roles on television and in tv movies, but she always made sure to spend the majority of her time in her most important role as wife and mother. She expanded on this “role” when she gave birth to her second son, Braydon “Brady” Hart Wilkerson on March 12, 2008.
2008 was a busy year for Melissa and Mark. Mark began touring again with Course of Nature and promoting their new album. Melissa stayed busy raising their family. They soon traveled together to film My Fake Fiance in Atlanta, Georgia.
Melissa has been a busy mother at home, and in the public eye. She documented her pregnancy with Brady online with Celebrity Baby Blog and potty-training Mason with Pull-Ups brand training pants. We watched her gain the normal pregnancy weight, then lose it through diet-and-exercise as published by People Magazine in June 2009. The week People hit the newsstands, Melissa was as busy as ever. She celebrated the opening of her dream candy store called SweetHarts’ Sweets and they attended a benefit for her favorite charity: Friends of the Family. During this time Melissa’s mother underwent major surgery to remove a tumor from her brain and Melissa helped her to recover.
In July 2009, Melissa, Mark, Mason, Brady and their dogs (Halle, Copper and now Mater) moved into a new home in Connecticut – across the country from Los Angeles where Melissa had lived for 15 years. Just as they walked in their new home, Melissa received news that she would be competing on the popular dance show “Dancing with the Stars”, which films in Los Angeles. Melissa agreed that the show was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and soon training began in Connecticut with Melissa’s dance partner, Mark Ballas. On September 17, 2009, Melissa left her family in Connecticut to compete in Los Angeles.
People relate to Melissa as the “girl next door” as most watched her grow up and become a woman through her television appearances. People can connect with her, unlike other adult celebrities. Watching Melissa on television is like watching a good friend. She is not a “star” in the sense that she is untouchable and above everyone else. She is rather a beloved friend that we see as a member of our own family.