So she's perky. So she's twinkly. So she could pass for a stewardess on the Good Ship Lollipop. You can wince all you want; she's going to be a big star. All that perky talk bounces right off the six-figure smile of Mary Hart, the cheery, chirpy, leggy, perks-a-plenty cohost of "Entertainment Tonight."
"I'm too much of an optimist to really have ever been bothered by it," she says with a plucky grin. "There's a serious side there, and I use that when appropriate on our show. But we're not doing the evening news, you know. We're not talking about Anatoly Shcharansky still being held in prison and being 80 pounds, or the shuttle exploding. We're talking about entertainment news and features.
"So no, it really doesn't bother me, the perkiness thing. Because you know what? There are a lot worse things I could be. I think being perky is just fine."
Oh, so well put, Mary! You've flattened your critics out like pancakes. Every night we tune in to watch you and that nice Robb Weller parcel out the tasty show-biz tidbits on "Entertainment Tonight" and even if the thing begins to lag about 10 minutes in (oh joy -- Barbara Howar has gone to another party) there's always that closing shot to look forward to.
That's the shot where little Mary, the shiny pride of Madison, South Dakota, comes out from behind that nasty old mean old desk and flashes the camera an extra-extra spunky grin and -- and this is the big moment -- crosses her legs. And what legs they are. These are the definitive legs. It's not being sexist to say that. Robb Weller might have nice legs too. But who wants to bother finding out?
"I'm very flattered," Mary says, when people compliment her on her legs (SO THERE). "I never paid much attention to my legs. I always thought my mother had great legs. When I started out doing the show, people started saying, 'Gee, you've got really nice legs; what do you do?' It's become a thing, and I don't mind in the least. Because I know that people don't watch the show just for my legs. People watch because they enjoy the show."
She crosses her left leg over her right leg for that closing shot, leading a columnist to complain that one leg was barely seen, and to recommend that she alternate crossing patterns. "Yeah, well, you know, it doesn't work the other way," Mary says. "My leg hits Robb then. If my foot touches him, then people will say, 'What's going on between the two of them? She's got her foot nestled against his ankle.' "
We'll get to the questions about Rilke in a moment, folks.
As wonderful as Mary is as the cohost of "Entertainment Tonight," she certainly doesn't consider it her ultimate dream in show business. Au contraire. On Tuesday, she signed a deal with Paramount to develop a half-hour comedy series in which she will star. The concept for the show is still being developed. Mary is in the capable, indeed wizardly, hands of Hollywood super-agent Jay Bernstein, who says admiringly of her, "She has no fear."
Hailing her as "The Next Television Star," Bernstein said yesterday from Los Angeles, "This is a girl you can't hold back."
She won't be changing her name to Mary Tyler Hart (Mary Hart is her married name; the marriage ended in divorce six years ago). Asked if she were a Mary Tyler Moore for the '80s, Bernstein said, "No." But then he went on to say, "I see her as a combination of Debbie Reynolds, Doris Day and Shirley MacLaine. She has a fresh, 1986 quality that's the modern woman. She has the perkiness of Debbie Reynolds and the freshness of Doris Day but she also has the daredevilness of Shirley MacLaine."
Hart may be holding down a desk job now, but she has many talents never called for on "Entertainment Tonight." She says, with a wee hint of a pout, "You sit behind a desk long enough and people think all you can do is sit and talk at the desk. I have never until this show sat and just talked at a desk!"
Indeed. She sang and danced on last year's Emmy show. She walked a tight wire (and fell and hurt her leg, and, she says, dented it . . . but it mended) on "Circus of the Stars." She has sung the national anthem at Angels and Dodgers games, and the other night she sang it at a Jack Kemp fundraiser. A Jack Kemp fundraiser? "Well, yes, I am a Republican," she says. Never would've guessed it in a million years.
Bernstein envisions an ensemble comedy that would be set in the work place rather than in the home. "It will be her show, but populated with a lot of interesting characters for her to play off of," says the man who masterminded the careers of Farrah Fawcett and Suzanne Sommers.
He has no doubts in his mind about the nowness of Mary Hart.
"I just know she can do it," Bernstein says. "I've been around for 28 years and I can tell what people are capable of without seeing them perform."
"I won't do anything unless I can strip in it," Hart says. Then she giggles -- OH, SHE WAS JUST KIDDING! Then she gets serious again: "I want it to be a clever sitcom with an intelligent, professional woman who's caught in today's problems."
Hart will remain on "Entertainment Tonight," she and Bernstein both say, until the comedy show goes into production. She has other irons in the fire as well, among them a videotape, "Spa Style," to be released this month (Mary tours famous health spas and gives away their beauty secrets!!!). She says she's also had lots of requests to pose for a poster. No, not just from me, you smarty pantses.
"I don't know; maybe the time is getting closer for that," Hart says. "I thought we'd wait until the series was in production -- although I noticed Vanna White came out with a poster the other day."
Mary and Jay want her to have a high profile, and they can thank David Letterman for helping them out on that. For several weeks on "Late Night," he lampooned and ridiculed her perkiness (he, of course, being one of the intellectual elite of our time). Finally she went on the show and he pummeled her with questions about having dated Sylvester Stallone.
She says she does not resent Letterman's prodding. "I came out feeling it was a lot of fun. And it was challenging, and it was not what I expected," she says. "I did not expect the Sly Stallone questions. Of all things, I should know better, because people love to talk about that even after it's long over and when it wasn't such a big deal to begin with."
Right. Now, how long has it been over, and how big a deal was it?
"Here you go!"
Aw, come on, Mary.
"Yeah, we did go out, but we didn't fall in love, and we did have fun together, and that's the most important thing. So it got overdone in the press and yes, you know, he's a tremendously interesting and bright man. He's far more articulate than people realize. And he's a real genius in knowing what his career is about -- what he wants to do, and how to capitalize on what he does best."
Mary really admires people who are good managers of their careers.
"I have always admired Michael Landon because he is a multitalented person in that he loves his craft as an actor, as a writer, as a director and as a producer, and he's built, you know, a wonderful empire for himself. I'm not saying I'm in love with Michael Landon on screen as an actor; I'm talking about the things that he's done with his life.
"Same with Dick Clark.
"You know, Merv Griffin is another one. He's done some wonderful things with his career."
Of late, Hart has not been seen in the company of Sly Stallone but rather in the company of Mohammed Khashoggi, son of Saudi oil billionaire Adnan Khashoggi. Yes, Mary confirms (oh, Mary! Mary!), "we're spending time together. We're seeing each other."
Oh Mary Mary Mary!
"We have no marriage plans," she says. "None of that stuff. He's just a delight to be with." Hmmm. Does he ever have to borrow money from her? "Oh sure. I'm always saying, 'Mohammed! Another $100,000? Please!" She's kidding again. How about small change -- say, 50 cents for a copy of USA Today? "No." Does she ever take him to dinner? "Yes, as a matter of fact, I have. Which surprised him immensely. He was very uncomfortable."
And the presents -- the Rolls-Royces and the chinchilla coats and the caviar flown in from Pinsk? "People assume he's buying me all these wonderful things, and I say, let them assume," Hart says. She declines to enumerate an inventory.
Hart likes to insist that she's still a simple gal from the Midwest at heart. She came to Washington not long ago to smile and be charming at a convention and was somewhat chagrined to confess that her Mercedes had recently been rear-ended on Cahuenga (are you getting all this down?). And it wasn't her first Mercedes, either!
"I am from the Midwest," she declares in her defense. "And I guess those values, coming from a Midwest, conservative, Lutheran family, are very important because that is the stability in my life. That has been the shaping force in my life, even though we did move to Europe when I was 8 and spent 11 years there" (Ah-HA!!!) "and I was in Denmark and Sweden and France, then came back here and went to boarding school and graduated from Augustana College in South Dakota."
Her parents live in Fresno now.
As evidence of her basic love of simple things, Mary keeps saying that she would rather be slopping around in her "sweats" than be all duded up and primped. Asked if she leads a glamorous life and whether she has been corrupted by Hollywood, she says, "I do a lot of heavy drugs on a regular basis," but she's just kidding again.
"I didn't grow up on a farm, but let's face it, that's rural America," she says of her South Dakota roots. "Yeah, that's real important to me. But not to emphasize it so much, because there's the dichotomy of loving to put on my sweats when I come home, and living in jeans, and being a very casual person, and I also love the elegant life, I like to do things first class, I like to have a style about it and I like to have my creature comforts. But there's a balance I think.
"And it's important to me to keep a balance in perspective."
A balance in perspective. Yeah, that's it. That's the ticket.
Now, we want to answer as many of your questions as we can about Mary Hart in the time allotted.
First, her age. Don't ask. "You can say early thirties. I hate the word 'mid-thirties.' You can say I am closer to my mid-thirties than I am to 30."
Her favorite binge food. "Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Is that mundane, or what? Hey, I mean, when you get down to it, I don't like the crunchy Reese's Cups. I want the traditional. And not Reese's Pieces. Right before my birthday, I was having a conversation with somebody and he said, 'What do you do?' and I said, 'Well, my vices are champagne and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups,' and so for my birthday I got a magnum of champagne and the rest of the box was filled with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I was in heaven!"
Her nickname in high school. "Scout." "I was always good at planning and leading the group."
Her dreams. One of them: "to be on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue."
Her clothing philosophy. "My clothing philosophy has changed over the last year. I'm putting more money into my wardrobe. I do have a couple of designer evening gowns in my wardrobe now."
On this day, over lunch, Mary Hart is pretty in pink, to say the least and to put it mildly. Jewelry is sparkling and Mary is sparkling and her eyes look to be an amazingly vivid shade of turquoise. Guess what; colored contact lenses. "But my eyes really are blue," she says reassuringly.
"They didn't cook these potatoes enough," she grumbles -- BUT STILL SMILING -- as she pokes through a salad. A disciple of the "Fit for Life" food-combining-school of eating, she eschews all meats, even fish and chicken, and swears by the plan. If she swore, that is. Do you swear when you stub your toe, Mary? "Hell no," she says. What a kidder.
"Entertainment Tonight" is burbling along nicely now. There was some unpleasantness when the New York station carrying the syndicated program announced plans to drop it in favor of a game show, but the ratings rebounded and Paramount, which produces the program, subsequently issued a press release headlined " 'Entertainment Tonight' Recaptures No. 2 Rank in New York and Posts Strong Performances in Other Metered Markets During May 1986 Sweeps."
Whew, that was a close one. In addition, there'd been reports on dissent among the show's staff when Rona Barrett was brought on board as, cough, "special correspondent," but Rona has since departed. "It just didn't work," sighs Mary. She says she always got along with Rona. "You know, she's one of those personalities who you either really like or you really don't like and so people feel strongly and were very curious."
And what about our little Mary? Are there people -- now this is going to sound positively ridiculous -- who don't like her? "I'm sure there are people who don't like me," Mary Hart says. "I don't know that there are people who'd say I'm 'mean.' There are people who would say I'm ambitious and probably a tough businesswoman, but not in the sense of being mean.
"There are a lot of people in our society who are not happy with what they're doing, who have dreams of doing other things," she lectures patiently. "I say to them, 'Do it. Find ways to pursue those, to get to know yourself better.' " Mary Hart smiles. Turquoise contacts glisten. She's plucky. She's perky. She Has No Fear.