Thirty-five years ago, Mary helped usher in the celebrity television age as an anchor on Entertainment Tonight, the first syndicated newsmagazine show of its kind. During her remarkable 29-year run on ET, Mary not only revolutionized the entertainment news genre, she helped define it.
“Many thought, ‘There’s no way that show is going to last,’” Mary says of ET’s first year on the air. “’There’s not enough entertainment news to fill out a half hour of television every night of the week.’”
These days, the news cycle moves just as fast as we consume it, but long before you could track a star’s every move on social media, people got their celebrity fix by turning on Entertainment Tonight. And for those first 29 years, it was Mary, with her mega-watt smile and infamous insured legs that greeted families tuning in at dinnertime. And every young, aspiring reporter has been riding her coattails ever since, including me.
So, imagine my excitement (and trepidation) when I was asked to interview Mary as she helps kick off ET’s 35th anniversary celebration. Coincidentally, my first year at ET was also her last. And still, she has every bit of sparkle for this world since her departure in 2011 as I have for it now. She even speaks of the early years of her career with great fondness.
“I loved working my way up through the local news stations -- the curiosity and the enthusiasm,” she says. “And then this whole entertainment news genre exploded because of what we did at ET.”
When the show took off, so did Mary’s stardom. Over the years, she charmed audiences and celebrities alike with her girl-next-door personality, and she built such a great rapport with the stars that celebrities sat down with her first to share their stories—good, bad, shocking or enlightening. Her style of reporting went beyond just trust and credibility—every conversation was filled with light, compassion, and maybe even a little bit of fun.
Among her more moving and memorable one-on-ones: the time she went on tour with the elusive Michael Jackson, Annette Funicello’s multiple sclerosis revelation, her chat with an ailing Richard Pryor, and Christopher Reeve’s first interview following the tragic horse riding accident that left him paralyzed. “Nobody was more courageous, or battled more fiercely and believed so strongly that he could overturn that paralysis,” she recalls.
But of the countless interviews, amazing locations and once-in-a-lifetime experiences, it’s the people she worked with she misses the most. “The camaraderie,” Mary says. “We went through marriages, births, death, celebrated as a family and mourned as a family. I miss that the most.”
That’s also the reason Hollywood’s brightest stars were so disarmed by Mary and why the country welcomed her into their homes all those years: Mary felt like family. She stands beside only a handful of transcendent personalities, like Oprah Winfrey, Regis Philbin, Barbara Walters and Dick Clark, as a true television icon, in every sense of the word.
While the rest of us may never hold a candle to Mary Hart, we’ll keep trying. I know I will.
For more from Mary Hart and her favorite memories on Entertainment Tonight, tune in to ET on Thursday.