By Candy DenOuden
The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Former “Entertainment Tonight” Host, Mary Hart was the keynote speaker at the Women of Influence Conference in Sioux Falls this week. Her message… “believe in yourself,” Hart says that since rejection is always a part of life, empowered women need to dig deep to succeed. She noted that this advice goes for everyone…Hart mentioned that Lucille Ball was told she was too shy to succeed in Hollywood, Julianne Moore was told she wasn’t pretty enough, and the Beatles were told that “guitar bands are yesterday.”
Once a South Dakotan, always a South Dakotan.
Mary Hart may be just as familiar with the red carpet as any Hollywood star, but she returned to her home state Thursday and said it still feels like home.
“Kristi (Noem) is right–once you are a South Dakotan, you never, ever are anything but a South Dakotan,” Hart said, validating Noem’s introduction.
Hart gave the keynote address during Noem’s Women of Influence Conference at Central Baptist Church in Sioux Falls, which included a networking breakfast, resource fair, speeches and panel discussions. About 600 people attended the conference, which Hart praised in her opening remarks.
“It means so much to me, and I am so impressed that all of you–exceeding expectations–are here today to talk as women, with one another, and to hear from women about their struggles. Because when it comes right down to it, our struggles are very much the same, no matter what we do,” she said.
Hart grew up in South Dakota until her parents moved overseas for a time, before returning to her home state. She graduated from Augustana College in 1972, and took a minute Thursday to give a shout-out to her alma mater’s recent success on the basketball court. She commented on the University of South Dakota’s prowess, as well, before adding, “So I guess, SDSU–what happened?”
“Yes, I’m not too old to have forgotten all those rivalries,” she said to laughter.
Before stepping away from her role with “Entertainment Tonight” five years ago, Hart spent 30 years as co-host of the popular entertainment and celebrity news program. She was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame in 1999 and has received accolades from groups like the American Women in Radio and Television and the National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation. She also serves on the board of trustees for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and is an ambassador for Childhelp USA. She and her husband, Burt Sugarman, have a son, A.J., and live in Los Angeles.
After her speech, Hart also participated in a featured discussion with Noem. Hart and Noem had high praise for one another, both in their work ethic and demeanor.
“She is probably the nicest person I know,” Noem said of Hart. “One of the biggest compliments I always give about people is I say, ‘Aren’t they normal?’ ”
On Thursday, Hart tried to convey three lessons for women everywhere: Remember where you come from; say “yes,” and then figure out how you’re going to follow through; and believe in yourself. Hart’s “say yes” comments echoed Noem’s prevailing message during her own speech, and Hart detailed all of the times she said yes to things she wasn’t sure how to do, or that she found intimidating.
“To this day, I still get nervous when I come out on stage. But I always do it. I do it, I get through it. I think really that attitude pertains to so many things in life,” she said. “If you get the opportunity, do it. You will get through it.”
It tied closely with her third lesson, “believe in yourself,” since rejection is always a part of life, according to Hart. In her long career in entertainment news, Hart has interviewed many of the biggest names in TV and film, noting that many of them have had to “dig deep” to believe in themselves when no one else would.
Lucille Ball was told she was too shy to succeed in Hollywood. Julianne Moore was told she wasn’t pretty enough, and the Beatles were told that “guitar bands are yesterday.”
“Chances are slim, but you know what? You make your own way,” she said.
She encouraged people to start at the lowest level of whatever career interests them and work their way up–as she did, from standing in for her friend and mentor on a noon news program interviewing people to eventually co-hosting a nationally known TV station. Through the years, Hart said she gradually built on her experiences, until she got her big break with “Entertainment Tonight”–even though that’s wasn’t her dream. With a background in music and performance, Hart moved to L.A. to perform. But, when the opportunity with “ET” came, she took her own advice and said yes.
“Little did I know that ‘Entertainment Tonight’ would be my big break, and my open door to do all of those things and live all of those dreams,” Hart said. “I just can’t underscore enough that, in life, no matter what we’re doing … we need to open our eyes and be open to opportunity, and it can come out of the strangest places that you would never expect.”