Catching Up With Linda Hart

New York Post
You’ve gotta have Hart
Last Updated: 2:14 AM, May 5, 2011
Posted: 7:28 PM, May 4, 2011

It’s a warm spring afternoon, and Broadway actress Linda Hart – now in the Tony-nominated musical “Catch Me If You Can” – is pointing out the array of brass angels and holiday decor on the parlor floor of her West Chelsea brownstone.

“Every day is Christmas in our home,” Hart says. That’s not necessarily because the 1848 townhouse was built on farmland once owned and divided into lots by Clement Clarke Moore, the author of “The Night Before Christmas.”

“If they make it to Easter,” she says of the Yuletide trimmings, “they just stay up.”

The townhouse, which was landmarked so long ago that neither Hart nor her investment banker husband know when it happened, is extremely wide and deep, measuring 21 feet by 55 feet. There’s more than 4,500 square feet of living space spread across four floors, not counting the basement. Hart and her husband reside on the three lower floors, which are laid out with three bedrooms, four bathrooms, two kitchens, a study and two living rooms. (They rent out the top floor.)

Perhaps the home’s most dramatic space is the 21-by-40-foot living/dining room on the parlor floor, with 12-foot ceilings and wall-to-wall windows. There’s also three fireplaces, as well as two decks and a planted garden.

“My husband’s father bought the house in the 1960s,” Hart says. “Then, when he passed away, my husband bought it from his mother in the 1980s. We still have furniture from my husband’s family, and some pieces – a sofa, a double hutch and a server – that my father-in-law made and hand-carved himself.”

In fact, they have lots and lots of pieces: antiques, memorabilia, art glass, angels, photos and other collectibles.

Many of the pieces are in the living room. Under an end table are neatly tucked slippers that turn out to be 19th-century Dutch wooden shoes (Hart and her husband are both Dutch). There are two matching red-lacquered, early-1900s curio cabinets and a tabletop of hand-blown Correia art glass.

“I’m a collector,” Hart says, “and I really enjoy interesting things. Everything really sort of does have a story.”

Then there’s the pipe organ her in-laws bought from a church in New Jersey. (Both Hart and her husband play.) It stands a short distance from a grand piano, bongo drums, conga drums, an upright bass and a mandolin (all of which Hart plays).

“My husband and I both come from musical families,” she says. “My mom alone plays 17 instruments – including water glasses!”

Hart could almost pen a story about her relationship with Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman who wrote the music and lyrics for “Catch Me If You Can,” based on the movie version and the true life of reformed con man Frank Abagnale, and now playing at the Neil Simon Theatre. (The original cast recording will be released in May.)

“They’ve been in my life since my first job when I was a backup singer for Bette Midler,” says Hart, who was one of the Harlettes; Marc was her vocal conductor.

“This is my third show with Marc and Scott,” she says. “The first was ”˜Livin’ Dolls’ in 1982, then ”˜Hairspray’ in 2002 and now ”˜Catch Me.’ ”

Hart’s character, Carol Strong, was inspired by her real family. She’d been doing workshops and tryouts of “Catch Me” for 2½ years and was asked by the director, Jack O’Brien, what her family did evenings after they finished dinner. Hart, who grew up in a Grammy-winning family known as the Musical Harts, told him they all sat down and made music together. So, a scene was written for the show similar to what actually went on in her home.

Hart’s other New York theater credits include “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” “Anything Goes” – for which she won a 1988 Theater World Award – and “Divine Madness.”

While performing in “Catch Me” eight times a week, Hart still finds time to plan future shows. They include one based on the life and music of composer Bert Berns, another on the life of stripper Candy Barr and still another about her own extraordinary life. She is writing the latter, called “Hart Break Motel,” herself.

“My parents were both ministers,” Hart says. “I was born in Dallas, but we traveled all over the country and Europe in a tent revival. When I was just an infant, my mother used to place my bassinet right next to the Hammond organ. Then she and my dad would hold a revivalist meeting. That was my beginning, and I’m terribly grateful for it.

“I think interesting homes are in my blood,” she continues. “Throughout my childhood, my parents would buy a house – or, sometimes, my father would build it – my mother would decorate it, and then they’d turn it over. The first real house I ever lived in had once belonged to [liquor mogul] Hiram Walker. It had 32 rooms, eight bedrooms, 10 baths. And Jean Harlow had once lived in the first apartment I ever rented in Hollywood.

“Now I live in this beautiful, historic house in Chelsea. To me, that’s just wonderful!”

Linda Hart’s favorite things

* The evening bags and matching compacts (made with Swarovski crystals) created by Jimmy Crystal for different roles and occasions (below)

* Mazeppa, her rescued terrier mix, named after the character Hart played in “Gypsy”

* The Musical Harts’ albums – her family recorded about 20

* Her Theater World Award for “Anything Goes”

* The wall of photos on the garden-floor level

* Her mother’s shoes and Hart’s dress from the 1960s; they were dressed in identical mother-daughter outfits for an album cover.

* Her doll collection from Provence

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