Joan Van Ark’s path to notoriety commenced with her portrayal of Valene Ewing in the Dallas spinoff series, Knots Landing. The actress revisited the role briefly in 2012. Today, she enjoys a contented marriage with her high school sweetheart, and the couple has a child. Remarkably, even at the age of 78, Joan remains in good health, defying the effects of time.
This encapsulates the essential details about Joan Van Ark’s life, including her candid admission that she believes she alone is responsible for the downfall of Knots Landing.
Born on June 16, 1943, in New York City, New York, Joan Van Ark arrived as the fourth child of Dorothy Jean Van Ark and Carroll Van Ark. When she was just 7 years old, her family uprooted to Boulder, Colorado, a move that would significantly shape her future.
Remarkably, despite her parents not having any ties to the film industry, Joan Van Ark harbored a deep-seated desire to become an actor. Her mother was a writer, and her father worked in public relations.
The turning point for Joan came when, in high school, the quarterback of the football team declined to invite her to the prom. It was at that moment she resolved to pursue a career in show business.
Joan Van Ark’s journey started to take shape in Boulder. She vividly recalled, “When the football team’s quarterback neglected to ask me to the prom, I thought, ‘Forget about guys,’ and headed to a Community Playhouse play audition.”
She continued, “I ended up with roles as the insect and the flower girl, although they weren’t the roles I initially auditioned for. During my audition, I delivered a speech, and the room was so captivated that I thought, ‘Who needs guys?'”
The pivotal meeting with Julie Harris happened when Van Ark was being interviewed for a local publication in Colorado. It was Julie Harris who convinced her to apply to the Yale School of Drama’s acting and theater department.
Remarkably, Joan Van Ark became only the second woman to enroll at this esteemed institution, and she secured a scholarship as the youngest student ever to do so. Julie Harris, who was the school’s first female student, played a crucial role in helping Van Ark navigate the admission process.
Describing the journey, Van Ark explained, “She wrote a letter to the dean, requesting a meeting with me. In a nutshell, my parents and I journeyed to New Haven, Connecticut, where I met the dean and was awarded a scholarship. It was a destiny waiting to unfold.”
Joan Van Ark’s theatrical journey ignited at the Minneapolis Guthrie Theatre, where she brilliantly embodied Molière’s The Miser’s lead character. Following an extensive tenure at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC, spanning nearly a year, she boldly transitioned to the national touring company of Barefoot in the Park in 1963, marking her triumphant Broadway debut. Her radiance on stage in The School for Wives led to a distinguished Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Play in 1971.
Amid this period, Joan Van Ark navigated the shift from the theatrical stage to the enchanting realm of screen acting. Her talent graced various television productions, including notable appearances in Temperature’s Rising, Spider-Woman, Days of Our Lives, and an indelible cameo in an episode of Bonanza.
Nevertheless, as the 1980s approached, Joan Van Ark, unwavering in her determination, tirelessly sought the defining role of her career. Her numerous guest spots on Dallas, particularly as Valene Ewing in 1978, ultimately paved the way to her destiny, the role of a lifetime.
Joan Van Ark stormed back in 1979 as Valene Ewing in the Dallas spinoff, Knots Landing. For 327 episodes, she shared the spotlight with Michele Lee’s Karen and Ted Shackelford’s Gary, catapulting to stardom.
Interestingly, Knots Landing wasn’t initially born as a Dallas spinoff, but had been on CBS’s radar for years. While Dallas was the network’s initial choice for the “big rich family” show, it was Knots Landing that swiftly rose to the occasion. After just one season, it soared into the TV ratings top 20, riding the coattails of Dallas’s tremendous success.
Knots Landing delved into the tale of Gary Ewing and his wife, Valene, portrayed by Van Ark, embarking on a fresh start in Knots Landing.
While Dallas initially clinched the title of the network’s sought-after “big rich family” show, Knots Landing wasn’t far behind. Dallas’s monumental success quickly pushed Knots Landing into the limelight, catapulting it into the TV ratings top 20 after a single season.
Joan Van Ark’s husband, John Marshall, played a pivotal role in persuading her to embrace Dallas. This decision, as it turned out, was critical and indispensable.
Recalling the moment, she explained, “I received a call to do a guest appearance in this show called Dallas, generating a lot of buzz. I questioned my husband, John, ‘Why should I even bother reading this script? I can’t be in three places at once.’ He read it and insisted, ‘You must do it. It looks fantastic.'”
“So essentially, he convinced me to adopt this whirlwind schedule, bouncing from LA to Dallas for two days, then a brief stopover in New York for two more days, and back to Texas. Yet, as I gaze at this vintage Knots Landing cast photo – the cherished Dallas spinoff – I’m so grateful I heeded his advice,” she reminisced.
Van Ark, who gained fame through her role, devoted 15 years to the dual worlds of Dallas and Knots Landing. Her reunion with Julie Harris, with whom she shared a storied history, transpired in 1980. When producers disclosed they had found someone to portray her mother in Knots Landing, Van Ark held her breath in anticipation.
Recalling the moment in a 1984 interview with Florida Today, she revealed, “I thought, ‘Oh my God, who will they choose? Phyllis Diller? Zsa Zsa Gabor?’ Then they revealed it was Julie Harris, and I was over the moon. The fact that they selected her to be my on-screen mother, without even knowing we were friends, felt almost too incredible to be real.”
With 327 episodes spanning 13 seasons featuring Joan Van Ark, the show had a remarkable run. Surprisingly, in 1993, Knots Landing met an abrupt end. But Joan’s departure wasn’t due to any discontent; it was all about her eagerness to embrace fresh challenges.
“I could have remained on the show indefinitely and played it safe,” Van Ark shared with the Los Angeles Times in 1992. “But three years ago, I did Night of the Iguana in Williamstown (Massachusetts), and I had a quote from Tennessee Williams on my mirror. It was from an essay he’d written on success, and it roughly said, ‘Security is like a kidney-shaped pool in Los Angeles, where you sit waiting for your residual checks.’ I was in a comfortable spot on Knots, and an artist should not be too comfortable.”
During this time, Joan Van Ark’s life became deeply intertwined with the television show. Although her decision to leave came from a place of comfort, it still proved to be a significant challenge, as she had initially thought it would be simpler.
“I have cherished every one of the 13 years I spent on that show,” she expressed. “[Knots Landing creator] David Jacobs has been a tremendous influence on my life, teaching me so much. Ted [Shackelford] is the other half of every breath I take on the show, and personally, he’s a large part of my heart. The people are my family – we’ve shared marriages, deaths, divorces. Leaving is far more difficult than I had imagined.”
The dynamic between characters Valene and Gary was essential to the show’s success, and Joan even shouldered some of the responsibility for its cancellation.
“Well, it was partly my fault. I jumped over to NBC to do a pilot that didn’t sell,” she revealed. “I was ready to move on after fourteen years with the same character, so I auditioned for the pilot, and they cast me. The negotiations weren’t as smooth as they should have been. When the pilot didn’t sell, they asked me to return, and I did participate in the four-hour finale of the show.”
Joan Van Ark bid adieu to the soap opera industry but continued to grace television screens in various roles. She appeared in television films and made guest appearances in several series, including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Joan portrayed Gloria Fisher in 55 episodes of the immensely popular TV series The Young and the Restless between 2004 and 2005.
In the world of Hollywood, celebrity marriages can be fleeting, but Joan Van Ark’s love story defied that trend. She met her future husband, John Marshall, during their high school days in Boulder. Their union was sealed on a German military installation in 1966.
“Believe me, it was nothing like the marriages Valene Ewing has gone through,” she quipped to UPI.
They welcomed their daughter, Vanessa Marshall, in 1969. Vanessa pursued a career in entertainment, but she ultimately found her niche in voice-over work, contributing her talents to video games, TV shows, and animated films. John Marshall, on the other hand, went on to have a successful career at NBC and KNBC-TV, earning an Emmy. Alongside Joan, he achieved remarkable success. The couple navigated their careers while raising Vanessa, who thrived in her own unique path.
Running her business and being a mother presented Joan Van Ark with a formidable challenge. She acknowledges her husband, John, for being the linchpin that held their family together during those demanding times.
“He is the reason we have the most wonderful daughter in the world and that the marriage has stayed strong,” Van Ark conveyed to The Leader-Post in 1988. “I feel I am the committed person who can’t give up time for this or that.”
She continued, “He did not want to miss watching Vanessa grow up, and he did not want to miss me. He knows correspondents live out of suitcases. John made career choices I didn’t agree with because if it had been me, I would have packed my bags, and I would have been waving at the airport.”
Joan Van Ark, known for her acting, is also an avid runner. The 78-year-old, who has completed multiple marathons, explained why she prefers running as a form of therapy over seeing a psychotherapist. However, she humorously noted that running with her husband is off the table, as it tends to lead to criticism of each other’s styles.
Why? As she put it, “It’s the quickest way to a divorce that I know of. You’re always criticizing the other’s style,” Joan quipped.
In the past decade, Joan Van Ark has continued to grace the stage in various theater productions and has appeared in films and television shows like Psycho Wedding Crasher and Watercolour Postcards. Nevertheless, her enduring influence on Dallas and Knots Landing will forever be recognized as her most significant achievement.
Joan Van Ark is reported to have a net worth of approximately $10 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth.
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