Actress Joan Van Ark has had a long and very successful career in Hollywood but it is her role of Valene Ewing on the primetime soap opera Knots Landing that helped her made a name for herself and cement her place in the film industry.
Born on June 16, 1943, in New York City, New York, to parents who were not in any way related to television, Joan always knew she belonged in Hollywood. She started performing when she was still very young and during a performance in Denver she met the person who would influence her life and career a great deal, actress Julie Harris. It was Harris who persuaded Joan to attend the well-respected Yale Drama School. She even helped her get a scholarship, making Joan the second woman to enroll into the school at the time.
“She [Harris] wrote to the dean and asked him to meet me. Long story short, my parents drove me to New Haven, Connecticut, to meet the dean, who gave me a scholarship,” Joan recalled.” It was meant to be.”
After being part of the theater for some years, Joan turned to television. She appeared on television series including Temperature’s Rising, Spider-Woman, and Days of Our Lives and even in one episode of Bonanza. Then, in 1978, she made several appearances as Valene Ewing on Dallas, which later turned into the most significant role she has ever played. As Dallas became a huge hit, the network decided to film its spin-off Knots Landing in which Joan reprised her role of Valene Ewing. In fact, Knots Landing was written before Dallas, but as producers needed to decided which show to work on they chose Dallas because they wanted a “big rich family” show.
Joan was a leading character for 13 seasons in Knots Landing and it was her husband who persuaded her to accept the role. At the time she was offered to be part of the series, Joan was already working on two other projects.
At one point, when the character of Valene Ewing’s mother was about to be introduced to the show, Joan could never imagine the role of her TV mother would be given to the person who meant the world to her; none other than Julie Harris.
“When the producers told me they had finally last someone to play my mother, I held my breath,” she recalled in a 1984 interview with Florida Today.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, are they going to say Phyllis Diller or Zsa Zsa Gabor, or who?’ Then they said it was Julie Harris, and I went right through the roof. I couldn’t believe they had picked her to be my mother. They didn’t even know we were friends.”
After 13 seasons and 327 episodes, Joan left Knots Landing and the show was canceled a season later. Joan was aware she was the one to be blamed for the cancellation, but she though she needed to try on new challenges.
“I have loved more than life the 13 years I’ve had on that show,” she said. “[Knots Landing creator] David Jacobs is a great influence on my life, has taught me so much about so many things. 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 have shared marriages, deaths, divorces. It’s far more difficult to leave than I thought.”
Joan appeared in a number of others series, including The Young and The Restless in which she portrayed the role of Gloria Fisher.