The Evolution of Joan Van Ark: From Leading Lady on ‘Dallas’ and ‘Knots Landing’ to Devoted Wife and Mother.

Joan Van Ark rose to prominence through her portrayal of Valene Ewing in the hit series Dallas and its spinoff, Knots Landing. Her journey from a young aspiring actress to a television icon is marked by determination, talent, and pivotal career choices.

Despite the passing years, Van Ark, now 78, remains resilient and active. Delving into her life reveals why she believes the demise of “Knots Landing” rested solely on her shoulders.

Born on June 16, 1943, in New York City, Joan Van Ark was one of four children born to Dorothy Jean and Carroll Van Ark. At the age of 7, she relocated with her family to Boulder, Colorado—a move that would significantly shape her career trajectory in the years to come.

Joan Van Ark – early life & career

Despite her parents’ careers—her mother as a writer and her father in public relations—having no ties to the film industry, Joan Van Ark felt a calling to pursue acting from an early age.

Recalling her journey to We Love Soaps, Van Ark shared a pivotal moment from her high school days. When she didn’t receive an invitation to prom from the quarterback of the football team, she resolved to forge her path in show business.

“My determination grew stronger in Boulder. I auditioned for a play at the Community Playhouse. When the quarterback didn’t ask me to prom, I thought, ‘Forget boys,’ and went to audition,” Joan Van Ark reminisced. Although she didn’t land the intended role, being cast as the flower girl ignited her passion for acting. Her monologue during the audition captivated the room, earning her praise that solidified her resolve: “Who needs guys?”

During her time performing in Denver, Van Ark crossed paths with actress Julie Harris while interviewing her for a local newspaper. Harris encouraged her to pursue formal training in acting and drama at the Yale Drama School.

This encounter led Van Ark to become the youngest recipient of a scholarship at the esteemed institution and only the second woman to ever enroll. The first was none other than Julie Harris herself, who facilitated Van Ark’s entrance into the school.

“She reached out to the dean on my behalf. To cut a long story short, my parents drove me to New Haven, Connecticut, to meet the dean, who granted me a scholarship,” Van Ark reflected. “It felt like fate.”

Valene Ewing on ‘Dallas’ and ‘Knots Landing’

Van Ark commenced her professional journey at the Minneapolis Guthrie Theater, where she took the stage in Moliere’s “The Miser.” Following a year-long stint at the Arena Stage in Washington DC, she transitioned to the national touring company of “Barefoot in the Park” in 1963, marking her Broadway debut. Her performance in “The School for Wives” earned her a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Play in 1971.

Transitioning to screen roles, Van Ark made notable appearances on television series such as “Temperature’s Rising,” “Spider-Woman,” and “Days of Our Lives,” along with a guest spot on “Bonanza.”

Despite her steady stream of work, Van Ark sought a breakthrough role as the 1980s approached. Her recurring appearances as Valene Ewing on “Dallas” in 1978 paved the way for her most iconic role.

The spinoff series “Knots Landing,” featuring Van Ark reprising her role as Valene Ewing, premiered in 1979. Over 327 episodes, she starred alongside Michele Lee as Karen and Ted Shackelford as Gary, catapulting her to stardom.

Initially conceived before “Dallas,” “Knots Landing” was put on hold in favor of the former’s development as the network favored a “big rich family” concept. However, as the success of “Dallas” became evident, “Knots Landing” gained traction, quickly rising in the TV ratings to secure its place among the top 20 shows after just one season.

How Joan Van Ark almost missed out on her biggest role

Knots Landing unfolded as the narrative of Gary Ewing and his spouse Valene, portrayed by Van Ark, as they embarked on a fresh chapter in Knots Landing.

Yet, Van Ark nearly missed out on the role of Valene Ewing due to a scheduling conflict. Juggling commitments to “The Love Boat” and a commercial shoot in New York, she found herself torn.

Ultimately, it was her husband, John Marshall, who played a pivotal role in persuading her to opt for “Dallas,” a decision of significant consequence.

“When I was asked to do a guest spot on this show called ‘Dallas,’ which was creating quite a stir, I hesitated,” she recounted to Express. “I said to my husband, ‘John, how can I possibly manage this with my current commitments?’ But he urged me to give it a chance after reading the script and seeing its potential.”

“He essentially convinced me to adopt a demanding schedule that had me shuttling between Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York within days. Reflecting on it now, as I glance at an old cast photo from ‘Knots Landing’—the spinoff born from ‘Dallas’—I’m immensely grateful I followed his advice,” she added.

With “Dallas” and “Knots Landing,” Van Ark committed herself to a 15-year journey, becoming synonymous with her character. As previously mentioned, her bond with Julie Harris played a significant role, leading to a reunion in 1980.

“I could stay forever on the show and be safe”

Harris joined the cast of Knots Landing as the mother of Van Ark’s character—a prospect that seemed almost too perfect to be real.

“When the producers informed me they had finally found someone to portray my mother, I held my breath,” she reminisced in a 1984 interview with Florida Today. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, are they going to suggest Phyllis Diller or Zsa Zsa Gabor, or someone else?’ Then they mentioned Julie Harris, and I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe they chose her to play my mother. They didn’t even know we were friends.”

Van Ark remained with the show for 13 seasons and 327 episodes. However, in 1993, just one season after her departure, Knots Landing was canceled. Yet, her exit wasn’t due to dissatisfaction; rather, it stemmed from her desire to explore new challenges.

“I could have stayed on the show indefinitely and felt secure,” Van Ark conveyed to the Los Angeles Times in 1992. “But three years ago, while performing in Night of the Iguana in Williamstown (Massachusetts), I had a quote from Tennessee Williams taped to my mirror. It was from an essay he wrote on success. It said, and I’m paraphrasing: ‘Security is like lounging by a kidney-shaped pool in Los Angeles, waiting for residual checks.’ I was in a comfortable position on Knots, but an artist should never be complacent.”

Although leaving the series marked a significant transition for Van Ark, the show had become an integral part of her life. So, despite feeling prepared to move on, the reality proved to be more challenging than anticipated.

Blamed herself for ‘Knots Landing’ cancelation

“I’ve cherished the 13 years I spent on that show more than anything,” she expressed. “David Jacobs, the creator of ‘Knots Landing,’ has been an immense influence on my life, teaching me countless valuable lessons. Ted Shackelford, who portrays Gary, is not only my indispensable on-screen partner but also holds a significant place in my heart off-screen. The cast and crew are like family to me—we’ve experienced marriages, deaths, divorces together. Leaving is far more challenging than I ever imagined.”

The show struggled to maintain its essence without the dynamic chemistry between Valene and Gary. In fact, Joan Van Ark took responsibility for the show’s demise.

“Well, the fault lies with me. I made the decision to jump ship to NBC for a pilot that ultimately didn’t get picked up,” she confessed. “I was eager for a change after fourteen years playing the same character, so I pursued the pilot and was cast. Unfortunately, the negotiations weren’t as clear-cut as they should have been. When the pilot didn’t sell, they asked me to return, and I did come back for the four-hour finale of the show.”

While she bid farewell to the soap opera world, Joan Van Ark continued to grace many television series with her presence. She took on minor roles in shows like “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and starred in various television movies. Between 2004 and 2005, she portrayed Gloria Fisher in 55 episodes of the highly successful television drama “The Young and The Restless.”

In contrast to the fleeting marriages often seen in Hollywood, Joan Van Ark found enduring love with her high school sweetheart, John Marshall. The pair tied the knot in 1966 on a military base in Germany.

“It’s nothing like the tumultuous marriages Valene Ewing endured,” she remarked to UPI.

Their daughter, Vanessa Marshall, was born in 1969 and followed a career in entertainment, primarily as a prominent voice-over artist. Despite the challenges of balancing motherhood with their careers, Joan credits her husband, John, for keeping their family grounded during those tumultuous years.

“He’s the reason we have such an incredible daughter and why our marriage remains strong,” she shared with The Leader-Post in 1988. “While I felt the pressure to commit entirely to my career, he prioritized our family. He made career choices I might not have agreed with because he didn’t want to miss out on watching Vanessa grow up or being with me.”

Joan Van Ark – net worth

In addition to her acting career, Joan Van Ark has a keen interest in running. Despite being 78 years old, she has completed numerous marathons and attributes her running routine to maintaining her mental well-being, stating that she opts for running instead of seeking therapy. However, when it comes to her husband, she humorously declared that she would never consider going on a run with him.

Why? “Because it’s the quickest way to a divorce that I know of. You’re always criticizing the other’s style,” Joan quipped.

Over the past decade, Joan Van Ark has continued to grace the stage in various theatrical productions and has appeared in television series and films such as “Watercolor Postcards” and “Psycho Wedding Crasher.” Nevertheless, she will forever be best remembered for her captivating performances in “Dallas” and “Knots Landing.”

According to Celebrity Net Worth, Joan Van Ark boasts an estimated net worth of around $10 million.

What are your thoughts on Joan Van Ark and her portrayals in “Dallas” and “Knots Landing”? Share your opinions in the comment section below.

In the meantime, if you’re eager to see more of Joan’s performances in the future, don’t forget to share this article!

The Evolution of Joan Van Ark: From Leading Lady on ‘Dallas’ and ‘Knots Landing’ to Devoted Wife and Mother.
Mariah Carey,54, faces backlash over her red carpet attire – ‘this is not something you should be wearing’.