Joan Van Ark rose to fame as Valene Ewing on Dallas, but foremost the spinoff series Knots Landing. The actress reprised her role in 2012 for one episode, and today, she’s happily married to her high school sweetheart with whom she’s had one daughter.
Van Ark has gotten older, but the 78-year-old is still going strong. This is all you need to know about Joan Van Ark’s life – and why she claims that the downfall of Knots Landing was all her fault.
Joan Van Ark was born on June 16, 1943, in New York City, New York, as one of four children of Dorothy Jean Van Ark and Carroll Van Ark. She and her family moved to Boulder, Colorado when she was 7 years old, and later in her career, the change of setting helped her plenty.
Joan Van Ark – early life & career
Even though her parents – with her mother working as a writer and her father in public relations – never worked in the film business, Van Ark knew from the start that she wanted to become an actress.
She told We Love Soaps that when the quarterback of her high school football team didn’t invite her to prom, Joan decided that she was to work in show business.
“That developed more in Boulder. I auditioned for a play at the Community Playhouse. The quarterback on the football team didn’t ask me to the prom, so I said, ‘Screw boys,’ and went and auditioned for a play,” Joan Van Ark recalled.
“I didn’t get the part I auditioned for but got the flower girl and the bug bit. I did a monologue as my audition, and you could hear a pin drop. They complimented me so much I said, ‘Who needs guys?’
While performing in Denver, Van Ark met actress Julie Harris while interviewing her for a local newspaper, and the actress persuaded her to study acting and drama at the Yale Drama School.
As a result, Van Ark became the youngest student ever to receive a scholarship to the well-respected school and the second woman ever to enroll. The first woman was Julie Harris, who helped Van Ark into the school.
“She 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,” she recalled.” It was meant to be.”
Valene Ewing on ‘Dallas’ and ‘Knots Landing’
Van Ark began her professional career at the Minneapolis Guthrie Theater, where she starred in The Miser by Moliere. After working about a year at the Arena Stage in Washington DC, she moved down to work with the national touring company Barefoot in the Park in 1963, which led to her Broadway debut. In 1971, she was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play after starring in The School for Wives.
At that point, Joan Van Ark had begun working in front of a screen rather than on stage. She appeared on television series including Temperature’s Rising, Spider-Woman, and Days of Our Lives and even in one episode of Bonanza.
Even though Joan Van Ark wasn’t short of jobs, she was still looking for her significant breakthrough role as the 1980s approached. In 1978, she made several appearances as Valene Ewing on Dallas – which led her to the role of a lifetime.
Knots Landing – a spinoff of Dallas – premiered in 1979, and Joan Van Ark reprised her role as Valene Ewing. She starred in 327 episodes – acting alongside Michele Lee as Karen and Ted Schakleford as Gary – and became a massive star.
Even though it was a spinoff of Dallas – about the rotten but wealthy Ewing Clan – it was initially brought to CBS years before.
However, the network wanted a “big rich family” show, and Dallas got picked as the one. But later on, Knots Landing became a massive success as the studio realized how big of a show Dallas had grown into, and after only one season, it rose into the top 20 in TV ratings.
How Joan Van Ark almost missed out on her biggest role
Knots Landing became the story of Gary Ewing and his wife Valene – played by Van Ark – and how they decided to start a new life in Knots Landing.
However, Van Ark almost missed out on the part of Valene Ewing. She explained that she had a “three-way clash” where she did The Love Boat simultaneously, as well as a commercial in New York.
In the end, it was her husband – John Marshall, who we will come back to in a minute – that persuaded her into choosing Dallas. And it was a significant – and important – decision.
“I got the call asking me to do a guest appearance in this show called Dallas, which was attracting a lot of buzz, but I said to my husband, ‘John, why should I even read this script? I can’t be in three places at once,’” she told Express. “Then he read it and said, ‘No, you’ve got to do it. It looks wonderful.’”