Joan Van Ark: From Hollywood Success to Iconic TV Role

Recognize her? Better sit before you learn her true identity…

Joan Van Ark, the renowned actress who has graced Hollywood for many years, is best known for her role as Valene Ewing in the beloved primetime soap opera Knots Landing. Her portrayal of Valene not only established her reputation in the film industry but also solidified her place among TV legends.

Born on June 16, 1943, in the vibrant city of New York, Joan always felt a magnetic pull towards the world of Hollywood. Her passion for performing arts started at a young age. During a performance in Denver, she had a life-changing encounter with legendary actress Julie Harris. Harris, realizing Joan’s talent, urged her to pursue her dreams and attend the prestigious Yale Drama School. With Harris’s support, Joan became only the second woman to enroll in the esteemed 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,” reminisced Joan. “It was meant to be.”

After several years of theater experience, Joan ventured into television. She appeared in popular TV series such as Temperature’s Rising, Spider-Woman, Days of Our Lives, and even made a guest appearance on Bonanza. However, it was her recurring role as Valene Ewing on the hit series Dallas in 1978 that paved the way for her most iconic role. As Dallas gained immense popularity, the network decided to create a spin-off called Knots Landing, and Joan reprised her beloved character of Valene Ewing. Interestingly, Knots Landing was actually written before Dallas, but the producers opted to work on Dallas first due to its focus on a “big rich family” dynamic.

Joan’s husband played a significant role in her decision to accept the offer to be part of Knots Landing. At the time, she was already juggling two other projects. Little did she know that fate had a surprising twist in store for her when the character of Valene Ewing’s mother was introduced. The role was assigned to none other than Joan’s dear friend and mentor, Julie Harris. “When the producers told me they had finally found someone to play my mother, I held my breath,” she shared 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.”

Joan Van Ark’s unforgettable portrayal of Valene Ewing spanned an impressive 13 seasons and 327 episodes of Knots Landing. Although it was a bittersweet decision to leave the show, Joan knew she needed to embrace new challenges. As the series came to an end a season later, Joan blamed herself for its cancellation. Reflecting on the remarkable journey, she expressed her deep affection for the show. “I have loved more than life the 13 years I’ve had on that show,” she shared. “[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.”

Following her departure from Knots Landing, Joan Van Ark continued to grace the small screen with her talent. She made appearances in various other series, including her role as Gloria Fisher in The Young and The Restless. Joan’s remarkable journey and contributions to the entertainment industry have left an indelible mark, ensuring she will forever be remembered as a Hollywood icon.