The Evolution of Joan Van Ark: From ‘Dallas’ and ‘Knots Landing’ Star to Devoted Mother and Wife

Joan Van Ark gained fame for her role as Valene Ewing in “Dallas,” but she is most recognized for her work in the spinoff series, “Knots Landing.” In 2012, she made a brief return to the show, and she is currently happily married to her high school sweetheart, with whom she shares a child.

Now at 78 years old, Joan Van Ark continues to thrive. Here’s an overview of her life and why she believes the demise of “Knots Landing” was her responsibility.

Born on June 16, 1943, in New York City to Dorothy Jean Van Ark and Carroll Van Ark, Joan was one of four children. The family moved to Boulder, Colorado when she was seven, a change that later played a crucial role in her career.

Despite her parents having no ties to the film industry—her mother was a writer, and her father worked in public relations—Van Ark knew from an early age that she wanted to pursue acting.

Joan revealed to We Love Soaps that her decision solidified during high school when the football team’s quarterback didn’t invite her to the prom. She decided to audition for a play instead and, though not landing the intended role, discovered her passion for acting.

Meeting actress Julie Harris during an interview for a Denver newspaper was a turning point. Harris encouraged Van Ark to pursue acting at Yale School of Drama. She became the school’s youngest scholarship recipient and only the second female student, thanks to Harris’s recommendation.

Van Ark’s professional career began at the Minneapolis Guthrie Theater, followed by performances in Moliere’s “The Miser” and a national tour with “Barefoot in the Park.” Her Broadway debut came after a stint at the Arena Stage in Washington DC, leading to a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Play in 1971 after her role in “The School for Wives.”

Transitioning to screen roles, Van Ark appeared in TV shows like “Temperature’s Rising,” “Spider-Woman,” “Days of Our Lives,” and a single episode of “Bonanza.”

Despite numerous opportunities, her breakthrough came in the late 1970s with guest appearances on “Dallas” as Valene Ewing. This eventually led to her iconic role in “Knots Landing.

“Knots Landing,” a spinoff of “Dallas,” made its debut in 1979, featuring Joan Van Ark reprising her role as Valene Ewing. Van Ark starred in 327 episodes alongside Michele Lee as Karen and Ted Shackelford as Gary, propelling her to fame.

Interestingly, the concept for “Knots Landing” was initially pitched to CBS years before as a spinoff about the wealthy Ewing Clan, but CBS opted for the “big rich family” show, choosing “Dallas” instead. However, with the soaring popularity of “Dallas,” “Knots Landing” became a massive success, entering the top 20 in TV ratings after just one season.

Joan Van Ark almost missed out on her significant role as Valene Ewing. She faced a scheduling conflict with a “three-way clash” involving her performances on “The Love Boat” and a commercial in New York simultaneously. It was her husband, John Marshall, who persuaded her to go to Dallas, a decision that turned out to be pivotal for her career.

“I got a call asking me to do a guest appearance in this show called Dallas, which was getting a lot of attention, but I told my husband, ‘John, why should I even read this script?’ Then he read it and told me, ‘No, you’ve got to do it. It looks fantastic.'”

Despite the challenging schedule, with Van Ark shuttling between LA, Dallas, and New York, she committed to a 15-year journey with “Dallas” and “Knots Landing.” Her connection with actress Julie Harris, whom she met in her early career, was rekindled when Harris was cast as the mother of Van Ark’s character in “Knots Landing.”

On this casting choice, Van Ark shared in a 1984 interview with Florida Today, “I held my breath when the producers told me they had finally found someone to play my mother. Then they announced it was Julie Harris, and I nearly passed out. I couldn’t believe she’d been chosen to be my mother. They had no idea we were buddies.”

Van Ark remained on the show for 13 seasons and 327 episodes. “Knots Landing” concluded in 1993, just one season after her departure. Her decision to leave was not due to dissatisfaction but rather a focus on pursuing new opportunities.

“I could stay on the show forever and be safe,” Van Ark told the Los Angeles Times in 1992. “However, three years ago, I performed Night of the Iguana in Williamstown (Mass.), and I had a quote from Tennessee Williams taped to my mirror, taken from an essay he wrote on success. It stated, and I’m quoting, that ‘security is in the shape of a kidney-shaped pool in Los Angeles, where you sit waiting for your residual checks.’ On Knots, I was in a comfortable situation, and an artist should never be comfortable.”

Simultaneously, the television series became a significant aspect of Van Ark’s life. Even though she felt at ease leaving, it was a difficult blow since she imagined it would be simpler.

She blamed herself for the cancellation of ‘Knots Landing.’

“I have loved more than life the 13 years I’ve had on that show,” she continued. “[Knots Landing creator] David Jacobs has had a huge impact on my life, teaching me so much about so many things. Ted [Shackelford] is the other half of every breath I take on the show, and he’s a big part of my heart as well. The individuals are my family; we’ve been through marriages, deaths, and divorces together. It’s much more tough to go than I anticipated.”

Van Ark accepted responsibility for the show’s cancellation, stating, “It was all my fault. I went to NBC to do a pilot that didn’t sell. After fourteen years with the same lady, I was ready to go, so I auditioned for the pilot, and they cast me. It was not as smoothly arranged as it could have been. When the pilot didn’t sell, they called me back, and I completed the show’s four-hour conclusion.”

Joan Van Ark transitioned away from soap operas but continued to appear in several television shows, including “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and acted in a few television movies. She played Gloria Fisher in 55 episodes of the highly acclaimed television serial “The Young and the Restless” between 2004 and 2005.

Joan Van Ark, who has been married to her high school sweetheart, John Marshall, since 1966, reflected on their enduring relationship. Their daughter, Vanessa Marshall, also pursued a career in entertainment as a well-known voice-over artist.

Van Ark praised her husband for keeping the family together during her busy career, saying, “He is the reason we have the most wonderful daughter in the world and that our marriage has stayed strong.”

Despite being a successful actress, Van Ark’s net worth is estimated to be around $10 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. She has continued to stay active in her career, participating in various theatrical plays and starring in television shows and films.