|The Celebrity Collector
Joan van Ark collects items
with the fleur-de-lis symbol
By Ken Hall
So sure was Joan van Ark's
father that his daughter would become a famous star that he named
her after one of history's most prominent figures: the French
heroine Joan of Arc. "He thought it would look good on a marquee,"
Joan said with a laugh. Today, the actress, best known for her years
on "Dallas" and "Knot's Landing," collects, fittingly enough, the
Joan of Arc carried a white
banner that showed God blessing the French royal emblem -- the
fleur-de-lis -- when she led French troops to victory over the
English. Joan of Arc was, of course, eventually burned at the stake,
insuring her place in history as a martyr for the cause. But the
fleur-de-lis (which translates into English as "flower of the lily")
continued to represent French royalty.
The fleur-de-lis symbol
depicts a stylized lily (or lotus flower) with three petals.
Traditionally, these petals represent perfection, light and life,
but in Christian circles they can also signify the Holy Trinity. The
Roman Catholic Church ascribed the lily as the special emblem of the
Virgin Mary. Some military units, even in the U.S. Army, have used
the fleur-de-lis to signify martial power and strength.
Today, the fleur-de-lis
often turns up as a decorative design on bronze, brass or silver
pieces. The items are almost always upscale and elegant, two words
that could easily be used to describe Joan van Ark. The actress is
known for playing wealthy, well-appointed women of means, so it's
probably no accident she feels a special kinship toward a symbol
that connotes royalty and class.
Van Ark's collection is
fairly broad-based and freewheeling. It includes bathroom candles, a
large Italian paper clip, a cut glass necklace, a gold letter
opener, a pair of front door mats, votive candleholders, a blue
hanging tapestry, personal stationery and note paper, bookends and
frosted tumblers. And, she has a sugar spoon with Joan of Arc
herself perched on top, waving her banner.
Many of the items were
given to her as gifts, some by her husband (TV anchorman John
Marshall), her daughter Vanessa (the couple's only child and a
voice-over talent), her sister Carol (a writer and lecturer), her
hairdresser Laurent D (whose salon, Privé, is frequented by the
stars) and her personal assistant, Rande. The fleur-de-lis is
scattered throughout Joan's Studio City, Calif., home.
"I don't purposely display
them," van Ark pointed out, noting that nothing in her collection
has been put into hutches or cabinets. "I love the fleur-de-lis
because I'm tied to it emotionally. Joan of Arc is my namesake. I
played her character while still in my teens, at a music festival
held at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Even back then, my
personal stationery had the fleur-de-lis on it."
Van Ark found out just how
dear her items were to her when three gold Joan of Arc medals that
she had bought in France while on her honeymoon in 1968 and always
wore for good luck while performing, were stolen. "I was in a play
called "Star Dust" at the Tiffany Theatre and laid them down in my
dressing room," she recounted. "I left for just a bit and when I
came back, they were gone."
Joan was devastated. "These
were the same medals I had given to my brother Dexter for good luck
when he went to fight in Vietnam," she said. "And I wore them all
the time when I worked, so it was an emotional loss. I didn't know
how I was ever going to replace them. I never did see them again.
They were little dime-sized medals I had bought while visiting Joan
of Arc's birthplace."
She shared her story with
Laurent, her hairdresser, who just happens to be from France, who
contacted his mother-in-law back home. "She found me a wonderful
little gold Joan of Arc medal, which I now wear for good luck," she
said. Van Ark's daughter, Vanessa, on a trip to the Joan of Arc
cathedral in Paris, brought back three silver medals, too. So Joan
was at least able to fill the void.
Joan van Ark was born in
New York City. Her father came from Holland (Holland, Michigan, that
is!) and provided well for his family with a career in advertising
and public relations. Once, while on a business trip to Denver, he
saw the city of Boulder from a hilltop and declared, "This is where
I want to raise my family." And so he did. Joan and her three
siblings all grew up in Boulder.
"With a view of Pike's Peak
to the left and Cheyenne, Wyoming, to the right, we really did have
an idyllic upbringing in a post-card setting," van Ark said, adding,
"My brother Mark still lives in the house we grew up in." Young Joan
displayed a penchant for dramatic arts early on. At age 10, she was
writing plays for herself and her little sister, Carol. Community
theatre followed soon after.
At age 15, van Ark set
Boulder on its ear with a powerful portrayal of Anne Frank. At
around the same time, the veteran actress Julie Harris was
performing in a play in Denver. Van Ark got to interview her, for an
article that ran in the Rocky Mountain News. "I asked her what I
should do after high school," van Ark said, "and she told me to
apply to the Yale Graduate School of Drama."
Harris had been accepted to
Yale as the youngest person ever admitted into the prestigious
dramatic arts program. It's a graduate curriculum, but in
exceptional cases (Harris was one and she felt Van Ark was, too)
Yale would accept a high school graduate. A letter of recommendation
from Harris brought Joan over the top. Years later, they played
mother and daughter in "Knot's Landing."
Julie Harris remains the
youngest person ever admitted to the Yale School of Drama; van Ark
is the second. After just one year at Yale, though, Joan auditioned
for the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, another prestigious venue.
She was accepted as a member of the ensemble company, and her career
as an equity card-carrying professional actor was officially
Van Ark's first performance
at the Guthrie was in Moliere's play "The Miser," opposite Hume
Cronyn and Zoe Caldwell, followed by "Death of a Salesman," with
Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. From there she became a resident ingenue
at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., then was cast in the
national touring company of Mike Nichols' "Barefoot in the Park."
All this before the age of 21!
Then, in the early '70s,
van Ark began turning up in guest roles on TV programs. Her first
regular nighttime series work was in the sitcoms "Temperatures
Rising" and "We've Got Each Other." Comedy was a strength, but with
her drop-dead gorgeous good looks, she was almost destined for the
soaps. It started with a role on the daytime drama "Days of Our
Lives," playing Janene Whitney. That proved to be the perfect segue
into "Dallas," the smash CBS nighttime series that begot "Knot's
Landing." Van Ark played Valene Ewing, the stand-by-your-man wife,
in both shows. She was in "Dallas" in the early '80s and "Knot's
Landing" through 1993. She also directed several episodes of
"Knot's" and was a key character in the program's two-hour series
Over the years, van Ark has
been busy doing voice-over work for cartoon shows such as "Santo
Bugito" and "Spiderwoman." She's also made numerous guest
appearances on TV shows and in made-for-TV movies. She continues to
act onstage, too, in productions such as "Camino Real," "The Vagina
Monologues" and, most recently, "The Exonerated" in New York City.
Her work in Moliere's "School For Wives" earned her a Tony
Van Ark stays mentally
sharp and physically fit by running 8-10 miles a day (except when
she's working, when it's not always possible). "I'm addicted," she
once told TV Guide. "I need to run every day. If I don't I feel
cheated." She's competed in more than a dozen marathons, including
the grueling Boston Marathon. "Running is a great way to relieve
stress and clear the mind," she said.
Fans of Joan van Ark may
write to the star c/o Sterling Winters Company, 10877 Wilshire
Blvd., 15th floor, Los Angeles, CA 90024.
to believe this picture was taken about a month ago, but it's true.
All that running is paying off!
candleholder, with fleur-de-lis top, is from a wall in van Ark's
of Arc book is surrounded by candles, all featuring the
fleur-de-lis, connoting French royalty.
gorgeous tapestry, which hangs in Joan's home, features dozens of
was only 18 when she portrayed her namesake, Joan of Arc. Note the
fleur-de-lis on her shirt.