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 fleur-de-lis symbol.

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 launched.

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 finale.

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 nomination.

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.

2003

Hard to believe this picture was taken about a month ago, but it's true. All that running is paying off!


This candleholder, with fleur-de-lis top, is from a wall in van Ark's guest bathroom.


Joan of Arc book is surrounded by candles, all featuring the fleur-de-lis, connoting French royalty.


The gorgeous tapestry, which hangs in Joan's home, features dozens of fleur-de-lis.


Joan was only 18 when she portrayed her namesake, Joan of Arc. Note the fleur-de-lis on her shirt.

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