Family & Companions
This tall, blonde actress went from being the journalist mother on the ABC sitcom "Growing Pains" to becoming one of the queens of TV-movies in the 1990s. Joanna Kerns began her career as a dancer and gymnast and turned to acting after realizing that a chorine's career is short and if she wanted to be in show business, she had better learn how to act. As such, Kerns, then billed as Joanna de Varona danced in "Clown Around," a show which closed before reaching Broadway, and at Disneyland, before being cast in the touring company of John Guare's musicalization of Shakespeare's "Two Gentlemen of Verona." Kerns then moved to New York where she studied acting with Lee Strasberg and was cast in several small parts in the Broadway production of "Ulysses in Nighttown" (1974). She also was successful in TV commercials--at one point she had an extraordinary 18 national spots running simultaneously. But although Kerns would later direct an L.A. stage production of "What Every Woman Knows" (1989), her New York period of study was just a preamble to her career in TV, and to a lesser extent, in films
Kerns' feature appearances have been infrequent, beginning with a small role in "Coma" (1978), and include the Martin Short vehicle "Cross My Heart" (1987), as Michael Ontkean's confused wife in "Street Justice" (1989) and as the artist aunt in "An American Summer" (1991). Mostly, Kerns has been a TV actor. She appeared in numerous episodics, including "Laverne & Shirley" and "Magnum, P.I.," and made her TV-movie debut in "The Million Dollar Rip-Off" (NBC, 1976). She went on to appear in both "Mother's Day on Waltons Mountain" and "A Wedding on Walton's Mountain" (both NBC 1982) and the miniseries "V" (NBC, 1983), before landing her first regular series role as Pat Devon, the stuntwoman girlfriend of real estate salesman Tony Roberts in the short-lived "The Four Seasons" (CBS, 1984). The next year, she was cast as Maggie Seaver, the mother who returns to journalism leaving her husband (Alan Thicke) to tend his psychiatric practice and their kids after school on "Growing Pains" (ABC, 1985-1992).
During the series' run, Kerns began churning out TV-movies, sometimes at a rate of two or three a year. Among some of the memorable ones were "The Preppie Murder" (ABC, 1989), as prosecutor Linda Fairstein; "Blind Faith" (NBC, 1990), as a murder victim; "The Big One: The Great Los Angeles Earthquake" (NBC, 1990), as a scientist braving the destroyed city to locate her daughter; "Shameful Secrets" (ABC, 1993), as a battered woman fighting for custody of her daughter; and "No One Could Protect Her" (ABC, 1996), as a woman hunting a serial rapist. Kerns often was involved in the development and production of these projects and, with a writing partner, occasionally wrote teleplays, including a 1989 episode of "Growing Pains" that was one of the highest-rated of the season.
Director (Feature Film)
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Cast (TV Mini-Series)
At age 13, moved to Fresno to pursue gymnastics
Toured US and Canada in company of "Two Gentlemen of Verona" (billed as Joanna de Varona)
Broadway debut, "Ulysses in Nightown" (billed as Joanna de Varona)
TV-movie debut, "The Million Dollar Rip-Off" (NBC)
Film debut, "Coma" (billed as Joanna Kerns)
Debut as series regular playing stuntwoman Pat Devon on the CBS sitcom "The Four Seasons"
Cast as journalist Maggie Seaver on the long-running ABC sitcom "Growing Pains"
Had featured role in short film "Love Struck"; film earned Oscar nomination as Best Short Subject (Live Action)
Directed "What Every Woman Knows" at the Coast Ensemble Theatre in L.A.
Wrote episode of "Growing Pains" entitled "Gues Who's Coming to Dinner?"
Starred in miniseries, "The Big One: The Great Los Angeles Earthquake"
Starred in TV-movie, "No One Could Protect Her"
Played Winona Ryder's mother in "Girl, Interrupted"
Cast as the alcoholic WASP mother of a gay man (Richard Ruccolo) in "All Over the Guy"