|Born||Joanna Crussie DeVarona
February 12, 1953
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Kerns was born Joanne Crussie DeVarona in San Francisco, California. Her father, David Thomas DeVarona, was an insurance agent, and her mother, Martha Louise (née Smith), was a clothing store manager. Kerns is the third child of four. She has an older brother and a younger brother, as well as an older sister. Her older sister, Donna de Varona, is a famed Olympic gold medal swimmer, who won 2 gold medals in the 1964 Olympics. Their aunt is silent film actress Miriam Cooper.
Growing up, Kerns was constantly in competition with her sister, Donna Kerns stated in an interview, "Donna was the golden girl. There was pressure inside me to duplicate Donna's success" (Wallace 16). Joanna tried swimming, but realized it was not her sport, so she switched to gymnastics. In fact, Joanna became so good at gymnastics that she competed in the Olympic trials in 1968 and ranked 14th out of 28 (Wallace 16).
Kerns got her start in show business as a dancer before turning to acting. She attended UCLA and majored in dance. It was there that she saw an advertisement for a Gene Kelly production called Clown Around and immediately jumped at the chance to audition. She joked in an interview that she sent the casting crew a high school senior picture of herself and all of her grades, hoping to get the part. In order to take the part; however, she would have to drop out of college and move to New York which is exactly what she did. After Clown Around, Joanna also got parts in the New York Shakespeare Festival's production of Two Gentlemen of Verona' and Ulysses in Nighttown, where she was directed by Burgess Meredith (Wallace 16).
Meredith and Kerns had a wonderful working relationship. Later in life, Kerns recalled that Burgess Meredith was a great influence on her, saying, "Burgess was the one person who really influenced my acting career" (Radovsky). Meredith also introduced Kerns to Peggy Feury, whom Kerns studied acting under. In 1972, she moved back to California and landed a job as a backup dancer at Disneyland and started auditioning for TV commercials and steady acting jobs. On May 4, 1977, she made an appearance on Charlie's Angels as Natalie, a worker at a massage parlor, in the episode The Blue Angels.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Kerns turned heads and started making a name for herself in guest spots on many televisions shows that included: The A-Team, Starsky & Hutch, Street Hawk, Laverne and Shirley, Three's Company, Hill Street Blues, The Love Boat, Hunter, Magnum, P.I. and V, as well as many commercials. During an interview, Kerns said, "I kind of was always looking for the next thing; I auditioned for anything, hoping to get a big break" (Lifetime's Intimate Portrait). Then, Kerns got her first steady acting job in 1983, starring as Pat Devon in a new CBS series called The Four Seasons, which lasted only one season. The sitcom was about three couples who all lived under the same roof in California. Although the show was not received well by television critics, her part proved to producers that she was capable of acting as a leading lady.
Soon after the cancellation of The Four Seasons, Kerns was looking for another job when she auditioned for a new series in late 1984, called Growing Pains. She auditioned with Alan Thicke, who was just coming off of the failure of his TV talk show Thicke of the Night. Kerns joked in many interviews that she and Alan had immediate chemistry, especially when she kissed him on his nose by accident during their audition together. Kerns and Thicke's chemistry won them both the parts, and the two became great friends off the show. (They both had many things in common, including both being newly divorced and both being single parents).
During the success of Growing Pains, Kerns began to star in television movies where she played controversial parts very different from the beloved all-American mom, Maggie Seaver. One such performance that shocked audiences was her 1992 movie, The Nightman, in which Kerns played a highly sexual business woman who was a motel owner. Her many TV movies include: Those She Left Behind, Blind Faith, The Big One: The Great Los Angeles Earthquake, Shameful Secrets, and No One Could Protect Her.
Post-Growing Pains roles and directing career
After Growing Pains ended, Kerns turned to directing. She was granted the opportunity to direct one episode of Growing Pains while starring on the show and got hooked. In an interview, Kerns stated, "Directing is where I've always wanted to go" (Radovsky 38). She loved directing and decided to change the focus of her career from acting to directing, while continuing to make rare appearances in front of the camera when the right part comes along. She has also directed episodes of television shows including Dawson's Creek, Titans, Scrubs, Private Practice, Psych, Grey's Anatomy, Privileged, ER, Ghost Whisperer, Army Wives, Pretty Little Liars, and Switched at Birth. Kerns even got a big break when she was able to direct Annie Potts in an original made for television movie for Lifetime TV entitled: "Defending Our Kids: The Julie Posey Story". Since then, Kerns has directed a number of shorts.
She has also co-founded the Lucy Awards given to women in acting.
In 1974, Kerns met commercial producer, Richard Kerns, on the set of a commercial and they married 2 years later. Their marriage lasted 9 years and produced a daughter, Ashley Cooper. Immediately after the dissolution of her marriage, Kerns won the role of Maggie Seaver on Growing Pains. She is now married to prominent Los Angeles architect Marc Appleton.
|1976||A*P*E||Marilyn Baker||as Joanna DeVarona|
|The Million Dollar Rip-Off||Jessie||TV movie|
|1977||"The Blue Angels"||Natalie Sands||Charlie's Angels Television Series|
|1980||Marriage Is Alive and Well||Meg||TV movie|
|1982||A Wedding on Walton's Mountain||Doris Marshall||TV movie|
|Mother's Day on Waltons Mountain||Doris Marshall||TV movie|
|1983||V||Marjorie Donovan||TV miniseries|
|1984||The Return of Marcus Welby, M.D.||TV movie|
|1985||A Bunny's Tale||Andrea||TV movie|
|Stormin' Home||Lana Singer||TV movie|
|The Rape of Richard Beck||Anita Parrish||TV movie|
|Cross My Heart||Nancy|
|1989||Street Justice||Catherine Watson||TV movie|
|Those She Left Behind||Diane Pappas||TV movie|
|The Preppie Murder||Linda Fairstein||TV movie|
|1990||Blind Faith||Maria Marshall||TV movie|
|The Great Los Angeles Earthquake||Dr. Clare Winslow||TV movie|
|1991||An American Summer||Aunt Sunny|
|Deadly Intentions... Again?||Sally||TV movie|
|Captive||Kathy Plunk||TV movie|
|1992||The Nightman||Eve||TV movie|
|Desperate Choices: To Save My Child||Mel Robbins||TV movie|
|1993||Not in My Family||Veronica Ricci||TV movie|
|The Man with Three Wives||Katy||TV movie|
|Shameful Secrets||Maryanne Walker-Tate||TV movie|
|1994||No Dessert, Dad, till You Mow the Lawn||Carol Cochran|
|Mortal Fear||Dr. Jennifer Kessler||TV movie|
|1995||See Jane Run||Jane Ravenson||TV movie|
|Whose Daughter Is She?||Laura Eagerton||TV movie|
|1996||No One Could Protect Her||Jessica Rayner||TV movie|
|Terror in the Family||Cynthia Martin||TV movie|
|1997||Mother Knows Best||Celeste Cooper||TV movie|
|Sisters and Other Strangers||Gail Connelly Metzger||TV movie|
|1998||Emma's Wish||Emma||TV movie|
|1999||At the Mercy of a Stranger||Elizabeth Cooper||TV movie|
|Girl, Interrupted||Annette Kaysen|
|2000||The Growing Pains Movie||Maggie Malone Seaver||TV movie|
|2001||All Over the Guy||Lydia|
|Someone to Love||Matt's mother||TV movie|
|2004||Growing Pains: Return of the Seavers||Maggie Seaver||TV movie|
|2007||Knocked Up||Mrs. Scott|
|MaNiC||Dr. Kerns||Short film|
- Scott, Vernon. "Joanna Kerns: At Long Last Love" Good Housekeeping. July 1991.
- Wallace, David. "Kerns Turns". Philip Morris Magazine. Spring 1991.