Joanna Kerns reached the peak of her fame during the mid-1980s and early 1990s with her popular role of Maggie Seaver on the long running family sitcom “Growing Pains” (1985-1992). She later reprised the role in two TV films, “The Growing Pains Movies” (2000) and “Growing Pains: Return of the Seavers” (2004). The tall, blonde beauty was also seen in “The Preppie Murder” (1989), “Blind Faith” (1990), “The Big One: The Great Los Angeles Earthquake” (1990), “Shameful Secrets” (1993) and “No One Could Protect Her” (1996), and has appeared as a guest on a number of TV series. Kerns rarely appeared in feature films since making her debut in 1978's “Coma.” In 2007, she returned to film after six years in “Knocked Up,” playing the mom of Katherine Heigl.
As a director, Kerns has lent her talent to numerous TV programs, including “Ally McBeal” (1999-2001), “Ghost Whisperer” (2005), “Scrubs” (2004-2006) and “ER” (2006). She also directed the 1989 play “What Every Woman Knows.”
Kerns has a daughter named Ashley Kerns (born 1978) with her first husband, producer Richard Kerns (together from 1976 to 1984). She is currently married to Marc Appleton.
Childhood and Family:
Joanna Kerns was born Joanne Crussie DeVarona on February 12, 1953, in San Francisco, California. Her father, David Thomas DeVarona, was an insurance agent of Mexican-American ancestry and her mother, Martha Louise Smith, was from an Irish-American background and worked as a clothing store manager. She has two brothers, David and Kurt, and a sister, Donna, an Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer.
Joanna was married to producer Richard Kerns from 1976 to 1984. She met him in 1974 on a car commercial shoot. Their only daughter, Ashley Kerns, was born in 1978. On September 30, 1994, Joanna married her present husband Marc Appleton, whom she had dated since early 1991.
Behind The Camera
Born to an athletic family in which her older sister Donna won two gold medals in swimming at the 1964 summer Olympics, Joanna Kerns seriously chased a career in gymnastics for a time, but a knee injury in 1970 subsequently became an obstacle. She then turned her attention to dancing and soon moved on to acting. Billed as Joanna De Varona, Kerns won a role in “Clown Around,” a show that closed before reaching Broadway, and then in 1973, joined the touring company of John Guare's adaption of “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” After relocating to New York, where she studied under Lee Strasberg, she eventually made her Broadway debut in the 1974 production of “Ulysses in Nightown.” Concurrently, she emerged as a successful TV commercial act. At one point, she booked 18 national spots running simultaneously.
In 1976, Kerns landed her first TV film role, as Jessie, in the Freddie Prinze starring vehicle “The Million Dollar Rip-Off,” a crime/drama that was nominated for a Primetime Emmy. She continued to act in both “A Wedding on Walton's Mountain” and “Mother's Day on Walton’s Mountain” (both NBC, 1982), and the miniseries “V” (1983), as well as made guest appearances in a string of TV shows such as “Starsky and Hutch,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Rhoda,” “Laverne & Shirley,” “Three’s Company, and “Hill Street Blues” before getting her first series regular gig on the CBS sitcom “The Four Seasons” (1984), playing stuntwoman Pat Devon. She also appeared as Diane in the thriller/mystery “Coma” (1978), which starred Michael Douglas.
Kerns' big breakthrough arrived in 1985 when she was cast as Maggie Malone Seaver on the ABC sitcom “Growing Pains.” The series ran for seven years until 1992, during which time it won a number of awards, including two ASCAPs for Top TV Series and two Emmys for Outstanding Lighting Direction (Electronic) for a Comedy Series, and launched Kerns to prominence. She became established as one of the most popular television mothers of the late 1980s.
While starring on the show, Kerns could be seen in the TV films “Mistress (1987),” “Those She Left Behind” (1989), “The Preppie Murder” (1989, as prosecutor Linda Fairstein), “Blind Faith” (1990, as a murder victim), “The Big One: The Great Los Angeles Earthquake” (1990, as a scientist named Clare Winslow), “Deadly Intentions Again” (1991), “Captive” (1991) and “The Nightman” (1992). On the big screen, she supported Martin Short in the comedy film “Cross My Heart” (1987), starred as the confused wife of Michael Ontkean in “Street Justice” (1989) and portrayed Michael Landes' aunt in “An American Summer” (1991). In addition, she tried her hand at directing in the 1989 stage production of “What Every Woman Knows” at the Coast Ensemble Theatre in L.A.
Kerns was also seen in “Shameful Secrets” (1993) and “No One Could Protect Her” (1996). Other credits include “Mortal Fear” (1994), “Whose Daughter Is She” (1995), “Mother Knows Best” (1997), “Sisters and Other Strangers” (1997), “Emma's Wish” (1998) and “At the Mercy of a Stranger” (1999). She had a recurring role as Stephanie Serone on the series “Chicago Hope” (1998) and was cast as the mother of Winona Ryder in the feature film “Girl, Interrupted” (1999).
Kerns returned to her coveted role of Maggie Seaver for “The Growing Pains Movies” in 2000 and “Growing Pains: Return of the Seavers” in 2004. In between, she played the supporting role of the alcoholic mother of a gay man (played by Richard Ruccolo) in “All Over the Guy” (2001), a contemporary romantic comedy film directed by Julie Davis and written by Dan Bucatinsky, teamed up with Adam Frost, Kelly Ripa and Kristin Davis for the made-for-TV film “Someone to Love (2002), and appeared in an episode of the series “The Education of Max Bickford” (2002). She next played Judy on two episodes of “Less Than Perfect” (2003-2004). More recently, in 2007, she appeared as Katherine Heigl's mother in the movie “Knocked Up,” a comedy/romance written and helmed by Judd Apatow.
Since the early 1990s, Kerns has spent more time working behind the camera as a director. She has helmed episodes of several successful TV projects, such as “Suddenly Susan” (1996), “Dawson's Creek” (1998), “Ally McBeal” (1999-2001), “Boston Public” (2001), “Judging Amy” (2001), “Felicity” (2001-2002), “Ghost Whisperer” (2005), “Scrubs” (2004-2006), “ER” (2006) and more recently, “Army Wives” (2007). She has also worked on the TV films “Defending Our Kids: The Julie Posey Story” (2003) and “Growing Pains: Return of the Seavers” (2004).