Though blonde actress Joanna Kerns may be best known for her breakthrough role as Maggie Seaver on the popular 1980s television sitcom Growing Pains, the seasoned actress-turned-director has subsequently made quite a name for herself behind the camera by taking the reigns of such popular small-screen series as Ally McBeal, Felicity, Judging Amy, and Boston Public. Born Joanna Cruisse de Varona in San Francisco in 1953, the talented teen pursued many avenues before eventually discovering her love of acting. Though she would compete unsuccessfully for a spot on the 1968 Olympics Gymnastics team (her sister Donna would later take home the gold medal for swimming), she remained steadfast in her athleticism and subsequently dropped out of high school to tour with the Gene Kelly stage musical Clown Around. It wasn't long before she gained affection for the spotlight, and following a move to New York, the aspiring young actress could be spotted in a Broadway production of Ulysses in Nighttown. A move back to the West Coast resulted in numerous film and television roles, and as her television career continued to take off, the up-and-coming actress married producer Richard Kerns. On the heels of minor roles in such films as Ape (1976) and Coma (1978), roles in Magnum, P.I., The A-Team, and Hill Street Blues made Kerns a familiar face to television viewers, and by the time she accepted the role of loving mother Maggie Seaver, Kerns had also turned heads in Hunter and V. Balancing out her seven-year run on Growing Pains with numerous made-for-television feature roles, Kerns ultimately realized that her small-screen fame would inevitably be short-lived, and that realization eventually led her to step behind the camera as a frequent director for the series. Of course, her prediction did come true, and after Growing Pains went off the air in 1992, Kerns juggled acting and directing in television throughout the 1990s in addition to remarrying Mark Appleton following the breakup of her previous marriage. After helming many of the decade's most popular shows, Kerns brought in the new millennium with a role as Winona Ryder's distant mother in Girl, Interrupted before experiencing something of a family reunion with 2000's The Growing Pains Movie. Kerns' frequent recognition of her Spanish roots has also made her something of a role model to Chicano and Latino youth. In 2007 the sitcom Mom was cast as the mother of Alison, the ambitious television producer Knocked Up by Seth Rogen, and in 2009 Kerns wrote and directed the short The Gold Lunch.
Biography by Jason Buchanan
- Tried out for the 1968 Olympic gymnastics team, placing 14th out of a field of 28. After a knee injury sidelined her, she turned to dancing.
- Dropped out of college to tour with the Broadway-bound production Clown Around, helmed by Gene Kelly.
- Performed at Disneyland before receiving her big break in the touring company of John Guare's musical adaption of Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona (1973).
- Studied acting with Lee Strasberg, Peggy Feury, Jeff Corey and David Craig.
- A success in TV commercials, Kerns once had 18 national spots running at the same time.
- Seminal role was as frazzled journalist mom Maggie Seaver in the sitcom Growing Pains (1985-92).
- Continued acting after Growing Pains ended but shifted her focus to directing as well as developing, writing and producing TV-movies.
- Co-founded the Lucy Awards, entertainment awards named in honor of Lucille Ball.