Joanna Kerns was born on February 12, 1953 in San Francisco, California, U.S., is an American actress and director best known for her role as Maggie Seaver on the family situation comedy Growing Painsfrom 1985-1992.
Her father, David Thomas DeVarona, a Mexican-American, was an insurance agent and her mother, Martha Louise, 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. Their aunt is silent film actress Miriam Cooper.
Growing up, Kerns was in competition with her sister, Donna, who won two gold medals in swimming in 1964. 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 from swimming 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 here were she saw an advertisement for a Gene Kelly production called Clown Around. Joanna jumped at the chance to audition. She joked in an interview that she sent the casting crew a high school senior picture and all of her grades, hoping to get the part. Taking the part; however, would mean she would have to drop out of college and move to New York. Kerns jumped at the chance and did just that. 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).
Soon Joanna was looking for another job when she auditioned for a new series in 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 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 much different than Maggie Seaver from Growing Pains. One such performance that shocked audiences was her 1992 movie, The Nightman, in which Kerns played a sexual motel owner. Her many TV movies include: Those She Left Behind, Blind Faith, The Big One: The Great Los Angeles Earthquake, Shameful Secrets, No One Could Protect Her and many more.
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, but makes 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, and Army Wives.
Kerns has also made notable appearances in feature films, including A*P*E, Girl, Interrupted and the 2007 comedy Knocked Up.
She has also co-founded the Lucy Awards given to women in acting.
Kerns was a member of the Motion Picture and Television Fund Board of Trustees from 2004 through 2008.