Knots Landing did very well for a series that was a spin-off from another series. Its creator, David Jacobs, cleverly incorporated characters from Dallas, the 1970s soap opera, into Knots Landing. The series recounts the hardships of four families who live on a suburban cul-de-sac in California.
The show missed nothing about these families’ crazy world. Murder, kidnapping, blackmail, drug smuggling, life-threatening surgeries, money embezzlement schemes, romance, and deception were all on the menu. Knots Landing provided plenty of action for the audience thanks to the cast and crew who brought every scene to life.
The Knotty Landing So Far
When Knots Landing ended its final season, it was the third longest-running prime time drama in American television history. It received four Emmy nominations in addition to a Golden Globe nomination. It was also given a special accolade at the TV Land Icon Awards to commemorate the show’s 30th anniversary.
People have always wondered what made the show so amazing. Unlike most shows that focus on a theme or concept, Knots Landing was mostly about people, and the story was centered on the show’s relatable characters, making it easy for viewers to form a bond with them.
It’s Deserving of a Throwback #TBKnotsLanding
The role of Laura Avery Sumner, the oppressed wife of Greg Sumner, was written with actress Constance McCashin in mind. The true charisma of the actress would inevitably be woven into the script, making this the kind of excellent action all the actors brought to life on the screen.
Knots Landing ran for fourteen years, and during its peak seasons, it gained a lot of popularity. Almost three decades later, fans are still curious about their favorite actors from the series. It’s time to keep up with the cast and crew of Knots Landing! Come along as we find out the status of the Knots Landing stars.
Retirement Looks Good on Lankford
Kim Lankford, born Kimberly Dorn Lankford on June 14, 1954, in Montebello, California, played the part of Ginger Ward, one of Knots Landing’s initial lead characters. She starred in the first four seasons of the show before quitting in 1983.
Her character, Ginger, met and married upcoming record producer Kenny Ward. They had a daughter, Erin Molly, and then moved out of Knots Landing to pursue careers as country music singers in Nashville, Tennessee.
A Controversial Romance for the Cast
In the 1990s, Lankford was a guest star on TV shows In the Heat of the Night and Chicago Hope and acted in the films Missing Pieces (1992) and Night of the Running Man (1995). In 1996, Lankford co-hosted The Count Smokula Show, a cult public-access television cable TV series.
In 1997, Lankford returned to her role in Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac. She is now a retired actress but has her own horse business in Colorado. In 2015 she starred in HBO’s documentary series The Jinx because she once had a personal relationship with Robert Durst.
The Headline-Making Kim-Robert Scandal
Kim Lankford and Robert Durst, the focus of the The Jinx documentary who also starred in Knots Landing, were rumored to have been romantically involved. They apparently dated for 18 months before he abruptly broke off the relationship in 2000 when he announced his second marriage to Debrah Charatan.
Well, we’re glad all this didn’t happen while they were on the Knots Landing set. No vote for awkwardness from this end. Kim is still all about making the news even today as she is focused on running a very successful business. Moving on, let’s check out the Chicago-born actress who played Laura Avery Sumner in Knots Landing. We enjoyed her in all her glory on screen.
Constance Gets to Keep Her Man in Both Realities
Knots Landing character Laura Avery Sumner was Richard Avery’s wife until their divorce. She later married Greg Sumner. She went from being an abused housewife to being a successful real estate salesperson. Her character died of a brain tumor in 1987.
That ending came because the producers had to let actress Constance McCashin go. According to McCashin, who spoke to The Boston Globe in 2009, “I was very hurt by the way I was let go for financial reasons. I wish they’d handled my demise better.” Either way, we choose to focus on the bright side.
Newfound Passion for Laura Avery Sumner
It’s fascinating that Constance had formerly worked with David Jacobs, the creator of Knots Landing, on a film. Jacobs wrote the character of Laura Sumner with her in mind. One of the directors, Sam Wiseman, Constance’s real-life husband, appeared in an episode as one of Laura’s real estate customers, and they exchanged a kiss on screen.
All these made Constance’s journey on Knots Landing kind of special. After checking, we found that she appeared on screen in 21 TV series, including Brooklyn Bridge and Family Ties. After her Hollywood career, she began working as a social worker and therapist, specializing in the treatment of eating disorders.
Another Favorite Cast Member Gone Too Early
Laura Sumner, the character who made an early exit from the Knots Landing, wasn’t the only one. Don Murray who played Karen’s first husband, Sidney, and owned Knots Landing Motors, a used vehicle dealership, also had to say goodbye in season three of the series.
His character died when his car was sabotaged, and to be honest, Sidney was one of the few noble characters…lol. The actor was born Donald Patrick Murray and has had an active career since 1950. He has appeared in more than 60 movies, the most recent in his role as Zachariah in the 2021 movie Promise.
A Chance for Closure for Karen MacKenzie
Donald Murray, who was an Academy Award nominee for Best Supporting Actor, got this recognition for his breakout performance in the film Bus Stop with Marilyn Monroe. He is now 92 years old but is still passionate about acting and still very much in our faces on screen.
Don Murray’s and John Pleshette’s Last Landing
Don Murray’s last Knots Landing appearance was his contribution in an interview segment for Knots Landing: Together Again, a reunion special made in 2005. Don isn’t the only old crew member who’s still alive. John Pleshette, who played Richard Avery, the unhappy husband of Laura Avery Sumner, is now over 70 years old.
In the show, Richard Avery became a restaurant owner after working as a corporate lawyer. He struggled to express himself once Laura launched a lucrative real estate profession, which he was unhappy with. He eventually had a mental breakdown, during which he held Laura prisoner at gunpoint.
An Unstable and Insecure Husband to Deal With
Richard Avery divorced Laura in 1983. In 1987, he returned for a brief visit to attend her funeral and to assume custody of their two kids, Jason and Daniel. John Pleshette was also a contributor to the Knots Landing series, writing eight episodes of the script and directing five others.
John appeared in the 2016 movie The Wandering Day in the role of CS Longacre. In real life, he is the brother-in-law of Joel Oliansky and the uncle-in-law of Ingrid and Adam Oliansky. John is currently still active in show business with his wife and daughter.
Michele Lee Holds the Show’s Record
Michele Lee, who played the role of Karen MacKenzie on Knots Landing, is highly spoken of before and after she appeared on the show. Her character, Karen, was a community planner who eventually established herself as a successful businesswoman by cofounding Knots Landing Motors and Lotus Point with Gary and Abby.
Valene was Karen’s best friend, and they had been friends since the first day she arrived at Knots Landing. Diana, Eric, and Michael Fairgate were her on-screen children from her first marriage to Sidney Fairgate and afterwards to Mack MacKenzie. Karen and Mack later adopted Meg.
All Hail, Karen! The Knot of the Show
The character of Karen MacKenzie was a huge part of the show. She was in every episode since its premiere episode, which aired on December 27, 1979. She played Karen during the entire fourteen-season run of Knots Landing, making her the only cast member to appear in every episode.
Her presence in all 344 episodes of the show set an all-time record for an actress on American prime time television at the time. Karen’s plot revolved around family issues, financial dealings, addiction, and kidnapping. Critics, commentators, viewers, and even producers sang her praises.
The Songs of David
David Jacobs, the show’s creator, said, “Karen is the Knots mainstay. She says exactly what I want to say. She is the viewer’s voice.” Karen was also praised as “efficient, compassionate, and empathetic” by Entertainment Weekly. During an interview on The Late Show, Joan Rivers joked that Lee was the “First Lady of Knots Landing.”
Jamey Giddens of Pop Confidential also praised Lee, saying, “I can’t remember a more comforting prime time presence than Lee…. For 14 seasons, Lee’s Karen was the glue that held Knots together. Amid dead husbands, surprise stepdaughters, snatched up baby twins, philandering neighbors, and one hoe-ish sister-in-law, you could always count on Karen.”
Where Is the First Lady of Knots Landing Today?
Michele Lee continued to act after Knots Landing. One of her most well-known films is Along Came Polly (2004), and she also acted in the series How to Live with Your Parents in 2013. Michele is still very much incredibly gorgeous at the age of 79. She also got her happily ever after.
In 1966, Michele married actor James Farentino, and in 1969, their son David was born. After she separated from Farentino in 1983, she married writer and producer Fred Rappaport, whom she has been married to since 1987. We must also look at another vital character.
Kenneth Ward – A Repentant Family Man
For a show like Knots Landing that had a lot of rogues, not many cast members had the opportunity to change from their supposedly evil ways, but Kenneth “Kenny” Ward did. Jim Houghton, who was born James Carter Houghton, played the role of Kenneth Ward.
Kenny was a young record producer who cheated on his wife, Ginger, with many women but mostly with his neighbor’s daughter, Annie. Let’s just say that after Kenny and Ginger’s daughter Erin Molly was born, he found more reasons to come home and stopped snooping around.
What’s New with Jim?
Most people are unaware that Jim Houghton and his sister, Mona Houghton, wrote many episodes of the long-running series Knots Landing. Although he is most recognized for his role in seasons one through four of Knots Landing, Jim Houghton also appeared in several other shows.
He appeared as a guest star on Fantasy Island and The Love Boat, and had a tiny role in the ABC miniseries North and South. Since artists seldom lose their creativity, he returned as a script writer for The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful in the 1990s, a position he kept into the 2000s.
There’s No Knotty Landing without Gary Ewing
Garrison Arthur Ewing was a very unusual Knots Landing character. Sometimes known as Gary, this fictional character appears in all seasons of the show. He was the second son of Jock Ewing, the Dallas, Texas, oil baron, and his wife, Miss Ellie.
He was known as the family’s black sheep since he became an alcoholic and was never treated equally by his father and elder brother J.R. Ewing. Gary’s mother and younger brother Bobby, on the other hand, adored him. This role was played by Ted Shackelford.
Gary Holds the Record for the Most Rogue Romance
Ted Shackelford’s character, Gary, holds a record for marrying his wife, Valene, three times. Their love started when Gary ran away from home at age 17. Gary suffered a lot and never really enjoyed stability either in the family or in the business. Gary’s character struggled through most of the show.
He entered several businesses but couldn’t really see any of them to growth or a successful end. The show didn’t start with Shackelford initially playing the role. David Ackroyd started in the role in 1978, and Ted took over in 1979 and stayed until the end of the show.
Keeping Up with Ted Shackelford III
He was born Theodore Tillman Shackelford III on June 23, 1946. His most recent appearance was in an episode of the series NCIS where he played the role of Stewart. He is now a 75-year-old hottie who has appeared in a lot of television and film projects.
On Knots Landing, through many failures, addictions, recoveries, threats, pain, and homelessness, Gary’s first wife, Valene Ewing, stood by him. Their romance seemed endless even though it was very turbulent. Val was a strong woman who meant a lot of things to a lot of people.
Joan Van Ark as Valene “Val” Clements Ewing: A Die-Hard Lover
Everyone felt pity for Val Ewing. She was as unlucky as they came. Val met all sorts of hardships we can’t even keep up with. One example was when her first daughter was stolen. It’s hardly surprising that she’s been described as the head of “the strongest cast” by TV Guide.
Joan Van Ark who played Val got her soap opera debut in 1970 after appearing in Days of Our Lives. In 1972, she co-starred in the horror film Frogs alongside Sam Elliott. She was a series regular on The New Temperatures Rising Show from 1972 to 1974 and voiced Spiderwoman in the animated series in 1979.
Joan Stayed True to the Game
Knots Landing wasn’t the end of the road for Joan by any stretch of the imagination. She continued to thrive in showbiz after the show ended, appearing in a variety of films and television shows, including the thriller Held for Ransom and the popular sitcom The Nanny.
In 2004, she had a 55-episode run on The Young and the Restless. Joan has also run 14 marathons and was featured on the cover of Runner’s World magazine. She is in her late 70s and has been married to former NBC reporter John Marshall since 1966.
The Outstanding Julie Harris (Lilimae Clements)
Long before Knots Landing, Julie Harris made her Broadway debut in 1945, going against the desires of her mother who wanted her to be a society debutante. Julie was initially a guest star on the show, and you’ll remember her as the eccentric and protective mother of Val (Joan Van Ark).
Julie then returned to the show as a regular character from 1981 to 1987. She was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her performance in the part, as well as two Soap Opera Digest Award nominations for her performance.
A Fighter and a Terrific Career
Since Knots Landing ended, Julie Harris has had several roles in films and TV shows throughout the years, including The Woman He Loved, Too Good to Be True, The Civil War, and The Christmas Wife. Her last film role was in 2009 playing Mrs. Deacon in The Lightkeepers.
Harris has survived breast cancer, a severe fall requiring surgery, and two strokes. Impressively, she continued to work well into her 80s, narrating five historical documentaries. In 2013, she died at the age of 87 of congestive heart failure at her home in West Chatham, Massachusetts.
Celebrated by President George W. Bush
Julie Harris was named a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2005. President George W. Bush said during a White House ceremony, “It’s hard to imagine the American stage without the face, the voice, and the limitless talent of Julie Harris. She has found happiness in her life’s work. And we thank her for sharing that happiness with the whole world.
According to The New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley, she was “the actress who towered most luminously…rather like a Statue of Liberty for Broadway.” What a fulfilled life Julie Harris lived, an icon by all standards.
Plaudits for a Life Well Lived
In a Huffington Post tribute, Alec Baldwin, who played Lilimae Clements’ son on Knots Landing, lauded Julie Harris: “Her voice was like rainfall. Her eyes connected directly to and channeled the depths of her powerful and tender heart. Her talent, a gift from God.” Broadway also honored her in 2013.
They dimmed their theater lights for one minute. That same year at a Broadway memorial service, Joan Van Ark announced the establishment of the Julie Harris Scholarship, which provides annual aid to an actor studying at the Yale School of Drama. The first contribution came from Alec Baldwin.
Donna Mills as Abby Fairgate (also Cunningham, Ewing, and Sumner)
You’ll remember Abby as that soap vixen who came to town in season two of Knots Landing and just couldn’t stop causing trouble. She had her fair share of affairs, particularly her determination to get Gary. And she did. The rest, as you know, was commotion, starting with Val throwing Gary out.
Donna Mills, who played the part of Abby, said she handled all her own character, including makeup. We believe she’s right because she eventually launched her own eye makeup line and offered tutorials in the 1980s. Donna’s career took off in 1971 when she starred in Play Misty for Me alongside Clint Eastwood.
She Wasn’t Always the Villain
Following her role as one of the greatest villains we’ve ever seen on TV, Donna Mills joined the soap opera General Hospital, playing Madeline Reeves from 2014 to 2018. She appeared in several TV movies such as The Stepford Husbands and Ladies of the House.
She’s also been on shows such as Melrose Place and Cold Case. Her work on General Hospital earned her a Daytime Emmy. She is now 81 years old and enjoys spending time with her adopted daughter, Chloe, who has followed in her footsteps and pursued a career in acting and modeling.
Donna Mills Never Married
Mills never married and famously had an on-again-off-again relationship with advertising exec Richard Holland for nearly 20 years. She adopted a newborn girl, Chloe, in 1994 and has been in a relationship with Larry Gilman since 2001. She also appeared in non-nude cover-featured pictorials for Playboy.
Donna Mills got tired of Knots Landing, which led to her leaving. “I’m tired of the show,” she told The Cedartown. “It’s been too long. I’m not particularly happy with the way they’ve been writing Abby lately. She’s too soft. I’d like Abby to get back to her old self.”
Kevin Dobson Fought until the End
Kevin Dobson’s character, Mack MacKenzie, was Greg Sumner’s best friend from their university days. He was Karen’s second husband and a lawyer who later in the series opened his own law firm to tackle social inequalities. The character of Mack MacKenzie was added to the show at the start of the fourth season.
But Mack quickly became an important part of the story for the remainder of the series. Kevin Dobson previously appeared on every episode of Kojak in 1973 playing a young idealistic Detective Bobby Crocker. Co-star Telly Savalas became an acting mentor for the rising star Dobson.
No Days Off for Kevin Dobson
Dobson kept busy virtually every year after Knots Landing ended. After playing Mack, he joined the cast of another popular series, Days of Our Lives, and played Dr. Cameron in an episode of Anger Management in 2014. He also appeared in Cold Case and CSI: Crime Series Investigation.
Others include Nash Bridges, Hawaii Five-0, and Touched by an Angel. He was also a regular on the stage. Dobson died in 2020 at the age of 77 after suffering from an autoimmune deficiency. As a former Army soldier, he served twice as chairman of the National Salute to Veteran Patients.
Claudia Lonow as Diana Fairgate
Claudia Lonow played the role of Diana Fairgate in Knots Landing from 1979 to 1984 and then returned in 1993 before reprising her role in 1997 in the reunion miniseries Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac. Besides her acting on screen, Lonow is also a comedian, television writer, and producer.
She appeared as a guest star on shows such as Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, and Hotel. Claudia is one of the stars from Knots Landing who hasn’t had major roles in movies or TV shows since leaving. But there’s one thing of note that she has done.
From On-screen to Behind the Scenes
While she may not have had big roles to play in front of the camera, she has taken on more significant roles behind it. Claudia’s career behind the scenes began when she created, co-produced, and wrote Rude Awakening from 1998 to 2001, starring Rain Pryor and Sherilyn Fenn.
She was also the creator and producer of the comedy series Good Girls Don’t. Other projects she has written and co-produced include The War at Home, Accidentally on Purpose, and the short-lived 2013 series How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life).
Tonya Crowe as Olivia Cunningham Dyer
Tonya Crowe starred in Knots Landing for a decade from 1980 through 1990 as Olivia Cunningham, the daughter of Abby Cunningham (played by Donna Mills). She also reprised her role in the reunion miniseries Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac. She was nominated for three Soap Opera Digest Awards.
That’s not all. Crowe was also nominated an impressive ten times for the Young Artist Award for her television roles in the 1980s. She also guest starred on CHiPs, Trapper John, M.D., and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and had a recurring role on the ABC sitcom Who’s the Boss?
Patrick Petersen’s (Michael Fairgate) Low-Key Life
Patrick Petersen has a brother, Chris, who has appeared in quite a number of television roles. But unlike his brother, Patrick hasn’t done much career-wise since his role as Michael Fairgate in Knots Landing. In fact, his most notable role was reprising his role in Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac in 1997.
Petersen also appeared in the movies Alligator and The Little Dragons and was a regular cast member on the short-lived sitcom The Kallikaks. After retiring from acting, Petersen settled into a low-key life and now owns a health food business. He is married and has two children.
A Therapeutic Check-In
Based on what we’ve seen, most of the actors from the set of Knots Landing are alive and well. But we must acknowledge that life hasn’t been easy for most of them. Through divorces, surgeries, and starting new careers, our faves have all been through a lot.
Although the spotlight may not be on most of these veterans any longer, they are nevertheless still contributing to the movie industry one script and performance at a time. Whether consistently or not, we’ll take it any way we can just to see these actors on screen again.
The Crew in All Their Glory
Knots Landing is truly a phenomenal work that will live forever, and luckily for new fans who want to see the show for themselves, finding all the episodes isn’t a problem. Such good works don’t get lost in time. The episodes are very available to be streamed.
We get to see these characters living their very interesting, crazy lives on the suburban cul-de-sac again and again. The four middle-class families were perfectly handpicked for this epic series. Goodbye for now! We’re going to go watch the episode with Laura’s funeral again!