Although it was a spin-off of drama-filled primetime soap Dallas, the hit show Knots Landing had its own share of backstabbing, marital strife, corporate intrigue and other criminal mischief. Life on Seaview Circle had become a bed of hotness, and the show became one of the juiciest primetime shows in TV history. For 14 seasons, the families of the cul-de-sac held our attention with outlandish plot-lines, proving itself an excellent source of drama. And each Thursday night we held our breaths waiting to see what the Knots Landing cast of characters would get up to this week.
Knots Landing followed the adventures – or misadventures – of five families living in this fictional coastal town outside of Los Angeles. The show’s popularity catapulted the Knots Landing cast into instant stardom. Let’s catch up to see where the big-haired cul-de-sac residents ended up.
Knots Landing cast then and now
Michele Lee as Karen Fairgate MacKenzie
Michele Lee played feisty-yet-friendly neighbor Karen Fairgate MacKenzie, mother of three and a neighborhood activist, in the Knot’s Landing cast. Her first husband Sid went off a cliff, literally, but along came Kevin Dobson as Mack MacKenzie, Karen’s second husband.
Lee was born in Los Angeles and began her showbiz career at age 19 in an episode of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. She went on to roles in The Comic opposite Dick Van Dyke and The Love Bug with Dean Jones. TV appearances were plentiful, ranging from Night Gallery to Marcus Welby, M.D. Not only was Michele an accomplished actress, but a singer as well. She starred in several musicals and recorded two records in the 1960s, but 1979 unlocked the door for her future fame when she accepted the role of Karen Fairgate on Knots Landing. Throughout the run of the drama, Lee’s alter ego is credited as being the center of the cul-de-sac’s ups and downs.
Today, Michele is still acting, albeit in lesser roles. After a 35 year absence from the big screen, Lee played Ben Stiller’s mom in 2004’s Along Came Polly. She returned to Broadway in 2015 to star as Madame Morrible in Wicked.
Ted Shackelford as Gary Ewing
Born in Oklahoma City, his two-year stint on Another World as Ray Gordon was his entrée to acting. He later appeared on Wonder Woman and The Rockford Files before he became the husband to Val Ewing on Dallas. During his Knots years, he guest-starred on The Young Riders, Soap, Hotel and other TV shows.
As Gary Ewing, Shackelford was first introduced to fans in Dallas as J.R.’s shadow of a brother. He was the black sheep of the family and a recovering alcoholic. Then, he moved the role of Gary Ewing in Knots Landing and made a name for himself in the cast. After moving out of the cul-de-sac, Shackelford starred in 1994’s BBC sci-fi show, Space Precinct, and then came back in the 1997 TV reunion movie, Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-De-Sac. Shackelford actually gained stardom with his square jaw and angular physique on daytime’s Another World. He was also a player on The Young and the Restless from 2006-2015, playing twin brothers William and Jeffrey Bardwell. He last appeared in Y&R in 2015.
Shackelford is now 77 and hasn’t acted in many years.
Kevin Dobson as Mack MacKenzie
Mack joined the Knots Landing cast at the beginning of season four and was a vital character throughout the remainder of the series. Prior to Knots Landing, Dobson was the young, naïve, yet committed Detective Bobby Crocker on Kojak. He had said that Kojak – Telly Savalas – was a mentor and good friend. After playing fan favorite lawyer Mack MacKenzie, the actor continued in the soap opera vein, with roles on daytime’s The Bold and the Beautiful and Days of Our Lives.
He guest starred on many TV shows such as Nash Bridges and Hawaii: Five-O, and was often seen on the stage. Sadly, Kevin passed away in 2020 at age 77 after struggling with an autoimmune deficiency. Michele Lee, who played Dobson’s on-screen wife, admitted that she had a crush on him when he started on the show. Legions of fans did as well!
William Devane as Greg Sumner
Devane was perfectly cast as the ambitious and hard hitting politician-turned-corporate giant and as the plotline would go, he was also Mack’s old college buddy. Devane joined the cast in season five for what was just to be an eight episode commitment, but he displayed such chemistry with the cast and became a popular character with the fans that he stayed on for the rest of the show’s run.
Lawyer roles kicked Devane’s career into high gear. Not only was he one on Knots, but his acting debut was in 1967 as a lawyer in the 1971 film McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Other big screen roles came his way in Rolling Thunder and From Here to Eternity.
Born in Albany, New York, Devane began his acting career with the NY Shakespeare Festival where he performed in 15 plays. He has portrayed Robert F. Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy, along with members of the Presidential Cabinet, the latter on two evening dramas. In 2004, on The West Wing, he guest-starred as the secretary of state. In 2005, he joined the cast of 24 as Secretary of Defense James Heller.
When the cul-de-sac emptied out, Devane ventured into feature films such as Payback in 1999 and 2014’s 50 to 1 and Interstellar. In 2022, he appeared in four episodes of Bosch: Legacy on Amazon Prime Video. Today, at 83 years of age, he is the spokesperson for Rosland Capital. He is also still riding and playing polo with Arabian horses, a sport for which he has won numerous awards.
Donna Mills as Abby Cunningham
Timeless star of television and film, Donna Mills came to the public’s attention in the 1971 cult favorite Play Misty for Me as Clint Eastwood’s girlfriend. Then, in 1980, Mills landed her most notable and iconic role of the scheming vixen Abby Cunningham on Knots Landing, wreaking havoc on the cul-de-sac residents, all the while looking like she came off the pages of a fashion magazine.
The Chicago native, born Donna Jean Miller, has had a varied career both on the big and small screen, but she took time out and went into semi-retirement after adopting her daughter, Chloe, in 1994. After a few years in semi-retirement, Mills continued to appear on TV in movies and guest roles.
After Knots, Mills concentrated on TV movies, several of which she co-produced, only to return for the reunion miniseries, Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac, in 1997. She starred as Mrs. Clause in 2004’s A Very Cool Christmas and again reunited with the Knots Landing cast for the nonfiction special, Knots Landing Reunion: Together Again. Although on-camera, Mills was anything but best buddies with either Karen or Val, off-screen, Donna remains close friends with both Michele Lee and Joan Van Ark.
More recently, Mills appeared in the horror film Nope, and also joined the cast of daytime soap General Hospital for recurring story arcs, which garnered her a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Guest Performer. Mills can be seen in Lifetime’s Ladies of the 80s: A Divas Christmas in December.
Joan Van Ark as Valene Ewing
As Valene Ewing, “Val” earned all the sympathy she could muster for her many hardships and trying times. I mean, having your firstborn stolen? How does anyone come back from that? Val most certainly did, with the grit of an accomplished actress, whose leading character was on from 1979-1992.
Born in New York City, Van Ark made her Broadway debut in 1966’s Barefoot in the Park and in 1971, received a Theatre World Award for the revival of The School of Wives. But Van Ark landed her most famous role of Val Ewing, who first appeared on Dallas, then moved to the Los Angeles cul-de-sac. Her performances garnered a Soap Opera Digest Award in both 1986 and 1989. Van Ark did leave the show in 1992, though returned for the series’ final two episodes in 1993 and in the 1997 miniseries Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac.
She enjoyed more television success on The Young and the Restless in 2004. She reprised her role of Valene in an episode of the Dallas reboot in 2013. Today, at 80 years of age, Joan continues to enjoy long-distance running and has participated in 14 marathons. She even made the cover of Runners World Magazine.
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