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  Wyman, Jane
NameJane Wyman
, California , United States
Born January 05, 1917
DiedSeptember 10, 2007 (90 years)
ContributorThomas Walker
Last ModifedThomas Walker
Oct 11, 2007 11:13am
InfoJane Wyman (January 5, 1917– September 10, 2007) was an Academy Award- and Golden Globe-winning and Emmy-nominated American actress. Her most prolific appearances in film came in the 1940s and 1950s and included her best known film roles in Johnny Belinda, for which she won an Oscar, and Magnificent Obsession opposite Rock Hudson. The actress became known to new generations in the 1980s, not only for her leading role as the malevolent matriarch Angela Gioberti Channing on the hit prime-time soap opera Falcon Crest, but because of her prior marriage to Ronald Reagan, a former actor who became President of the United States.

Wyman was born Sarah Jane Mayfield. Although her birthdate has been widely reported for many years as January 4, 1914, research by biographers and genealogists indicates that she was born January 5, 1917. The most likely reason for the 1914 date is that she added to her age when beginning her career as a minor in order to work legally. She may have changed her January 5 birthdate to January 4 to coincide with that of her daughter Maureen Reagan. After Wyman's death, a release posted on her official website confirmed these details.

Her parents were Manning Jeffries Mayfield (1895–1922), a meal-company laborer, and (Gladdys) Hope Christian (1895–1960), a doctor's stenographer and office assistant. In October 1921, her mother filed for divorce, and her father died unexpectedly the following year at age 27. After her father's death, her mother moved to Cleveland, Ohio, leaving her to be raised by foster parents, Emma (1866–1951) and Richard D. Fulks (1862–1928), the chief of detectives of Saint Joseph, and she took their surname unofficially, including in her school records.

Her unsettled family life resulted in few pleasurable memories. Wyman later recalled: "I was raised with such strict discipline that it was years before I could reason myself out of the bitterness I brought from my childhood."

In 1928, around age 11, she moved to southern California with her foster mother, but it is not known for certain if she attempted a career in motion pictures at this time, or if the relocation was due to the fact that some of Fulks' children lived in the area. In 1930, the two moved back to Missouri, where Sarah Jane attended Lafayette High School in Saint Joseph. That same year she began a radio singing career, calling herself "Jane Durrell" and adding years to her birthdate to work legally since she would have been under age.

After Jane dropped out of Lafayette in 1932, at age 15, she returned to Hollywood, taking on odd jobs as a manicurist and a switchboard operator, before obtaining small parts in films The Kid from Spain (as a "Goldwyn Girl") (1932), My Man Godfrey (1936) and Cain and Mabel (1936). After changing her surname from Durrell to Wyman, she began her career as a contract player with Warner Bros. in 1936. Her big break came the following year, when she received her first starring role in Public Wedding, but it would be nine long years before her movie career finally took off.

In 1939, Wyman was cast in another starring role, in Torchy Plays With Dynamite. In 1941, she appeared in You're in the Army Now, in which she and Regis Toomey had the longest screen kiss in cinema history: 3 minutes and 5 seconds.

Wyman finally gained critical notice in the film noir The Lost Weekend (1945). She was nominated for the 1946 Academy Award for Best Actress for The Yearling (1946), and won two years later for her role as a deaf-mute rape victim in Johnny Belinda (1948). She was the first person in the sound era to win an acting Oscar without speaking a line of dialogue.

In an amusing acceptance speech, perhaps poking fun at some of her long-winded counterparts, Wyman took her statue and said, "I won this by keeping my mouth shut, and that's what I'm going to do now."

The Oscar win gave her the ability to choose higher profile roles, although she still showed a liking for musical comedy. She worked with such directors as Alfred Hitchcock on Stage Fright (1950), Frank Capra on Here Comes the Groom (1951) and Michael Curtiz on The Story of Will Rogers (1952). She starred in The Glass Menagerie (1950), Just for You (1952), Let's Do It Again (1953), The Blue Veil (1951) (another Oscar nomination), the remake of Edna Ferber's So Big (1953), Magnificent Obsession (1954) (Oscar nomination), Lucy Gallant (1955), All That Heaven Allows (1955), and Miracle in the Rain (1956).

She replaced the ailing Gene Tierney in Holiday for Lovers (1959), and next appeared in Pollyanna (1960), Bon Voyage! (1962), and her final big screen movie, How to Commit Marriage (1969). Wyman was also a well-regarded character actress.

Her first guest-starring television role was on a 1955 episode of General Electric Theatre. This appearance led to roles on Summer Playhouse, Lux Playhouse, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, Checkmate, The Investigators, and Wagon Train. She also served as hostess of The Bell Telephone Hour and Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theatre. She had telling roles in both The Sixth Sense and Insight, among other programs.

Wyman also hosted an anthology television series, Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theater, for which she was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1957. During her tenure as host, however, ratings steadily declined, and the show ended after three seasons.

She was later cast in two unsold pilots during the 1960s and 1970s. After those pilots were not picked up, Wyman went into semi-retirement and remained there for most of the 1970s, though she made guest appearances on series such as Charlie's Angels and The Love Boat.

Wyman's career enjoyed a resurgence when she was cast as the scheming Californian vintner and matriarch Angela Channing in the primetime soap opera Falcon Crest, which ran from 1981 to 1990. The series was created by Earl Hamner, who had created the hit series The Waltons a decade earlier. Ex-husband Ronald Reagan apparently encouraged Wyman to take the role, after actress Barbara Stanwyck had turned it down. In its first season, Falcon Crest was a ratings hit, behind Dallas but initially ahead of rival soap Dynasty.

For her role as Angela Channing, Wyman was nominated for a Soap Opera Digest Award five times (for Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role and for Outstanding Villainess: Prime Time Serial), and was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award in 1983 and 1984. That same year, she won the Golden Globe for Best Performance By an Actress in a TV Series. Later in the show's run, Wyman suffered several health problems. In 1986, she had abdominal surgery which caused her to miss two episodes while her character simply "went missing" under mysterious circumstances. In 1988, she missed another episode due to ill-health and was told by her doctors to avoid work. However, she wanted to continue working and she completed the rest of the 1988-1989 season while her health was still deteriorating. Months later in 1989, Wyman collapsed on the set and was hospitalized with diabetes and a liver ailment. Her doctors told her that she should end her acting career. Wyman was absent for most of the ninth and final season of Falcon Crest in 1989-1990 (her character was written out of the series by being comatose in a hospital bed). Going against her doctor's advice, she returned for the final three episodes in 1990, even writing a soliloquy for the series finale. Wyman ultimately appeared in 208 of the show's 227 episodes.

After Falcon Crest, Wyman only acted once more, playing Jane Seymour's screen mother in a 1993 episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Following this, Wyman retired from acting permanently. Wyman had starred in 83 movies, two successful TV series, and was nominated for an Academy Award four times, winning once.

In 1938, Wyman co-starred with Ronald Reagan in Brother Rat (1938), and its sequel Brother Rat and a Baby (1940). Reportedly engaged to Reagan only after Wyman attempted suicide over the actor's indecision regarding marriage, the two were married on January 26, 1940, at the Wee Kirk o' the Heather at Forest Lawn in Los Angeles; they divorced on June 28, 1948. She and Reagan had three children; Maureen Elizabeth Reagan (1941–2001), Michael Edward Reagan (born March 18, 1945 and adopted shortly after), and Christine Reagan (born prematurely June 26, 1947 and died the following day). Since Reagan is the only U.S. president to have been divorced, Jane Wyman has the unique distinction of having been the only ex-wife of an American President.

Jane Wyman lived in seclusion for a number of years because of declining health. She was rarely seen in public, with the exception of attending the funerals of her daughter, Maureen Reagan, and her close friend Loretta Young. She also attended Ronald Reagan's funeral in 2004.

During her retirement, she purchased a house in Rancho Mirage, California in 1997, so that she could continue living a quiet life and attend honorable charity events. Reportedly, on April 16, 2003, she moved to a retirement home in Palm Springs, California, but after her death it was reported that she died at her own home at the Rancho Mirage Country Club.

Jane Wyman died at the age of 90 at her Palm Springs home on Monday, September 10, 2007, having long suffered from arthritis and diabetes. Wyman's son, Michael Reagan, released a statement saying, "I have lost a loving mother, my children Cameron and Ashley have lost a loving grandmother, my wife Colleen has lost a loving friend she called Mom and Hollywood has lost the classiest lady to ever grace the silver screen."

It was reported that Wyman died in her sleep of natural causes.



Title Purchase Contributor

Start Date End Date Type Title Contributor

Date Category Headline Article Contributor

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Husband Ronald Reagan Jan 26, 1940-Jun 28, 1948
Daughter Maureen Reagan 1941-2001
Daughter Christine Reagan 1947-1947
Stepson Michael Reagan 1945-
Stepdaughter Patti Davis 1952-
Stepson Ron Reagan 1958-