Remembering Jane Wyman

Born Sarah Jane Mayfield on January 5, 1917 in Saint Joseph, Missouri, Academy Award-winning actress Jane Wyman began a film acting career in 1932 (age 15) that continued for over 50 years.

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Her first marriage was as 16-year-old Jane Fulks, to salesman Ernest Wyman in April 1933. Jane had taken her foster father's (Richard D. Fulks) last name, after her father died and her mother moved away. Ernest and Jane Wyman were divorced in 1935 after 2 years of marriage.

In June 1937 Jane Wyman married for the second time, to businessman Myron Futterman. Myron Futterman and Wyman separated after 3 months, reportedly because she wanted children and he did not; their divorce was finalized in December 1938.

By the end of the 1939, Jane Wyman had already appeared in 40 feature films and was beginning to make a name for herself in Hollywood. She married for a third time in January 1940 at age 23 to actor Ronald Reagan (his first marriage). Jane Wyman and Ronald Reagan had co-starred in the movies Brother Rat (1938) and it's sequel Brother Rat and a Baby (1940). Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman had 3 children together - Maureen Reagan, adopted son Michael Reagan, and daughter Christine Reagan (died shortly after birth) before divorcing in 1949.  (Jane Wyman and Ronald Reagan Photo: Unknown)

Despite their divorce, Jane Wyman remained an admirer of ex-husband Ronald Reagan's, telling her personal assistant that she voted for him twice as President, and saying at his 2004 funeral that "America has lost a great President and a great, kind, and gentle man."

Jane Wyman won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as a deaf-mute rape victim in Johnny Belinda (1948). Her co-stars in Johnny Belinda included Alan Napier (Batman) as a defense attorney, and Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched) in her first of five movies with Jane Wyman. 

Other notable films for Jane Wyman during her heyday as a leading lady in the 1940s and 1950s golden age of movies included:

The Lost Weekend (1945), co-starring with actor Ray Milland as alcoholic Don Birnam. Jane Wyman played Ray Milland's on-screen girlfriend Helen in The Lost Weekend

Night and Day (1946) co-starring Cary Grant and Eve Arden, with Alexis Smith and Dorothy Malone (Peyton Place).

The Yearling (1946), co-starring with Gregory Peck and Claude Jarman Jr. Both Jane Wyman and Gregory Peck were nominated for Academy Awards for Best Acting for their performances in The Yearling.

The Glass Menagerie (1950), co-starring with Kirk Douglas, Arthur Kennedy, and Gertrude Lawrence.

The Blue Veil (1951), a drama co-starring Charles Laughton, Joan Blondell, and Agnes Moorehead in her second movie with Jane Wyman. Other co-stars for Wyman in The Blue Veil were a young Natalie Wood, Vivian Vance (I Love Lucy), and Alan Napier in his second movie with Wyman. Jane Wyman was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in The Blue Veil, but lost to Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire. Wyman's friend Virginia Zambonie told Forbes that while filming The Blue Veil in and around New York City's St. Patrick's Cathedral, Jane Wyman's interest in the Catholic faith was deepened. Wyman had first become interested in Catholicism while in London, England filming Stage Fright (1950), after a visit to Westminster Cathedral, according to The President's Ladies: Jane Wyman and Nancy Davis (2014) author Bernard F. Dick. 

Magnificent Obsession (1954), co-starring Rock Hudson, Barbara Rush (Peyton Place) and Agnes Moorehead (her third film starring Jane Wyman). Once again Jane Wyman was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Magnificent Obsession. The following year, All That Heaven Allows (1955) was the second movie to co-star both Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, and Wyman's fourth movie with Agnes Moorehead. Hayden Rorke (I Dream of Jeannie) also makes an appearance in All That Heaven Allows

In November 1952 Jane Wyman married for a fourth time, to Hollywood bandleader Fred Karger. They were married for 3 years before divorcing in December 1954. Jane Wyman and Fred Karger remarried again in 1961 and once again divorced in March 1965 - Wyman's fifth and final marriage and divorce; she never remarried. 

She became a Catholic in 1954 along with her son Michael and daughter Maureen Reagan. Jane Wyman was lifetime friends with and attended mass with fellow actresses Loretta Young and Irene Dunne, also devout Catholics; they would go on religious retreats during Lent. 

From 1955-1958, Jane Wyman hosted her own anthology television series, Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre. Wyman was nominated for an Emmy Award for Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre. 

As the 1960's began, Jane Wyman co-starred as Aunt Polly with Walt Disney child/teen actress Hayley Mills, in Pollyanna (1960). Several soon-to-be familiar faces from later 1960's TV series also appeared with Mills and Wyman in Pollyanna, including Karl Malden (The Streets of San Francisco), Reta Shaw (The Ghost & Mrs. Muir), James Drury (The Virginian), and Edward Platt (Get Smart). Frequent Disney movie actress Nancy Olson co-starred, and Agnes Moorehead appears in Pollyanna as Mrs. Snow, in her fifth and last Jane Wyman movie.

By the 1970's, Jane Wyman's star was fading as she worked through her 50+ years. Her last big-screen movie was the musical comedy How to Commit Marriage (1969) co-starring Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason, with Leslie Nielsen, Tina Louise, and Tim Matheson.

Baby boomer and senior fans might have caught Jane Wyman in guest-starring appearances on television series in the 1970's and 1980's such as My Three Sons; Charlie's Angels, The Love Boat, and Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law starring Arthur Hill. In the episode of Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law that Jane Wyman guest-starred in, actors David Soul (Starsky & Hutch), MacDonald Carey (Days of Our Lives), Randolph Mantooth (Emergency!) and Henry Jones (Phyllis, Who is the Black Dahlia?) also made appearances. Henry Jones had guest-starred on an episode of her series Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre in 1956.

Jane Wyman guest-starred twice on The Bold Ones: The New Doctors starring David Hartman and John Saxon. Her fellow guest-stars in episodes of The Bold Ones: The New Doctors between 1972-1973 included Leslie Nielsen, and other familiar faces from popular baby boomer television series: Ron Howard (The Andy Griffith Show, Happy Days), Jim Davis (Dallas) Mike Farrell (M*A*S*H), Robert Hogan (Peyton Place), and Kathleen Nolan (The Real McCoys, Broadside).

Made-for TV movies for Jane Wyman during the 1970's were:

  • The Failing of Raymond (1971), a TV thriller co-starring with Dean Stockwell, Dana Andrews, and Tim O'Connor. Young actors Katey Sagal and William Katt had small roles in The Failing of Raymond.
  • Amanda Fallon (1973), a TV drama with her co-stars from episodes of The Bold Ones: The New Doctors - Kathleen Nolan, and Leslie Nielsen. 
  • The Incredible journey of Doctor Meg Laurel (1979) starred Lindsay Wagner as Meg Laurel, and Jane Wyman as Granny Arrowroot. Supporting cast members in The Incredible Journey of Doctor Meg Laurel were Andrew Duggan, Gary Lockwood, Brock Peters, John Reilly, James Woods, Dorothy McGuire, Tracey Gold, and Gloria Stuart. The Incredible journey of Doctor Meg Laurel was Jane Wyman's last movie.

At age 66, senior citizen Jane Wyman won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in 1983 for her role as Angela Channing on Falcon Crest (1981-1990).

She portrayed Angela Channing from 1981-1990, co-starring with contemporaries Anne Jeffreys, Cliff Robertson and Rod Taylor. Some of her many younger Falcon Crest fellow cast members over her ten-year tenure on Falcon Crest included:  Lorenzo Lamas, David Selby, Susan Sullivan, Margaret Ladd, Ana Alicia, Robert Foxworth, William R. Moses, Abby Dalton, Simon MacCorkindale, Dana Sparks, Mel Ferrer, Cesar Romero, Kristian Alfonso, Jamie Rose, Morgan Fairchild, and Gregory Harrison (Trapper John, M.D.). Veteran character actor Henry Jones and John Saxon, both of whom Jane Wyman had worked with when she guest-starred in the early 70s on an episode of Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law, had regular or recurring roles on Falcon Crest.

By the time her tenure on Falcon Crest ended in 1990, Jane Wyman was a septuagenarian senior citizen and had begun to suffer health issues (diabetes, a liver problem, and later on, arthritis). Below are some clips from Falcon Crest featuring Jane Wyman.

Jane Wyman's last film appearance was a 1993 guest-starring role on the TV series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, starring Jane Seymour, Joe Lando, Chad Allen, George Furth, and Orson Bean. Wyman was completely retired after her performance in Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and was rarely seen at public appearances during her octogenarian senior years.

By the time of her death from natural causes at age 90 on September 10, 2007, Jane Wyman had acquired over 110 film credits, starred in 83 movies, two successful TV series, and been nominated for an Academy Award four times, winning once for her role as a deaf-mute rape victim in Johnny Belinda (1948). A posthumous tribute to Jane Wyman's long film career was aired at the 80th Annual Academy Awards in February 2008. 

Updated: January 5, 2015 with additional content

Anita Hamilton

Baby boomer Anita Hamilton has always been interested in the "real people" stories behind the characters that create and inhabit the world of music, books, movies, television shows, current events, history, etc. A lifelong love of research (ok, nosiness) and writing, combined with a loving and supportive family and 3 mini-dachshund minions, keeps her busy.

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