Jane Wyman (1917-2007)

Jane Wyman
Jane Wyman
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Jane Wyman was an accomplished actress, singer and dancer who began her 61 year career in the 1930s, and appeared in over 80 films. In 1948 she received an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as a deaf woman in 'Johnny Belinda'. She also won Best Actress Oscar nominations for her performances in the 1954 remake of "Magnificent Obsession," with Rock Hudson, “The Yearling” (1946), starring Gregory Peck, and as a saintly nursemaid in “The Blue Veil” (1951), with Charles Laughton and Natalie Wood.

Later in her career, during the 1980's, she also achieved success on television for her leading role in the series 'Falcon Crest'.

Her other claim to fame is that she was the only person to have been an ex-wife of an American president. She married Ronald Reagan, her third husband, in 1940 when he was solely an actor and had never run for public office. They divorced in 1948.


Jane Wyman was born Sarah Jane Mayfield in St. Joseph, Missouri. on January 5, 1917. After her father, who had been the mayor of St.Joseph, died suddenly when Jane was five, her mother left her to be reared by foster parents, her neighbors in Missouri, Emma and Richard Fulks. She became known as Sarah Jane Fulks, although her name was never officially changed.

Jane developed an early interest in music after attending a local musical production, and she took dancing lessons in St. Joseph. After a two year stay in Los Angeles, Jane and her foster mother returned to St Joseph where Jane attended Lafayette High School. She left after two years to pursue her new-found ambition to be a performer and became a radio singer under the name 'Jane Durrell', still aged only 15.

Young Actress

She returned to Los Angeles, to the film world, and with the help of dance director, Leroy Prinz, who was the son of her St Joseph dancing teacher, she found work as a chorus girl . Walk-on roles followed, in movies such as 'The Kid from Spain' in 1932, 'College Rhythm' in 1934 and 'Cain and Mabel' in 1936.

In May, 1936, Warner Bros Pictures signed her to a contract on the understanding that she should change her name. She officially became Jane Wyman which was her name from her first marriage.

She appeared under her new name in many 'B' pictures during the next few years, including two with actor Ronald Reagan: 'Brother Rat' in 1938 and 'Brother Rat and a Baby' in 1940.

Jane's reputation as a talented and dependable actress grew slowly as the quality of her roles gradually improved. In 1939, she played the starring role in 'Torchy Plays With Dynamite', and she co-starred with Phil Silvers and Jimmy Durante in 'You're in the Army Now' in 1941, the movie in which she participated with Regis Toomey in the longest ever recorded screen kiss - three minutes and five seconds.

Hollywood Star

Jane's breakthrough into major Hollywood stardom came in 1945 with 'The Lost Weekend', directed by Billy Wilder and co-starring Ray Milland. The picture won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Jane was able to show that she had the talent for serious dramatic roles. It was the start of a golden period for Jane. The following year she was nominated for the Best Actress Award for 'The Yearling' and in 1948 she won the Best Actress Award for her sensitive portrayal of a deaf-mute rape victim in 'Johnny Belinda', the only occasion in the Talkies era that the honor has been won with a non-speaking role.

Jane's output continued to be prolific and she starred in 'Stage Fright' and 'The Glass Menagerie' in 1950 and the following year she received another Oscar nomination for her role in 'The Blue Veil'.

She was nominated for the fourth and final time in 1954 for Douglas Sirk's 'Magnificent Obsession', with Rock Hudson, and the following year she appeared in 'Lucy Gallant' and 'All That Heaven Allows', again with Rock Hudson. As her television career gathered pace, so her movie output slowed down from the mid 1950's and she finished her movie career in 1969 with 'How to Commit Marriage' with Bob Hope.

Television Star

Jane embraced the new medium of television during the 1950's and her first TV role was as a guest star on a 1955 episode of 'General Electric Theatre' which was followed by regular appearances on a host of dramatic series such as 'Lux Playhouse', 'Checkmate', and 'The Investigators'. She continued to make guest appearances through the 1960's and 1970's and starred in the TV movie 'The Incredible Journey of Doctor Meg Laurel' in 1979.

In 1981 she began another golden period when she was cast as the ruthless matriarch, Angela Gioberti Channing, on CBS's prime-time soap opera, 'Falcon Crest' for which she won a Golden Globe in 1984 for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series. The show was a ratings success and ran for 227 episodes of which Jane appeared in 208.

Following an appearance in 'Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman', in 1993, Jane permanently retired from acting.


Jane was married five times, to four different men. In 1937 she married Myron Futterman, a dress manufacturer 15 years her senior, but they separated after 3 months and divorced the following year.

Ronald Reagan

In 1938 Jane was included by organiser Louella Parsons, in a nine-week vaudeville tour that showcased up-and-coming Hollywood stars. Also on the tour was a young actor called Ronald Reagan. Jane and Reagan went on to appear in two films together, the college comedy 'Brother Rat' (1938) and its 1940 sequel, 'Brother Rat and a Baby'.

The two soon became an off-screen couple as well, and they were married in 1940 at Forest Lawn in Los Angeles. They had two daughters, Maureen, born in 1941, and Christine, born prematurely in 1947, but who died on the same day. They also adopted a son, Michael, in 1945.

She and Reagan split in 1948, which later made Reagan the only divorced President in U.S. history up until his time in office. Jane was exceptionally discreet and never revealed details of their time together or why their seemingly idyllic marriage ended. Even when Reagan passed away in June of 2004 and many who knew him shared their memories, she stayed quiet and away from the internationally televised funeral.

After her divorce from Reagan in 1949, Jane twice married Hollywood musical director, Frederick Karger, firstly in 1952, divorcing two years later, and re-marrying him in 1961 and then divorcing again in 1965.

She lived in seclusion for the last period of her life, suffering from arthritis and diabetes, and she devoted much of her time to painting and charity work. Jane Wyman died at her Rancho Mirage home on September 10, 2007, aged 90 years.

Jane Wyman Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Actress ... Johnny Belinda (1948)

Three Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Actress ... The Yearling (1946)
Best Actress ... The Blue Veil (1951)
Best Actress ... Magnificent Obsession (1954)


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Jane Wyman Filmography

The Kid from Spain (uncredited)
Elmer, the Great (uncredited)
Gold Diggers of 1933 (uncredited)
All the King's Horses (uncredited)
College Rhythm (uncredited)
Rumba (uncredited)
George White's 1935 Scandals (uncredited)
Stolen Harmony (uncredited)
Broadway Hostess (uncredited)
Bengal Tiger (uncredited)
King of Burlesque
Freshman Love (uncredited)
Anything Goes (uncredited)
My Man Godfrey (uncredited)
Stage Struck (uncredited)
Cain and Mabel (uncredited)
The Voice of Scandal (uncredited)
The Sunday Round-Up (short)
Polo Joe (uncredited)
Gold Diggers of 1937 (uncredited)
Smart Blonde
Ready, Willing and Able
Romance Is Sacred
Little Pioneer (short)
The Singing Marine
Public Wedding
Mr. Dodd Takes the Air
Over the Goal (uncredited)
The Spy Ring
He Couldn't Say No
Fools for Scandal (uncredited)
Wide Open Faces
The Crowd Roars
Brother Rat
Tail Spin
Orphan of the Ring
Torchy Blane.. Playing with Dynamite
Kid Nightingale
Private Detective
Baby Be Good
An Angel from Texas
Flight Angels
Gambling on the High Seas
My Love Came Back
Tugboat Annie Sails Again
Honeymoon for Three
Bad Men of Missouri
The Body Disappears
You're in the Army Now
Larceny, Inc.
My Favorite Spy
Footlight Serenade
Princess O'Rourke
Make Your Own Bed
The Doughgirls
Crime by Night
Hollywood Canteen
One More Tomorrow
Night and Day
The Yearling
Magic Town
Johnny Belinda
A Kiss in the Dark
The Lady Takes a Sailor