Jane Wyman Biography

Actress (1917–2007)
Jane Wyman was an Academy Award-winning American screen actress who was also Ronald Reagan's first wife.


Born on January 5, 1917, in St. Joseph, Missouri, Jane Wyman was an American screen actor who was once married to Ronald Reagan. She won an Academy Award in 1948 for her role as a deaf-mute rape victim in the film Johnny Belinda. She also gained critical acclaim for her work in television, hosting Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theatre, and the melodrama Falcon Crest. Wyman died on September 10, 2007, in Rancho Mirage, California.


Early Life

Actress Jane Wyman was born Sarah Jane Mayfield on January 5, 1917, in St. Joseph, Missouri. Her parents divorced in 1921, and her father died unexpectedly the following year. She took the name Sarah Jane Fulks in honor of her neighbors, who officially adopted her after her father died.

In 1928, Wyman moved to southern California where she attempted, with the help of her mother, to break into films. Unable to find work, they moved back to Missouri two years later.

After attending the University of Missouri, she began a career as a radio singer, which led her to another name change to Jane Durrell. She then changed Durrell to Wyman and made her first film in 1935 as a chorus dancer in the musical King of Burlesque. Wyman signed with Warner Bros. in 1936 and made her film acting debut the next year with a bit part in Gold Diggers (1937).

Career Highlights

Wyman toiled for a decade in mostly B-movie fare and supporting roles in bigger films. But she gained notice in 1945 for her role as the girlfriend of a chronic alcoholic in Billy Wilder's drama The Lost Weekend. Wyman went on to give a string of Academy Award-nominated performances, beginning with The Yearling opposite Gregory Peck in 1946.

She won the Oscar for Best Actress for her 1948 role as a teenage deaf-mute raped in Johnny Belinda, the first person in the sound era to win an acting Oscar without speaking a line of dialogue.

Two more Oscar nominations came for the 1951 drama Blue Veil with Charles Laughton and the 1954 Douglas Sirk-directed romance Magnificent Obsession, which she played opposite Rock Hudson. Wyman's film career stretched to 1969's How to Commit Marriage, co-starring Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason. Other notable films included The Glass Menagerie (1950) and All That Heaven Allows (1955).

Wyman also began a television career in the 1950s, hosting the drama anthology series Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theatre. And from 1981 to 1990 she played the tough, empire-building matriarch Angela Channing in the CBS melodrama Falcon Crest.

Personal Life

Jane Wyman was married several times. According to to Edmund Morris’ biography of Ronald Reagan, in 1933, a 16 year-old Jane Mayfield married Ernest Eugene Wyman. That marriage lasted two years.

In 1937, Wyman married a wealthy manufacturer of children's clothes, Myron Futterman, in New Orleans. They divorced the following year, declaring she wanted children and he did not.

The actress married another Warner studio contract actor, Ronald Reagan, in 1940. The following year she gave birth to a daughter, Maureen. They later adopted a son, Michael, who became a conservative radio host. The couple also had a daughter who was born several months premature in June 1947, and died one day later.

Wyman and Reagan divorced in 1948. Their daughter Maureen died in August 2001 after a battle with cancer. Wyman attended the funeral but Reagan, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, was not well enough to attend.

In 1952, Wyman married Fred Karger, a studio music director. They couple divorced, then later remarried and divorced a second time in 1965.

Jane Wyman died on September 10, 2007, at the age of 90, at her home in Rancho Mirage, California.

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