Nationality: American. Born: Sarah Jane Fulks in St. Joseph, Missouri, 4 January 1914. Education: Attended Los Angeles High School; University of Missouri, Columbia, 1935. Family: Married 1) Myron Futterman, 1937 (divorced 1939); 2) the actor Ronald Reagan, 1940 (divorced 1948), daughter: Maureen, adopted son: Michael; 3) Freddie Karger, 1952 (divorced 1955); 4) Freddie Karger, 1963 (divorced 1965). Career: 1932—film debut (as Sarah Jane Fulks) in The Kid from Spain; had a few small parts in other films, then enrolled at the University of Missouri; radio singer (as Jane Durrell); 1936–49—contract with Warner Brothers; 1955–58—host and actress on TV series The Jane Wyman Theater; 1981–90—starring role in TV series Falcon Crest. Awards: Best Actress Academy Award, for Johnny Belinda, 1948. Address: 3970 Overland Avenue, Culver City, CA 90230, U.S.A.
Films as Actress:
(as Sarah Jane Fulks)
The Kid from Spain (McCarey) (as a Goldwyn Girl)
Elmer the Great (LeRoy) (bit role)
College Rhythm (Taurog) (bit role)
Rumba (Gering) (as chorus girl); All the King's Horses (Tuttle) (bit role); Stolen Harmony (Werker) (bit role as girl)
King of Burlesque (Lanfield) (bit role as girl); Anything Goes (Tops Is the Limit) (Milestone) (bit role); My Man Godfrey (La Cava) (as party-goer)
(as Jane Wyman)
Stage Struck (Berkeley) (as Bessie Fuffnick); Cain and Mabel (Lloyd Bacon) (bit role); Polo Joe (McGann) (as polo spectator); Smart Blonde (McDonald) (as Dixie)
"Love and War" production number of Gold Diggers of 1937 (Lloyd Bacon) (as chorus girl); Ready, Willing and Able (Enright) (as Dot); The King and the Chorus Girl (LeRoy) (as Babette); Slim (Enright) (as Stumpy's girl friend); The Singing Marine (Enright) (as Joan); Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (Alfred E. Green) (as Marjorie Day); Public Wedding (Grinde) (as Flip Lane)
The Spy Ring (Joseph H. Lewis) (as Elaine Burdette); Fools for Scandal (LeRoy) (bit role); He Couldn't Say No (Seiler); Wide Open Faces (Neumann) (as Betty Martin); The Crowd Roars (Thorpe) (as Vivian); Brother Rat (Keighley) (as Claire Adams)
Tail Spin (Del Ruth) (as Alabama); Private Detective (Noel Smith) (as Myrna Winslow); The Kid from Kokomo (Seiler) (as Miss Bronson); Torchy Plays with Dynamite (Noel Smith) (as Torchy Blane); Kid Nightingale (Amy) (as Judy Craig)
Brother Rat and a Baby (Enright) (as Claire Ramm); An Angel from Texas (Enright) (as Marge Allen); Flight Angels (Seiler) (as Nan Hudson); My Love Came Back (Bernhardt) (as Joy O'Keefe); Tugboat Annie Sails Again (Seiler) (as Peggy Armstrong); Gambling on the High Seas (Amy) (as Laurie Ogden)
Honeymoon for Three (Lloyd Bacon) (as Elizabeth Clochessy); Bad Men of Missouri (Enright) (as Mary Hathaway); You're in the Army Now (Seiler) (as Bliss Dobson); The Body Disappears (Lederman) (as Lynn Shotesbury)
Larceny, Inc. (Lloyd Bacon) (as Denny Costello); My Favorite Spy (Garnett) (as Connie); Footlight Serenade (Ratoff) (as Flo La Verne)
Princess O'Rourke (Krasna) (as Jean)
Make Your Own Bed (Godfrey) (as Susan Courtney); Crime by Night (Clemens) (as Robbie Vance); The Doughgirls (Kern) (as Vivian); Hollywood Canteen (Daves) (as herself)
The Lost Weekend (Wilder) (as Helen St. James)
One More Tomorrow (Godfrey) (as Fran Connors); Night and Day (Curtiz) (as Gracie Harris); The Yearling (Brown) (as Ma Baxter)
Cheyenne (Walsh) (as Ann Kincaid); Magic Town (Wellman) (as Mary Peterman)
Johnny Belinda (Negulesco) (as Belinda McDonald)
A Kiss in the Dark (Daves) (as Polly Haines); The Lady Takes a Sailor (Curtiz) (as Jennifer Smith); It's a Great Feeling (David Butler) (as herself)
Stage Fright (Hitchcock) (as Eve Gill); The Glass Menagerie (Rapper) (as Laura Wingfield)
Three Guys Named Mike (Walters) (as Marcy Lewis); Here Comes the Groom (Capra) (as Emmadel Jones); The Blue Veil (Bernhardt) (as Louise Mason); Starlift (Del Ruth) (as herself)
The Story of Will Rogers (Curtiz) (as Betty Rogers); Just for You (Nugent) (as Carolina Hill)
Let's Do It Again (Hall) (as Constance Stuart); So Big (Wise) (as Selina Dejong)
Magnificent Obsession (Sirk) (as Helen Phillips)
Lucy Gallant (Parrish) (title role); All that Heaven Allows (Sirk) (as Cary Scott)
Miracle in the Rain (Maté) (as Ruth Wood)
Holiday for Lovers (Levin) (as Mary Dean)
Pollyanna (Swift) (as Aunt Polly)
Bon Voyage! (Neilson) (as Katie Willard)
How to Commit Marriage (Lilley) (as Elaine Benson)
The Failing of Raymond (Sagal—for TV) (as Mary Bloomquist)
The Outlanders (Green)
The Incredible Journey of Dr. Meg Laurel (Guy Green—for TV) (as Granny Arrowroot)
Falcon Crest (Arner and Badiyi—series for TV) (as Angela Channing)
Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick (Robinson—doc for TV) (as herself)
On WYMAN: books—
Parish, James Robert, and Don E. Stanke, The Forties Gals, Westport, Connecticut, 1980.
Morella, Joe, and Edward Z. Epstein, Jane Wyman, New York, 1985.
Quirk, Lawrence J., Jane Wyman: The Actress and the Woman, New York, 1986.
On WYMAN: articles—
Current Biography 1949, New York, 1949.
Bawden, J., "Jane Wyman: American Star Par Excellence," in Films in Review (New York), April 1975.
Briggs, C., "Jane Wyman," in Hollywood: Then and Now, vol. 23, no. 11, 1990.
* * *
Decades before she was to become the star of the prime-time television soap opera Falcon Crest, Jane Wyman was just another "cute" Hollywood blond with a turned-up nose who populated dozens of B films, usually playing a wisecracking friend of the star or a gold-digging chorus girl. Wyman provided some light, enjoyable moments in a wide variety of 1930s comedies such as Brother Rat and The Kid from Kokomo. As the war years dawned, she began to get increasingly better parts, mostly in Warner Brothers features such as Larceny, Inc. and The Doughgirls.
In 1945 Wyman's career changed sharply for the better when she began to dye her hair brown and appeared in several well-received straight dramatic roles. Beginning with the critically acclaimed The Lost Weekend, Wyman showed a dramatic depth to her acting which the public had not seen. During the late 1940s and early 1950s she received several Academy Award nominations and received an Oscar for Best Actress for her touching performance as the deaf-mute heroine of Johnny Belinda.
Wisely varying her genres once she attained major stardom, Wyman often highlighted a chin-quivering vulnerability while playing down the verve she displayed as the longest-running starlet in B-movie history. Despite being outclassed in terms of theatrical training and despite being too old for the tricky role, her halting Laura is the most memorable performance in The Glass Menagerie. Although she radiates movie-star assuredness in all her 1950s soap operas (So Big, Lucy Gallant, Magnificent Obsession) she is most incandescent in All that Heaven Allows, the most caustic slap at suburban America's snobbism and agism that has ever slipped past a major studio head's attention span. If she had sobbed at the victim well once too often by the time she experienced her Miracle in the Rain, she also brought new meaning to the word "vivacious" in some minor musicals (Just for You, Here Comes the Groom, Let's Do It Again) that should have made MGM sit up and take notice.
Although her screen appearances grew sparse, particularly after the rise and fall of her heralded television anthology, The Jane Wyman Show, she always could be counted on to enliven the proceedings even in vanilla-flavored Disney ventures. Still, none of her joie de vivre prepared Wyman groupies for her steely stint in Falcon Crest, in which she huffed and puffed hammily, reportedly ran the set with an iron glove borrowed from the character she played, and locked horns with such formidable guest-starring divas as Kim Novak, Gina Lollobrigida, and Lana Turner. If her Angela Channing, the Wicked Witch of the Wine Country, cannot be considered fine acting on a par with her most masterful big-screen legacy, The Yearling, it is just as unforgettable in its own shameless, scenery-chewing way. Popping up infrequently since her vintage soap series was canceled, Wyman can regard her kaleidoscopic career as a testament to the resilience, clear-sightedness, and good humor her fans have always responded to, whether Wyman happened to be casting herself as fluffy contract player, song-and-dance gal, drama doyenne, or television matriarch from Hell.
—Patricia King Hanson, updated by Robert Pardi
Born Sarah Jane Mayfield, January 5, 1917, in St. Joseph, MO; died of natural causes, September 10, 2007, in Rancho Mirage, CA. Actress. Performing through six decades in Hollywood and on television, Jane Wyman was an Oscar-winning actress best known for her role as a deaf-mute girl who was abused and raped in Johnny Belinda. Often cast in the role of a long-suffering woman who stubbornly survives against the odds, Wyman was internationally known for her character, Angela Channing, which she played for nearly a decade on the soap opera Falcon Crest.
Wyman is also known as the first ex-wife of an American president. Married to Ronald Reagan when both were actors, Wyman was known for her silence on their relationship after they were divorced, and walked out of interviews that sought gossip about her ex-husband. “It’s not because I’m bitter or because I don’t agree with him politically,” she explained in an interview, quoted on CNN.com. “But it’s bad taste to talk about ex-husbands and ex-wives, that’s all. Also, I don’t know a damn thing about politics.”
Despite her high profile, many of the details of Wyman’s early life are hard to pin down. She claimed to have been born in 1914, but later sources have said that she was actually born in 1917, and that her false birth date was given so that she could get married at only 16 years of age. However, details on this first marriage (which ended in divorce) are also elusive. She may have also lied about her age in order to get work in Hollywood while still a minor: Her first film was produced in 1932.
Born Sarah Jane Mayfield, Wyman was the child of Manning Mayfield and Gladys Christian, who divorced when Wyman was four. When Wyman’s father died of pneumonia, Wyman was entrusted with neighbors, the Fulks, who raised her. For years, she went by Sarah Jane Fulks, and when her adoptive father died when Wyman was eleven, she moved with the Fulks to Los Angeles.
Wyman returned to Missouri for school, but she moved back to Los Angeles where she wanted to make it in Hollywood, dying her hair blonde and working a variety of jobs while hoping to win a role in a film. She secured a position as a chorus girl and received a role as a dancer in The Kid from Spain. This was the beginning of her regular work in Hollywood, and though Wyman battled with shyness, she covered her insecurities with bravado. “Were all the other dancers prettier? Never mind,” she once said, quoted in the Times of London. “I covered up by becoming the cockiest of all, by talking the loudest, laughing the longest, and wearing the curliest, most blatantly false eyelashes in Hollywood.” Her attitude eventually won her a position as a contract actress at Warners, where, appearing as Jane Wyman, she performed as fast-talking lady reporters and sidekicks.
In 1938, Wyman appeared opposite Reagan in Brother Rat, and she and Reagan became a couple after she finalized her divorce to her second husband in 1939. They were Hollywood darlings, popularized by gossip columnist Louella Parsons. Reagan’s career soared while Wyman remained a B-movie actress, and the two married in 1940. They had one daughter, adopted a son, and lost a second daughter to premature birth. In 1945, while Reagan was in the army during World War II, Wyman had her first breakthrough as a serious actress, playing the part of the girlfriend to an alcoholic in The Lost Weekend. In her next film, Wyman played her first Oscar nominated role in The Yearling.
As Wyman’s career progressed, her relationship with Reagan began to fall apart, particularly after she was cast in Johnny Belinda. Reagan was becom- ing more interested in politics, and Wyman was completely ambivalent. Instead, she focused on her role as a deaf-mute girl, seldom speaking at home and learning sign language. “I learned the all-important thing: A deaf person hears with her eyes, just as a blind person sees with his ears,” Wyman was quoted as having said in the Los Angeles Times. By the time the film came out, she and Reagan had finalized their divorce. Johnny Belinda received 12 Oscar nominations, and Wyman received the Oscar for best actress. Her speech was short; according to the Times of London she said, “I won this award for keeping my mouth shut, so I think I’ll do it again now.”
Several other Oscar nominations followed as Wyman took further roles of women under adversity. In 1952, Wyman married Fred Karger, Marilyn Monroe’s sometimes boyfriend, and made the move to television. She and Karger divorced in 1954, re-married in 1963, and were divorced again, but Wyman’s relationship with television was more stable. From 1955 through 1958, she was the host of Fireside Theater, which became The Jane Wyman Theater, a drama series that featured a short movie, often starring Wyman, every week. She left that position due to the enormous amount of work required, filming additional movies and television appearances throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Her last film, How to Commit Marriage with Bob Hope, appeared in 1969.
In 1981, Wyman took a role completely against her previous type: She became the controlling matriarch of Falcon Crest, a drama and soap opera that had similar themes to Dallas. On taking the role, she summed up her career in an interview, quoted at CNN.com: “I’ve been through four different cycles in pictures: the brassy blonde, then came the musicals, the high dramas, then the inauguration of television.” When the show went off the air in 1990, Wyman largely retired from public life. She put her efforts into her paintings, many of which sold through a California gallery, and focused on volunteer work for the Arthritis Foundation.
Wyman “was not only a fine actress but a darling, dear lady,” Paramount producer A. C. Lyles told the Los Angeles Times. “I think she was an inspiration to all young actresses because she started as a minor actress and worked her way through the ranks to become not only one of Hollywood’s prominent leading ladies but an Academy Award winner.” Over the course of her 54year career, Wyman made 86 films and 350 television episodes. After years of failing health, she died in her home in Rancho Mirage, California. Wyman is survived by her son, Michael Reagan. Sources: CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2007/SHOWBIZ/Movies/09/10/obit.wyman.ap/index.html (September 10, 2007); Entertainment Weekly, September 21, 2007, p. 20; Los Angeles Times, September 11, 2007, p. B8; New York Times, September 11, 2007, p. C11; Times (London), September 11, 2007.
—Alana Joli Abbott
Wyman, Jane 1917-2007 (Sarah Jane Fulks, Sarah Jane Mayfield)
Wyman, Jane 1917-2007 (Sarah Jane Fulks, Sarah Jane Mayfield)
Original name, Sarah Jane Mayfield; born January 5, 1917, in St. Joseph, MO; died of natural causes, September 10, 2007, in Rancho Mirage, CA. Actress. With a career spanning six decades, 86 films and more than 350 television appearances, Wyman was an award-winning film and television actress also known for being the first wife of President Ronald Reagan. Wyman's parents, Manning Mayfield and Gladys Christian, divorced when she was four; her father died of pneumonia the next year. Her mother subsequently moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and Wyman was placed in the care of her neighbors Richard and Emma Fulks and took their surname as her own. Upon the death of Richard Fulks, Emma Fulks and Wyman moved to Los Angeles. They returned to Missouri in 1930, but Wyman moved back to Hollywood in 1932 determined to make a career in show business. She began working as a chorus girl, eventually being cast as a dancer in The Kid from Spain, which starred Eddie Cantor and included Paulette Goddard and Betty Grable in the chorus line. Wyman married Ernest Eugene Wyman in 1933, claiming on the marriage certificate that she was nineteen instead of her actual age of sixteen. The marriage lasted only two years, but in 1936, when she landed a contract position with Warner Brothers Studios, she dropped her first name and kept her married surname, taking as her professional name Jane Wyman. After a number of years of bit parts and B-comedies, Wyman became known as a serious actress and was offered increasingly better parts. Her breakthrough role was that of the patient girlfriend of an alcoholic in the 1945 Billy Wilder dramatic film The Lost Weekend. In 1946 Wyman was nominated for her first Academy Award as best actress for her portrayal of the backwoods mother Orry Baxter in The Yearling, also starring Gregory Peck. Wyman won the Academy Award in 1948 for her sensitive rendering of a deaf-mute rape victim in Johnny Belinda. In 1952 Wyman was again nominated for a best actress Oscar for The Blue Veil with Natalie Wood and Charles Laughton and again in 1954 for Magnificent Obsession with Rock Hudson. When Wyman met Ronald Reagan in 1938, they were both rising stars in Hollywood, and she was in the process of divorcing her second husband. Wyman and Reagan's wedding in 1940 was widely covered in the media. Wyman and Reagan had one daughter, adopted a son, and lost another daughter in infancy before divorcing in 1948. Wyman made a transition from film to television, and from 1955 through 1958 she was the host of Fireside Theater, which became The Jane Wyman Theater, a weekly drama series that featured a film—usually starring Wyman. Her last film, How to Commit to Marriage, in which she starred with Bob Hope, appeared in 1969. In 1981 Wyman took a role that would earn her worldwide audiences once again, that of the fiercely controlling matriarch Angela Channing on the night-time television drama Falcon Crest. Wyman left Falcon Crest after nine seasons but continued to make guest television appearances, including playing the role of Jane Seymour's mother in Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman. in the 1990s.
New York Times, September 11, 2007.