Wyatt, Jane (1912—)

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Wyatt, Jane (1912—)

American actress best known for her role as the quintessential 1950s housewife in the television series "Father Knows Best." Born on August 10, 1912 (some sources cite 1910), in Campgaw, New Jersey; daughter of Christopher Billop Wyatt (a lawyer) and Eupemia Van Rensselaer (Waddington) Wyatt (a writer); graduated from the Chapin School, New York, 1928; Barnard College, 1928–30; Apprentice School of Berkshire Playhouse; married Edgar Bethune Ward, on November 9, 1935; children: Christopher, Michael.

Selected theater:

The Tadpole; Trade Winds (1930); Give Me Yesterday (1931); The Mad Hopes (1932); Evensong (1933); Conquest; Dinner at Eight (1933); The Love Story (1934); The Joyous Season (1934); The Bishop Misbehaves (1935); Save Me the Waltz (1938); Night Music (1940); Quiet Please (1940); Hope for the Best (1945); The Skin of Our Teeth (1946); The Winslow Boy (c. 1950); The Autumn Garden (1961).

Selected filmography:

One More River (1934); Great Expectations (1934); We're Only Human (1936); Luckiest Girl in the World (1936); Lost Horizon (1937); Girl from God's Country (1940); Hurricane Smith (1941); Weekend for Three (1941); Kisses for Breakfast (1941); The Navy Comes Through (1942); Army Surgeon (1942); Buckskin Frontier (1943); The Kansan (1943); None but the Lonely Heart (1944); The Bachelor's Daughters (1946); Boomerang (1947); Gentlemen's Agreement (1947); Pitfall (1948); No Minor Vices (1948); Bad Boy (1949); Canadian Pacific (1949); Task Force (1949); Our Very Own (1950); House by the River (1950); My Blue Heaven (1950); The Man Who Cheated Himself (1951); Criminal Lawyer (1951); Interlude (1957); Never Too Late (1965); "Tom Sawyer" (for television, 1973); Treasure of Matacumbe (1976); "Amelia Earhart" (television, 1976); "A Love Affair: The Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Story" (television, 1978); "Superdome" (television, 1978); "The Nativity" (television, 1978); "The Millionaire" (television, 1978); Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986); Amityville IV: The Evil Escapes (1990).

Selected television:

starred as Margaret Anderson in "Father Knows Best" (series, 1954–60); was host and moderator for "Confidential for Women"; episodic appearances include: "Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater," "The Virginian," "Wagon Train," "U.S. Steel Hour," "Bell Telephone Hour," "Kraft Music Hall," "Hollywood TV Theater," "Star Trek," "Love American Style," "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," "Here Come the Brides," "Alias Smith and Jones," "Fantasy Island," and "St. Elsewhere."

Jane Wyatt was born in 1912, in Campgaw, New Jersey. Her father Christopher Billop Wyatt was a lawyer and her mother Eupemia Waddington Wyatt , once president of the Catholic Big Sisters, wrote for Commonweal and Catholic World. The family moved to New York when Jane was young. Before graduating from the Chapin School in 1928, Wyatt had be gun acting in school performances as well as in plays written by her sister, Elizabeth Wyatt , and directed by their mother. Both sisters frequently attended the theater, and it was after a performance by Maude Adams that Jane decided she wanted to become an actress.

Following her graduation from Chapin, Wyatt, who chose Barnard College because of the drama classes available, majored in history. In 1930, she enrolled in the Apprentice School of the Berkshire Playhouse in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In that same year, she acquired a professional role as a walk-on in Trade Winds in Philadelphia, and understudied for a production of The Vinegar Tree on Broadway. She first appeared on stage in New York City a year later, in 1931, as Freda Mannock in A.A. Milne's Give Me Yesterday at the Charles Hopkins Theater. She remained with the Berkshire Stock Company for three summers and continued appearing in minor Broadway roles. In May 1933, Wyatt replaced Margaret Sullivan in Dinner at Eight, a production that subsequently began a lengthy tour.

In the midst of this long run, Wyatt married Edgar Bethune Ward on November 9, 1935. Together they had two sons, Christopher and Michael. The tour with Dinner at Eight brought an offer from Hollywood, and Wyatt appeared in Lost Horizon in 1937. Still maintaining her love for Broadway, she had roles in Save Me the Waltz in 1938, and Night Music and Quiet Please in 1940. She accepted a number of film roles, only to reappear on Broadway in Hope for the Best opposite Franchot Tone for 117 performances beginning February 1945. In 1945, she was also nominated as one of the best-dressed women of the nation by the Fashion Academy. Wyatt continued acting in film throughout the early 1950s and appeared in what she considered her favorite role, that of Mary Morgan in Task Force, in 1950. In several of these later films, Wyatt was cast as a housewife.

She had her greatest success, however, playing opposite Robert Young on the television series "Father Knows Best," which aired from 1954 to 1956 on CBS before switching to NBC, where it stayed until 1960. For three successive years, 1958 to 1960, Wyatt won an Emmy Award for her role as the all-American wife and mother. She made numerous episodic appearances on television series before filming the 1973 television movie "Tom Sawyer" and a feature film entitled Treasure of Matacumbe in 1976. Although Wyatt suffered a mild stroke in 1995, she made a fine recovery and was able to continue her television and film work until she was well into her 80s. She has also been active in the March of Dimes from its inception.


Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television. Vol. 3. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1986.

Current Biography, 1957. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1957.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. 3rd ed. NY: HarperPerennial, 1998.

Richard Wasowski , freelance writer, Mansfield, Ohio