Wyman, Jane (1914—)

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Wyman, Jane (1914—)

American actress who won an Academy Award for her wordless performance in Johnny Belinda and was married to Ronald Reagan, long before he became president. Name variations: sang on radio as Jane Durrell. Born Sarah Jane Fulks on January 4 or 5, 1914, in St. Joseph, Missouri; youngest of three children (a boy and two girls) of Richard Fulks (a city official) and Emma (Reise) Fulks; graduated from Los Angeles High School; married Myron Futterman (a dress manufacturer), in 1937 (divorced); married Ronald Reagan (the actor and future president of the U.S., 1981–89), on January 26, 1940 (divorced 1948); married Fred Karger (a bandleader), on November 1, 1952 (divorced 1955, remarried March 1961, divorced 1965); children: (second marriage) Maureen Reagan (1941–2001, singer-actress turned political activist); (adopted) Michael Edward Reagan.

Selected filmography:

Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936); My Man Godfrey (1936); King of Burlesque (1936); Smart Blonde (1937); Stage Struck (1937); The King and the Chorus Girl (1937); Ready, Willing, and Able (1937); Slim (1937); The Singing Marine (1937); Public Wedding (1937); Mr. Dodd Takes the Air (1937); The Spy Ring (1938); He Couldn't Say No (1938); Wide Open Faces (1938); Fools for Scandal (1938); The Crowd Roars (1938); Brother Rat (1938); Tail Spin (1939); Private Detective (1939); The Kid From Kokomo (1939); Torchy Plays With Dynamite (1939); Kid Nightingale (1939); Brother Rat and a Baby (1940); An Angel From Texas (1940); Flight Angels (1940); My Love Came Back (1940); Tugboat Annie Sails Again (1940); Gambling on the High Seas (1940); Honeymoon for Three (1941); Bad Men of Missouri (1941); You're in the Army Now (1941); The Body Disappears (1941); Larceny Inc. (1942); My Favorite Spy (1942); Footlight Serenade (1942); Princess O'Rourke (1943); Make Your Own Bed (1944); Crime by Night (1944); The Doughgirls (1944); Hollywood Canteen (1944); The Lost Weekend (1945); One More Tomorrow (1946); Night and Day (1946); The Yearling (1947); Cheyenne (1947); Magic Town (1947); Johnny Belinda (1948); A Kiss in the Dark (1949); It's a Great Feeling (cameo, 1949); The Lady Takes a Sailor (1949); Stage Fright (1950); The Glass Menagerie (1950); Three Guys Named Mike (1951); Here Comes the Groom (1951); The Blue Veil (1951); Starlift (1951); The Story of Will Rogers (1952); Just for You (1952); Let's Do It Again (1953); So Big (1953); Magnificent Obsession (1954); Lucy Gallant (1955); All That Heaven Allows (1956); Miracle in the Rain (1956); Holiday for Lovers (1959); Pollyanna (1960); Bon Voyage! (1962); How to Commit Marriage (1969).

Born Sarah Jane Fulks in 1914 in St. Joseph, Missouri, Jane Wyman would later sum up her childhood as strictly disciplined. Her parents Richard and Emma Fulks already had a teenage son and daughter at the time of Wyman's birth. When Jane was eight, Emma took her to Hollywood, ostensibly to visit relatives, but actually to try and get her into the movies. When she was unsuccessful, they returned home, where Wyman continued to study dancing and singing.

Following her father's death in 1929, Wyman and her mother returned to Los Angeles, where Wyman attended high school and attempted once again to obtain a studio contract. The best she could do was an occasional part in the dancing chorus of a musical. In 1935, she enrolled at the University of Missouri, but soon after was discovered by a radio executive who heard her sing at a party. She quit college and toured the country as a radio vocalist under the name Jane Durrell.

After her success on the radio, Wyman tried again to break into pictures, at which time she was advised to improve her speaking voice. She underwent another stint at the University of Missouri, for diction and elocution training, then returned to Hollywood. In 1936, following a featured role in My Man Godfrey, she signed a contract with Warner Bros.

Wyman faced still another uphill struggle to find a breakthrough role. For eight years, she played leads and second leads in a string of light comedies, receiving encouragement from critics who noted her "brightness and charm," and winning polls as the starlet most likely to succeed.

As a beautiful young Hollywood contract player, Wyman also enjoyed a lively social life. After a brief marriage in 1937 to dress manufacturer Myron Futterman, a divorced man almost twice her age, Wyman set her sights on fellow contract player Ronald Reagan, although they did not begin dating seriously until 1939 while they were working together in Brother Rat (1940). The couple had little in common aside from acting. Reagan, an outdoor fellow, was very politically minded; Wyman, at the time, preferred night-clubbing. By most accounts, it was Wyman who most aggressively pursued the relationship, even taking up golf so she could accompany Reagan when he played.

The year-long courtship ended in marriage on January 26, 1940, and after a brief honeymoon they returned to the studio to co-star in An Angel From Texas, which Warner Bros. hoped to release while the two were still newlyweds. A year later, on January 4, 1941, they had their first child, Maureen Reagan , and built a house to accommodate a nursery. The Reagans expanded the family again in 1944, adopting an infant son, Michael Reagan. By that time, the nation was at war, and the Reagans went from "storybook" couple to "Mr. and Mrs. America Fighting the War." In truth, the war did not disrupt their lives to any great extent; Reagan spent eight weeks in San Francisco then returned to Hollywood, where he served with a special services unit of the Army Air Corps at the Hal Roach Studios in Culver City. Wyman entertained at the Hollywood Canteen and toured with the Victory Committee, selling war bonds.

Wyman's career finally took off with her role as the long-suffering sweetheart of alcoholic writer Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend (1945), although the picture, finished in 1944, was not released immediately, because the studio feared that the subject of alcoholism might not play well with audiences. The liquor industry lobby also did its best to delay release of the film, offering the studio a hefty sum to keep it shelved. When it did finally reach movie houses, it was an overwhelming success and opened the door to better roles for Wyman. The following year, she won an Oscar nomination (and a ten-year contract with Warner's) for her portrayal of Ma Baxter in an adaptation of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings ' The Yearling, a turn-of-the-century story about a backwoods Florida family. "While she does not have the physical characteristics of the original 'Ma,'" wrote critic Bosley Crowther, referring to the character in the Rawlings novel, "she compels credulity and sympathy for a woman of stern and Spartan stripe." With her role in The Yearling, Wyman began thinking of herself as a serious actress and selected roles more thoughtfully. "For the first time in my life, I was no longer shy, or afraid of being ridiculed about my ambition," she said.

In 1948, Wyman won an Academy Award for her superb portrayal of a deaf-mute rape victim in Johnny Belinda. The actress spent six months at a school for the deaf to prepare for the part, which she played with her ears sealed with wax. "Miss Wyman brings superior insight and tenderness to the role," observed Crowther in The New York Times. "Not once does she speak throughout the picture. Her face is the mirror of her thoughts. Yet she makes this pathetic young woman glow with emotional warmth…. Miss Wyman, all the way through, plays her role in a manner which commands compassion and respect." Archer Winsten in the New York Post was equally impressed. "Jane Wyman gives a performance surpassingly beautiful in its slow, luminous awakening of joy and understanding. It is all the more beautiful in its accomplishment without words, perhaps because it is so wordlessly expressive."

Before shooting began on Johnny Belinda, Wyman had prematurely delivered an infant daughter who had died within several hours of birth. By the time the film was nearing completion, there were rumors of difficulties in the Reagan marriage. Wyman's career was beginning to eclipse Reagan's, and he was becoming increasingly involved in union work for the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG), which required frequent travel. In December 1947, Wyman announced that she was separating from her husband. After an attempt at reconciliation, the couple separated and eventually divorced. "Finally, there was nothing in common between us," Wyman said, "nothing to sustain our marriage." The couple continued to see each other frequently because of the children, who remained with Wyman, although she had little time to be a hands-on mom. Michael later said: "I didn't get to know my mother and father personally until I was twenty-five. Mom was working double time. I was more or less raised by Carrie, who was Mom's cook. I would go to her with my problems and inner feelings."

Both Wyman and Reagan remarried in 1952, Ronald to Nancy Davis (Nancy Reagan ), whom he had dated off and on for two years, and Jane to Fred Karger, a musician who worked for Columbia Pictures, and the father of a young daughter by a previous marriage. Wyman would subsequently divorce, remarry, and divorce again. After her second divorce from Karger in 1965, she remained single.

Meanwhile, her career hummed along. The actress moved with ease from melodrama to comedy and received two additional Oscar nominations, for The Blue Veil (1951), in which her character aged 40 years during the course of the film, and Magnificent Obsession (1954), the quintessential tearjerker about a reckless playboy (Rock Hudson) who accidentally blinds a woman, then falls in love with her, and finally becomes a doctor and cures her blindness. During the 1950s,

Reagan, Maureen (1941–2001)

American activist and first daughter . Born on January 4, 1941, in Los Angeles, California; died on August 8, 2001, in Sacramento, California; first child and one of two children of Ronald Reagan (president of the U.S.) and Jane Wyman (b. 1914, an actress); stepdaughter of Nancy Reagan (b. 1921); attended boarding school in Palos Verdes, California; briefly attended Marymount Junior College, Arlington, Virginia; married and divorced twice; married third husband Dennis Revell (a lobbyist and public relations firm owner), in 1991; children: (adopted) Rita Revell.

The eldest child of actors Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman , Maureen Reagan (nicknamed "Mermie" by her father) had a difficult childhood from the age of seven, when her parents divorced. Packed off to boarding school by her working mother, she grew up lonely. "To this day I am very sad at goodbyes," she said later. "When someone goes to the market, I get sick to my stomach."

At 17, Reagan briefly attended Marymount Junior College but left after a few months and took a secretarial job in Washington, where she also became interested in politics. She changed her party affiliation at the time from Democrat to Republican, later teasing her father that she became a Republican before he did. During the 1960s, she married and divorced twice. "I didn't like being married," she recalled years later. "I don't like being a nonperson. I've been someone's daughter all my life, and I'm not going to spend the rest of my life being someone's wife."

Reagan found her identity in the political arena, where she flourished. An outspoken feminist who disagreed with her father on abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment, Reagan chaired the United States delegation to the 1985 World Conference of the UN Decade for Women, and served as U.S. representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. From 1987 to 1989, she served as co-chair of the Republican National Committee and created a political action committee that supported over 100 women candidates.

During her father's 1980 bid for the presidency, Reagan left her job to join his campaign. "Maureen was very active," said Frank Donatelli, a regional campaign director. "She was good to put with groups of women, especially younger women. She's an excellent campaigner, well informed. She understands politics. She had a reputation for being brash, but she was an asset really." Reagan later mounted her own campaigns for public office, the first in 1982, running unsuccessfully against Pete Wilson for a U.S. Senate seat. In 1992, she finished second among 11 candidates for the Republican nomination for a new House seat.

Over the years, Reagan was also a political analyst, a radio and television talk-show host, and author of First Father, First Daughter: A Memoir (1989). The third of the Reagan children to write a book about their famous father, Maureen presented an honest but loving portrait, free of the anger that seemed to permeate the accounts of her siblings. Nancy Reagan , who at first shuddered at the idea of another Reagan child exposé, was pleasantly surprised. "Maureen's book is frank and interesting, and in it she provides details and insights about Ronnie that even I hadn't known," she wrote in her own memoir, My Turn.

In 1991, Reagan married Dennis Revell, a lobbyist and owner of a public-relations firm. On one of several trips she made to Africa for her father, they met a Ugandan child, Rita, whom they adopted in 1994. Most of Maureen's later years were spent raising public awareness of Alzheimer's disease, the memory-robbing and fatal affliction that her father was diagnosed with in 1994. As a board member and representative for the Chicago-based Alzheimer's Association, she lobbied for more funding for Alzheimer's research and caregiver support. In October 2000, she received the association's Distinguished Service Award for her efforts.

In 1996, Reagan was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, a deadly skin cancer, which she battled privately for two years. While in remission in 1998, she broke her silence, becoming a speaker for the American Academy of Dermatology and helping to raise awareness and promote the importance of skin examinations. In 2000, however, it was discovered that the cancer had spread to her spine, and she underwent renewed treatment. She lost her battle when the disease invaded her brain, and died on August 8, 2001. At her funeral on August 18, attended by both her mother Jane Wyman and Nancy Reagan, Maureen was eulogized as "a valiant, passionate fighter against Alzheimer's disease and melanoma, as well as an advocate for women inside and outside the Republican Party."


Allen, Jane E. "Maureen Reagan dies of cancer at 60," in Los Angeles Times. August 8, 2001.

Leamer, Laurence. Make-Believe: The Story of Nancy and Ronald Reagan. NY: Harper & Row, 1983.

Reagan, Nancy, with William Novak. My Turn. NY: Random House, 1989.

Wilson, Jeff. "Obituary," in Boston Globe. August 9, 2001.

Wyman also tentatively entered television, filming an episode of the "General Electric Theater" (hosted by her ex-husband Ronald Reagan).

In 1955, sensing that television might hold more of a future for her than movies, Wyman took over the already established anthology series "Fireside Theater" (which became "Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theater," and then "The Jane Wyman Theater"), serving as actress and later as executive producer of the popular program. "She is a very astute businesswoman and a devoted and hard worker," said William Asher, who produced the show during its first season. "She can—and does—jump into any kind of business negotiation in competition with men. She has a tremendous understanding of the value of a dollar." After three grueling years of nonstop acting and producing, Wyman left the series but continued to make guest appearances on other popular television shows. Her film career was pretty much over by 1962, although in 1969 she appeared in How to Commit Marriage with Jackie Gleason, the first "class" production she had been offered in years.

The intense media interest that had surrounded Wyman's marriage to Ronald Reagan was rekindled at various intervals during Reagan's political career. Wyman consistently refused to comment. "It's not because I'm bitter or because I disagree with him politically," she once said. "I've always been a registered Republican. But it's bad taste to talk about ex-husbands and ex-wives, that's all." While her children Maureen and Michael, who figured prominently in their father's presidential campaigns, were attending his inauguration in January 1981, Wyman was telling reporters that she had "no regrets" about not being first lady. "Oh no, the White House is not for me…. Mark you, I have perfectly won derful memories of him. We are good friends and we will always remain good friends."

Wyman's status as Reagan's first wife, however, did not hurt her show-business marketability, and may have indeed led to her successful run as the mean-spirited matriarch Angela Channing on the evening soap opera Falcon Crest. Nominated for a Golden Globe Award in 1984, for Best Performance by an Actress in a Dramatic Series, Wyman was stunned to win. In her acceptance remarks, the actress shocked the audience by acknowledging her character as a "bitch," then went on to express her delight. "I'm having the best time of my life," she said. "I'm a little too old to be happy, but just old enough to be grateful."


Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.

Morella, Joe, and Edward Z. Epstein. Jane Wyman: A Biography. NY: Delacorte, 1985.

Rothe, Anna, ed. Current Biography 1949. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1949.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts