Jane Wyman was born Sarah Jane Mayfield on January 5, 1917, in St. Joseph, Missouri (she was also known later as Sarah Jane Fulks). When she was only eight years old, and after her parents filed for divorce, she lost her father prematurely. After graduating high school she attempted, with the help of her mother, to break into films, but to no avail. In 1935, after attending the University of Missouri, she began a career as a radio singer, which led to her first name change to Jane Durrell. In 1936 she signed a contract with Warner Bros. Pictures and that led to another name change, the more familiar one of Jane Wyman. Under that name she appeared in “A” and “B” pictures at Warners, including two with her future husband, Ronald Reagan: Brother Rat (1938) and its sequel, Brother Rat and a Baby (1940). In the early 1940s she moved into comedies and melodramas and gained attention for her role as Ray Milland’s long-suffering girlfriend in The Lost Weekend (1945). The following year she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role as Ma Baxter in The Yearling (1946), and won the coveted prize in 1949 as deaf-mute rape victim Belinda MacDonald in Johnny Belinda (1948). She followed that with a number of appearances in more prestigious films, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright (1950), Frank Capra’s Here Comes the Groom (1951), Michael Curtiz’s The Story of Will Rogers (1952) and the first movie version of The Glass Menagerie (1950). She starred opposite Bing Crosby in the musical Just for You (1952). She was Oscar-nominated for her performances in The Blue Veil (1951) and Magnificent Obsession (1954). She also starred in the immensely popular So Big (1953), Lucy Gallant (1955), All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Miracle in the Rain (1956). In addition to her extensive film career, she hosted TV’s Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre (1955) and starred in most of the episodes of the show, which ran for three seasons. She came back to the big screen in Holiday for Lovers (1959), Pollyanna (1960) and her final film, How to Commit Marriage (1969). Although off the big screen, she became a presence on the small screen and starred in two made-for-TV movies, including The Incredible Journey of Doctor Meg Laurel (1979). In early 1981, in the 49th year of her career, she won the role of conniving matriarch Angela Channing Erikson Stavros Agretti in the movie “The Vintage Years”, which was the unaired pilot for the prime-time soap opera Falcon Crest (1981), later in the year. For nine seasons she played that character in a way that virtually no other actress could have done, and became the moral center of the show. The show was a ratings winner from its debut in 1981, and made stars out of her fellow cast members Robert Foxworth, Lorenzo Lamas, Abby Dalton and Susan Sullivan. At the end of the first season the story line had her being informed that her evil son, played by David Selby, had inherited 50% of a California newspaper company, and the conflicts inherent in that situation led to even bigger ratings over the next five years. Wyman was nominated six times for a Soap Opera Digest Award, and in 1984 she won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series Drama. By the show’s eighth season, however, she was emotionally drained and the strain of constantly working to keep up the quality of a hit show took its toll on her. In addition, there was friction on the set among cast members. All of these events culminated in her departure from the show after the first two episodes of the ninth season (her character was hospitalized and slipped into a coma) for health reasons. After a period of recuperation, she believed that she had recovered enough to guest-star in the last three episodes of the season (her doctor disagreed, but she did it anyway). She then guest-starred as Jane Seymour’s mother on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman (1993) and three years later appeared in Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick (1995). In the late 1990s she purchased a home in Rancho Mirage, California, where she lived in retirement. Her daughter, Maureen Reagan (who died in August 2001), was a writer who also involved herself in political issues and organized a powerful foundation. Also, she placed her 3200-sq.-ft. Rancho Mirage condominium on the market. Jane Wyman died at the age of 90, at her Palm Springs, California home, on September 10, 2007, having long suffered from arthritis and diabetes. It was reported that Wyman died in her sleep of natural causes at the Rancho Mirage Country Club.
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