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Actress Jane Wyman


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Actress Jane Wyman

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Jane Wyman

LOS ANGELES, California -- Jane Wyman, an Academy Award-Winning Actress for her performance as the deaf rape victim in "Johnny Belinda," star of the long-running TV series, "Falcon Crest" and Ronald Reagan's first wife, died the morning of Monday, September 10 at her Palm Springs home, said Richard Adney of Forest Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary in Cathedral City. No other details were immediately available. She was 93.

Sarah Jane Mayfield was born on on January 5, 1914 in St. Joseph, Missouri. She grew up in a cheerless home in which her mother's time was devoted to her seriously ailing husband. She assumed the name Sarah Jane Fulks in honor of her neighbors, Richard and Emma Fulks, who unofficially adopted her after her father died.

As a teenager, she accompanied her mother to Los Angeles to try to get jobs in the studios. When there was no work for the snub-nosed starlet, she returned to St. Joseph. She attended the University of Missouri, worked as a manicurist and switchboard operator, then sang on radio as Jane Durrell. When that career dwindled, she decided to try Hollywood again, began playing bit parts, and changed Durrell to Wyman.

Wyman's film career spanned from the 1930s, including "Gold Diggers of 1937," to 1969's "How to Commit Marriage," co-starring Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason. From 1981 to 1990 she played Angela Channing, a Napa Valley winery owner who maintained her power with a steely will on CBS' "Falcon Crest."

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Jane Wyman and Charles Bickford in 'Johnny Belinda'

Her marriage in 1940 to fellow Warner Bros. contract player Reagan was celebrated in the fan magazines as one of Hollywood's ideal unions. While he was in uniform during World War II, her career ascended, signaled by her 1946 Oscar nomination for "The Yearling."

The couple divorced in 1948, the year she won the Oscar for "Johnny Belinda." Reagan reportedly cracked to a friend: "Maybe I should name Johnny Belinda as co-respondent." After Reagan became governor of California and then president of the United States, Wyman kept a decorous silence about her ex-husband, who had married actress Nancy Davis.

In a 1968 newspaper interview, Wyman explained the reason: "It's not because I'm bitter or because I don't agree with him politically. I've always been a registered Republican. 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."

A few days after Reagan died on June 5, 2004, Wyman broke her silence, saying: "America has lost a great president and a great, kind and gentle man."

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Jane Wyman

It was 1936 when Warner Bros. signed Wyman to a long-term contract. She long remembered the first line she spoke as a chorus girl to show producer Dick Powell: "I'm Bessie Fuffnik. I swim, ride, dive, imitate wild birds and play the trombone."

Warner Bros. was notorious for typecasting its contract players, and Wyman suffered that fate. She recalled in 1968: "For 10 years I was the wisecracking lady reporter who stormed the city desk snapping, 'Stop the presses! I've got a story that will break this town wide open!'"

In 1937, Wyman married a wealthy manufacturer of children's clothes, Myron Futterman, in New Orleans. The marriage was reported as her second, but an earlier marriage was never confirmed. She divorced him in November 1938, declaring she wanted children and he didn't.

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Jane Wyman with ex-husband, Ronald Reagan

The actress became entranced by Reagan, a handsome former sportscaster who was a newcomer to the Warner lot. She wangled a date with him, and romance ensued. After returning from a personal appearance tour with columnist Louella Parsons, they were married on January 26, 1940.

The following year she gave birth to a daughter, Maureen. They later adopted a son, Michael. They also had a daughter who was born several months premature in June 1947 and died a day later. In Reagan's autobiography "An American Life," the index shows only one mention of Wyman, and it runs for only two sentences.

"That same year I made the Knute Rockne movie, I married Jane Wyman, another contract player at Warners," Reagan wrote. "Our marriage produced two wonderful children, Maureen and Michael, but it didn't work out, and in 1948 we were divorced." The final divorce decree was issued in 1949.

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Jane Wyman and Ronald Reagan with their

young daughter, Maureen

Their daughter, Maureen, died in August 2001 after a battle with cancer. At the funeral, Wyman, balancing on a cane, put a cross on the casket. Reagan, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, was not well enough to attend.

Early in their marriage, Reagan's career grew with "Knute Rockne -- All American" and "King's Row" while Wyman languished as "Joan Blondell of the B's." That changed after Reagan joined the army.

Wyman escaped B-pictures by persuading Jack Warner to loan her to Paramount for "The Lost Weekend." The film won the Academy Award for 1945 and led to another loanout -- to MGM for "The Yearling." De-glamourized as a backwoods wife and mother, the actress received her first Oscar nomination.

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Jane Wyman in 'The Lost Weekend'

After 40 films at Warner Bros., Wyman achieved her first acting challenge with "Johnny Belinda." When Jack Warner saw a rough cut of the film, he ranted to the director, Jean Negulesco: "We invented talking pictures, and you make a picture about a deaf and dumb girl!"

He changed his attitude when "Johnny Belinda" received 12 Academy Award nominations and the Oscar for Jane Wyman. Her acceptance speech was brief: "I accept this award very gratefully for keeping my mouth shut once. I think I'll do it again." Reagan became increasingly active in politics as his wife's career climbed.

When she divorced him, she testified: "Politics built a barrier between us. I tried to make his interests mine, but finally there was nothing to sustain our marriage." Wyman continued making prestigious films such as "The Glass Menagerie," Alfred Hitchcock's "Stage Fright" and "Here Comes the Groom" with Bing Crosby.

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Jane Wyman in 'Stage Fright'

Wyman's other film credits include two tearjerkers, 1951's "The Blue Veil" and 1954's "Magnificent Obsession," which brought her Oscar nominations as Best Actress. Other film credits include: "So Big," "Lucy Gallant," "All That Heaven Allows," "Miracle in the Rain," "Holiday for Lovers," "Pollyanna" and "Bon Voyage!"

Her first entry into television came with "The Jane Wyman Show," an anthology series that appeared on NBC from 1955 to 1958. She introduced the shows, half of them starring herself, half with other actors. She quit the show after three years, saying that "putting on a miniature movie once a week" was exhausting.

In 1952 Wyman married Fred Karger, a studio music director. They divorced, later remarried and divorced the second time in 1965. She remained single thereafter. While not working, she devoted much of her time to benefits and telethons for the Arthritis Foundation.

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Jane Wyman portrayed Angela Channing on

the primetime soap opera, 'Falcon Crest'

When Wyman received the script for "Falcon Crest," she was undecided about undertaking the nasty, power-mad Angela Channing, so different from the self-sacrificing characters of her movie days. But she liked the idea that Angela "runs everything. She goes straight through everything like a Mack truck."

Riding the wave of prime-time soap operas that made "Dallas" and "Dynasty" national sensations, "Falcon Crest" lasted nine seasons. The series ended with Angela again in control of the vineyard. Her battered family raised their glasses in a toast: "The land endures."

After Reagan became president in 1981, his former wife gave few interviews and responded to questions about him with a stony look. When "Falcon Crest" ended, she withdrew from public view. She saw a few intimates and devoted much time to painting.

She summed up her long career in a 1981 newspaper interview: "I've been through four different cycles in pictures: the brassy blonde, then came the musicals, the high dramas, then the inauguration of television." In the end, she had survived for decades in a town notorious for exploiting talent and then discarding it.

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In 2001, Nancy Reagan (left) and Jane Wyman (right)

talk after a memorial service for Wyman's daughter,

Maureen Reagan in Sacramento, California.

When not acting, Wyman painted, mostly landscapes. She also was active for many years in the Arthritis Foundation, for which she served as a national chairwoman. In 1977, she became the second recipient of the Charles B. Harding Award, the highest national award given by the foundation.

The group's Southern California chapter also created the Jane Wyman Humanitarian Award in her honor. Wyman, a devout Catholic convert and supporter of the Roman Catholic Church, also was a strong supporter of Hollywood's Covenant House and Our Lady of Angels Monastery.

Survivors include her son, radio personality Michael Reagan, who said in a statement: "I have lost a loving mother; my children, Cameron and Ashley, have lost a loving grandmother; my wife, Colleen, has lost a loving friend she called Mom; and Hollywood has lost the classiest lady to ever grace the silver screen."

A rosary for Wyman, followed by a funeral Mass, was recited in Palm Desert. The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Arthritis Foundation of Southern California or to Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

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