'Johnny Belinda' actress Jane Wyman dies
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LOS ANGELES - Jane Wyman won an Oscar for her role as a deaf rape victim in the film "Johnny Belinda" and she'll probably be best remembered for her portrayal of a power-mad winery owner in TV's "Falcon Crest."
But her greatest distinction may have been refusing to kiss and tell about her love life, most especially her marriage to future president Ronald Reagan.
Wyman died early Monday at her Palm Springs home, son Michael Reagan said. Wyman's age was listed as 93 in several reference books, however other sources, including the official family Web site, say she was 90.
"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," Reagan said in a statement.
Wyman's film career started in the 1930s and stretched from the "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 vintner who maintained her grip with a steely will on CBS' "Falcon Crest."
Her marriage in 1940 to fellow Warner Bros. contract player Ronald 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."
She and Reagan divorced in 1948, the year she won an 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."
Warner Bros. signed Wyman to a long-term contract in 1936, and the studio was notorious for typecasting its contract players.
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.
The actress became entranced by Reagan, a handsome former sportscaster who was a newcomer to the Warner lot. She finagled a date with him, and romance ensued.
After returning from a personal appearance tour with columnist Louella Parsons, they were married on Jan. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Wyman continued making prestigious films such as "The Glass Menagerie," Alfred Hitchcock's "Stage Fright" and "Here Comes the Groom" (with Bing Crosby). Two tearjerkers, "The Blue Veil" (1951) and "Magnificent Obsession" (1954), brought her Oscar nominations as best actress.
Other film credits included: "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.
When Wyman received the script for "Falcon Crest," she was undecided about undertaking the nasty, power-hungry 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."
"Next to my parents, Jane was the most influential person in my young career," said Lorenzo Lamas, who starred with Wyman on "Falcon Crest." "She has left an incredible body of work and accomplishments that cannot go without being recognized and celebrated. I will miss her greatly."
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 was a wonderful woman and great to work with," said actress Jane Seymour, who starred in TV's "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," where Wyman guest-starred in a 1993 episode as Seymour's mother. "She was an amazing pro."
Wyman 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."
Born Sarah Jane Fulks in St. Joseph, Mo, she grew up in a cheerless home in which her mother's time was devoted to her seriously ailing husband. After her father died, Sarah Jane accompanied her mother to Los Angeles, where the girl tried to get jobs in the studios. There was no work for the snub-nosed teenager, and 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.