Thursday, February 11, 2010

Jane Wyman (1917-2007)

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Academy Award-Winning Actress. Born Sarah Jane Mayfield, for many years she gave her birthdate as January 4, 1914 to make herself appear older, enabling her to work full time while still a minor. She launched her professional career in 1930 singing on radio programs under the name "Jane Durrell", and after 1932 she obtained small parts in such films as "The Kid from Spain" (1932), "My Man Godfrey" (1936), and "Cain and Mabel" (1936). In 1936 she changed her name to Wyman and began work as a contract player with Warner Brothers, the same year she graduated from the University of Missouri. Her first notable role was in "Public Wedding" (1937). Wyman co-starred with Ronald Reagan in "Brother Rat" (1938) and its sequel "Brother Rat and a Baby" (1940). After years of lackluster leads she finally gained critical notice in the "The Lost Weekend" (1945), and was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress in 1947 for "The Yearling". She won in 1949 for her powerful performance as a deaf-mute rape victim in "Johnny Belinda" (1948), the first Oscar winner since the silent film era to win for a role that didn't include dialogue. She was Oscar-nominated again in 1952 and 1955 for "The Blue Veil" and "Magnificent Obsession". In the 1950s Wyman hosted a television series, "Jane Wyman Theater", receiving an Emmy nomination in 1957. She lived in semi-retirement until the 1970s, when she appeared in guest roles on "Charlie's Angels" and other television series. In the 1980s her career enjoyed a resurgence when she was cast as the matriarch in "Falcon Crest", a CBS drama about a family involved in the California wine industry. Wyman married Ronald Reagan in 1940 and they had three children: Maureen, Michael (whom they adopted), and Christine, who was stillborn. Career differences and Reagan's political ambitions led to their divorce in 1948. She was then married bandleader Frederick Karger twice (from 1952 to 1955 and from 1961 to 1965, both ending in divorce). After "Falcon Crest" was canceled Wyman retired, first to Rancho Mirage, and later to Palm Springs.

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