Monday, September 10, 2007

Jane Wyman Dies At 93

Jane Wyman, an Academy Award winner 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 Monday morning at 93. Jane died at her Palm Springs home, said Richard Adney of Forest Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary in Cathedral City. No other details were immediately available. Jane'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.

In 1937, Jane 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. Her marriage on January 26, 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 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. The couple divorced in 1948, the year she won the Oscar for Johnny Belinda. A few days after Reagan died on June 5, 2004, Jane broke her silence about her former husband, saying: "America has lost a great president and a great, kind and gentle man."

In 1952 Jane 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. 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. Jane continued making prestigious films including: The Glass Menagerie, Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright, Here Comes the Groom, The Blue Veil (1951) and Magnificent Obsession (1954), brought her Oscar nominations as best actress.

When Jane 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." 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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