'Falcon Crest' Actress Jane Wyman Dies at 90
Wyman died at her home in Rancho Mirage of age-related causes, said Virginia Zamboni, a longtime friend.
Wyman's son, radio personality Michael Reagan, 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
After arriving in Hollywood from
In the 1950s, the early days of television, she staked out a career in that medium with her own half-hour dramatic anthology show. And years after her film career waned, she became familiar to millions more television viewers as the matriarch-you-love-to-hate in the long-running 1980s nighttime soap opera "Falcon Crest."
Still, hardly ever was Wyman's name mentioned in print without also referring to the second of her three husbands.
At the time they met in 1938, Reagan was a fellow actor under contract with Warner Bros. After a well-publicized courtship, they wed on Jan. 26, 1940, at Wee Kirk o' the Heather Church in
Wyman bore the couple two daughters, one of whom died after a premature birth and the other, Maureen Reagan, who died of melanoma in 2001 at the age of 60. They also adopted their son, Michael, before divorcing in 1948.
Theirs would have been just another Hollywood marriage that landed on the rocks had Reagan not gone on to be governor of
Reagan, who was by then married to Nancy
Much to Wyman's irritation, she was the subject of constant questioning about Reagan, despite her well-known refusal to speak of him because she considered it "bad taste to talk about ex-husbands and ex-wives." She was known to get up and leave an interview if a writer brought up his name.
"I made 86 films and 350 television shows," she explained to Newsday in 1989. "I've been in this business 54 years."
Rarely did she break her silence about her former husband, with the exception of a brief statement issued after his death on June 5, 2004: "America has lost a great president and a great, kind and gentle man."
She met Reagan playing his girlfriend in "Brother Rat" in 1938 and appeared with him in the 1940 sequel, "Brother Rat and a Baby," and two other films, "Tugboat Annie Sails Again" and "An Angel From
During divorce proceedings -- Wyman, who under the laws then in place was obligated to give cause for their separation -- said she didn't share Reagan's interest in politics and was bored by the constant talk about it. The divorce came at a time when her career was soaring and his was declining. She also had been linked with "Johnny Belinda" costar
Reagan's 1990 autobiography, "An American Life," mentions his marriage to Wyman only to say that it had produced "two wonderful children" but that it "didn't work out."
With her brown eyes, turned-up nose and signature dark hairdo -- a pageboy with bangs -- Wyman was a familiar face to millions of fans and a prominent member of Old Hollywood. Her costars ranged from
Her other starring roles included the 1953 screen version of
Wyman's last major film was with
"Falcon Crest" ran for nine years, peaking in popularity in 1983-84 and finally ending in 1990 after Wyman's character had spent much of the year in a coma.
Sarah Jane Mayfield Fulks was born in St. Joseph, Mo., on Jan. 5, 1917. Her father died when she was young, and she was raised by her mother, who had ambitions for her daughter to be in Hollywood. Wyman attended the University of
Wyman got her start in films in the chorus of a 1932 Busby
Like many actresses of the day, the light-haired Wyman at first bleached her hair
Her next major role was as Orry Baxter, the stern mother in "The Yearling," which earned her an Oscar nomination and completed her transformation into serious actress and leading lady.
"Mother's career consisted mostly of one depressingly serious part after another," Maureen Reagan wryly wrote in her 1989 memoir, "First Father, First Daughter."
In 1948, Wyman was cast in "Johnny Belinda" as a deaf-mute farm girl who is raped. To help her better play her character, she plugged her ears during filming, and at home she rarely spoke, preferring to use sign language, according to her son's 1988 memoir, "On the Outside Looking In."
"I learned the all-important thing: A deaf person hears with her eyes, just as a blind person sees with his ears," Wyman told Hopper.
Though not everyone liked the movie -- film historian and essayist David Thomson has called it an "evasive, slick sob story" and "uncut corn" -- her performance was universally praised. The
Wyman was married to businessman Myron Futterman in the 1930s. After her divorce from Reagan, she twice married musician and vocal coach Fred Karger, divorcing him the final time in 1965.
When not acting, Wyman painted, mostly landscapes. She also was active for many years in the
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, Michael Reagan, and three grandchildren.
The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Arthritis Foundation of Southern California or Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 43775 Deep Canyon Road,