Jane Wyman, much more than Angela Channing

Jane Wyman, in the center of the image.

She was one of the great actresses of Hollywood’s golden age and was married to Ronald Reagan


For younger generations, Jane Wyman’s name is linked to Angela Channing, the perfidious matriarch of ‘Falcon Crest’. But long before that, Jane Wyman was one of the great actresses of Hollywood’s golden age, and she was married to Ronald Reagan.

Sarah Jane Mayfield, better known as Jane Wyman was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, on January 5, 1917 and died at her home in Palm Spring on September 10, 2007. Wyman debuted in 1932, in the early days of talkies, and in the following years he worked in supporting roles in dramas and comedies representative of the time, but the decade of the 40 was his definitive push towards a stardom of moderate duration (from 1945 to 1960, approximately), specializing in characters of melodramatic cut.

It was wasted for years, but it is at the end of the 40s when it becomes a Hollywood myth. In 1949 she won the Oscar for best actress playing a deaf-mute woman in ‘Belinda’ (1948) and obtained three more nominations: in 1947 for ‘The awakening’, in 1951 for ‘I’m not alone’ and in 1955 for ‘Obsession’ . In 1945, Wyman achieved great popularity with his magnificent performance in one of the most iconic dramas on alcoholism in history: ‘Days Without a Footprint’, by the great Billy Wilder, playing the wife of a tortured writer and in emotional crisis, that he cannot get out of the spiral of alcohol in which he finds himself. The recognition that Jane achieves with this film (winner of 4 Oscars), allows her access to productions of the big studios, where she is demonstrating her versatility. Thus begins his best time in the cinema, acting in the softened biopic of Cole Porter ‘Night and day’ (1946, Michael Curtiz), in the rural drama ‘The awakening’ (1946, Clarence Brown), ‘Magic city’ (1947 , William A. Wellman) and the aforementioned ‘Belinda’ (1948, Jean Negulesco).

The 1950s began with Alfred Hitchcock in ‘Panic on the scene’ (1950) with Michael Wilding and Marlene Dietrich. Wyman shows his talent in titles such as’ The Glass Zoo ‘(1950, Irving Rapper) according to the play by Tennessee Williams, along with a near-debutant Kirk Douglas,’ Here comes the boyfriend ‘(1951, Frank Capra),’ No I’m alone ‘(1951, Curtis Bernhardt) or’ Love at midnight ‘(1953, Alexander Hall),’ Wheat and emerald ‘(1953, Robert Wise). 1954 marked his first meeting with the great melodrama director Douglas Sirk, who paired him with the heartthrob Rock Hudson in two of his most popular films of the 50s, ‘Obsession’ (1954), where he played the role of a woman who remains blind after an accident, and ‘Only heaven knows it’ (1955), where another typically melodramatic plot served as an excuse for the director to carry out an exercise in style that is unsurpassed today. The 1950s ended with two popular hits that stood the test of time: the amiable melodramatic comedy ‘Miracle in the Rain’ (1956, Rudolph Maté) and ‘Pollyanna’, a 1960 Disney film of enormous popularity around the world. In 1962, he starred in one of his last works as a protagonist, ‘Daddy’s conflicts’ (1962, James Neilson), to distance himself after the cinema. In those years he has his own television show, ‘Jane Wyman Presents’.

Married to Ronald Reagan, she was the actor’s first wife and later President of the United States, with whom she was married for eight years and had three children. After the end of World War II, the couple hired an Irish Catholic nanny to care for their young children Maureen and Michael. Every morning he went to mass. In Hollywood there was a vibrant Catholic community, made up of various stars such as Loretta Young, Spencer Tracy, Ricardo Montalbán, June Haver, Claudette Colbert and Irene Dunne. When they acted together in a movie they used to attend the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. Jane Wyman began attending Mass with Loretta Young after divorcing Reagan. She was trying to heal the wound caused by the loss of her baby Christina, who died on June 26, 1947. On December 8, 1954, converted to Catholicism, she and her children were baptized in the Church of the Good Shepherd. A month earlier, she had divorced her fourth husband, Frederick M. Karger, a Hollywood music director and composer. Jane Wyman was very generous with various Catholic institutions: Covent House in Hollywood and the monastery of Our Lady of the Angels, owned by the Dominican nuns.

It will not be until 1981, in the middle of the Reagan era, when Wyman resurfaces from his ashes in the American television series ‘Falcon Crest’, which spent 9 years on the air and was broadcast in half the world. In it, Jane played a very different role from the one that had made her famous in the 1950s. While at that time she played self-sacrificing heroines, in ‘Falcon Crest’ she was a cunning and powerful matriarch who in order to protect her family and her legacy he was capable of concocting tricks of any kind. For her famous role as Angela Channing, she won 4 Golden Globes in 4 consecutive years. By 1989 the actress’s health worsened, and she had to leave the series in its final season, to which she returned sporadically at the end.

Jane Wyman passed away on Monday, September 10, 2007 at the age of 93 at her home in Palm Springs, having suffered for several years from arthritis and diabetes. Wyman’s son Michael Reagan made a public statement in which he said, “I have lost a loving mother, my children, Cameron and Ashley have lost a loving grandmother, my wife Collen has lost a great friend whom called Mom, and Hollywood lost one of the most elegant ladies that has appeared in the movies.

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Jane Wyman, much more than Angela Channing