MOzarks Moments: Jane Wyman’s versatile career

Clockwise from top left: An ad for Jane Wyman’s starring role in “Johnny Belinda” that won her an Oscar and put even more distance between her and her husband's acting careers. Wyman pictured with her Oscar. Wyman with the man she married twice; Frederick Karger. Wyman in her last noteworthy movie role in the Disney movie, “Pollyanna.” Sheet music for a song from Wyman's second movie with her friend, Bing Crosby, starring in “Just For You.”

In 1948, Jane Wyman only had one movie come out. It was “Johnny Belinda,” in which she played a deaf-mute rape victim. Wyman had personally paid for the option to the story and then had a tough time selling the story to her studio, but finally succeeded.

To play the role where she could only act with her expression, her eyes and her body language, Wyman learned all the other actors’ lines and then wore special ear plugs so she couldn't hear them.

That role won her a Golden Globe Award and a second Oscar nomination, and this time she won. In her very short acceptance speech for the Oscar, Wyman said, “I accept this, very gratefully, for keeping my mouth shut once. I think I'll do it again.”

In 1950, Jane Wyman and Jimmy Stewart were named the most popular actress and actor of 1949. In 1951, Wyman appeared in “The Blue Veil' for which she was nominated for a third Oscar and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress.

Also in 1951, Wyman appeared with Bing Crosby in the Frank Capra-directed movie, “Here Comes the Groom” and they recorded a hit record, “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening,” which won an Oscar for Best Song.

In November of 1952, Wyman married for the fourth time. This time she married composer and orchestra leader Frederick Karger. The story in the Times said they had known each other for several years but did not fall in love until working together on their current movie.

1954's “Magnificent Obsession” garnered Wyman her fourth Oscar nomination for Best Actress. In October of 1954, the Times carried an article that said, “The off-again, on-again marriage of actress Jane Wyman and bandleader Freddie Karger is in the former category as of yesterday, Wyman disclosed.” They were divorced in December.

In 1955, the savvy Wyman decided to also move into television. Taking note of her good friend Loretta Young's television anthology series, she decided to produce her own and called it “Jane Wyman Presents.” She produced the drama series and starred in every other show. It was very popular and Wyman was nominated twice for a Primetime Emmy Award as “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.”

One of the aspiring writers Wyman hired for “Jane Wyman Presents” was Aaron Spelling, who would later become a prolific television producer. She would later make appearances on two of his series, “The Love Boat” and “Charlie's Angels.”

“Jane Wyman Presents” lasted until 1958. In 1960, she made a notable performance in the Walt Disney movie, “Pollyanna,” where she starred as the stern town matriarch along with Richard Egan, Karl Malden, Agnes Morehead and Haley Mills.

In 1961, Wyman married again, this time to former husband Frederick Karger. They were divorced for a second time in 1965. She never married again.

After “Pollyanna,” Wyman made one more feature film and three television movies. She also continued to make guest shots on various television shows.

In 1955, Wyman had made her first television appearance on the “General Electric True Theater” hosted by ex-husband Ronald Reagan. Then, in 1967, Reagan had been elected governor of California.

Of course, he ran for President in 1980 and won, taking the highest office in the land in January of 1981. As his only ex-wife, Jane Wyman was hounded by the press for comments on Reagan. Wyman took the high road and refused to talk about him. 

“It’s bad taste to talk about ex-husbands and ex-wives,” she said. “Also, I don’t know a damn thing about politics.”

After Reagan’s death in 2004, Wyman made an official statement: “America has lost a great president and a great, kind and gentle man.”

As Ronald Reagan was occupying the oval office, Wyman took the role of the family matriarch in the primetime soap opera, “Falcon Crest.” She played that role from 1981 to 1990 and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Television Series Drama in both 1983 and 1984, winning the award in 1984. It was reported that Wyman was the highest-paid actress on television for that series.

Jane Wyman died at the age of 90 on Sept. 10, 2007.

During her six-decade career, Wyman acted in 89 movies and 284 episodes of various television shows. She co-starred with a who's who of movie stars and many of those actors and actresses became lifelong friends. She also was the star of two highly-rated television series.

Performer, composer and musical arranger Michael Feinstein said Wyman was a great singer, even though she denigrated her own voice. He said, “If Jane wanted to focus on making musicals, she clearly could have been a great musical star.”

Jane Wyman, who started out life as Sarah Jane Mayfield in St. Joseph, Missouri, has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for television and the other for movies.

(1) comment

If you would like to listen to Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman sing their Oscar-winning song, "In The Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" it is on YouTube. If you want to watch one of her movies, you can't go wrong with the feel-good movie, "Pollyanna."

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