Oscar winner Jane Wyman, former wife of Reagan, dies

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

LOS ANGELES -- Jane Wyman, Oscar winner and former wife to president Ronald Reagan, died early Monday at her Palm Springs home, son Michael Reagan said. Wyman's age was listed as 93 in several reference books, however other sources, including the official family Web site, say she was 90.

Wyman's film career started in the 1930s and stretched from the "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 vintner who maintained her grip with a steely will on CBS' "Falcon Crest."

Her marriage in 1940 to fellow Warner Bros. contract player Ronald 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."

She and Reagan divorced in 1948, the year she won an Oscar for "Johnny Belinda." Reagan reportedly cracked to a friend: "Maybe I should name Johnny Belinda as co-respondent."

Born Sarah Jane Fulks in St. Joseph, Mo., she grew up in a cheerless home in which her mother's time was devoted to her seriously ailing husband. After her father died, she accompanied her mother to Los Angeles, where she tried to get jobs in the studios. There was no work available, and she returned to St. Joseph.

She attended the University of Missouri, worked as a manicurist and switchboard operator, then sang on radio as Jane Durrell. When that career dwindled, she decided to try Hollywood again, began playing bit parts, and changed Durrell to Wyman.

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