WYMAN,JANE

U.S. Actor

Jane Wyman is one of the few Hollywood movie stars to have had an equally successful television career. She was at the height of her film career in the mid-1950s when she launched her first television series, Jane Wyman Theater. Modeled after the successful The Loretta Young Show, the prime-time filmed anthology series presented a different drama each week, with Wyman as host, producer, and sometimes actress. Between 1958 and 1980, Wyman appeared occasionally as a guest star on television series and in made-for-TV movies. Then, in 1981, she scored another series success with her portrayal of ruthless matriarch Angela Channing on CBS's prime-time soap opera, Falcon Crest.

Jane Wyman broke into movies in the early 1930s as a Goldwyn Girl and continued to play chorus girls until the mid-1940s. By 1948, when she won the Best Actress Academy Award for Johnny Belinda, her image was that of a capable, dramatic actress. In the early 1950s, her success continued with romantic comedies like Here Comes the Groom (1951) and melodramas like Magnificent Obsession (1954). She was now considered a "woman's star," mature yet glamorous, a woman with whom middle-class, middle-aged women could identify. Amid speculation as to why a currently successful film star would want to do series television, Wyman started work on her own anthology drama series. According to her, television seemed like the right thing to do at that time. The movie industry was changing, and she wanted to try the new medium. Moreover, film roles for fortyish female stars were in short supply.

Procter & Gamble's Fireside Theatre, a filmed anthology series, had been a fixture on NBC since 1949, but by the end of the 1954-55 season ratings had slipped. The show was overhauled in 1955 and became Wyman's series. She was host, actress, and producer. Her production company, Lewman Productions (co-owned with MCA's Revue Productions), produced the series. As host, she was glamorous Jane Wyman. As producer, she chose the stories. As actress, she chose her occasional roles. Presentations were dramas or light comedies, with Wyman acting in about half of the episodes. The series carried on the tradition established by Fireside Theatre and The Loretta Young Show--filmed, half-hour anthology dramas that attracted substantial audiences while critics praised live, 60- and 90-minute anthology dramas like Studio One and Playhouse 90.

Wyman's series was initially titled Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theatre, but was later shortened to Jane Wyman Theater. (It was called Jane Wyman Presents when ABC aired reruns in 1963.) Like The Loretta Young Show, Wyman's series was rerun on network daytime schedules (to target women audiences) and in syndication. (An aspiring writer, Aaron Spelling, found work with Jane Wyman Theater and later became one of television's most successful producers.) Wyman also hosted a summer series that featured teleplays originally shown on other anthology dramas. This 1957 program was called Jane Wyman's Summer Playhouse.

In the years following the cancellation of Jane Wyman Theater, Wyman guest starred on television programs, made a few feature films (with starring roles in two Disney films), and appeared in a made-for-TV movie. In 1971, Wyman guest starred on an episode of The Bold Ones as Dr. Amanda Fallon. This production provided the basis for a series pilot, but never became a series. In 1979, she received attention for her supporting role in the made-for-TV movie The Incredible Journey of Dr. Meg Laurel. She then made appearances on two of Aaron Spelling's series, The Love Boat and Charlie's Angels. The spotlight really returned in 1981--for two different reasons.

As the ex-wife of the newly-elected President Ronald Reagan, Wyman was being sought out by the media. Her publicity value did not escape Lorimar Productions's Earl Hamner and CBS. Seeking to capitalize on their success with Dallas and Knots Landing, Lorimar and CBS launched Falcon Crest in 1981 with Jane Wyman starring as a female version of Dallas's ruthless and manipulative J.R. Ewing. For nine seasons, she portrayed Angela Channing, the powerful matriarch of a wealthy, wine-making family. Wyman had made a successful return to series television, but in a role quite different from earlier work. As Angela Channing, she was not the likable, clean-cut woman she had so often portrayed in the past, but she played the part to perfection. In 1984, she won a Golden Globe Award for her Falcon Crest performances, and was reported to be the highest paid actress on television at that time. Jane Wyman's television career began in the mid-1950s, after she had already achieved stardom in the movies. Like Loretta Young and Lucille Ball, she was one of the few film stars, one of fewer women, to have her own successful television series. She also was one of the few women to star in her own anthology drama series. Thirty years later, in the 1980s, Wyman accomplished something even more unusual: as an actress of Old Hollywood and early television, she starred in another, even more successful series, Falcon Crest.

-Madelyn Ritrosky-Winslow

 

JANE WYMAN. Born Sarah Jane Fulks in St. Joseph, Missouri, U.S.A., 4 January 1916. Attended the University of Missouri, Colombia, 1935. Married: 1) Myron Futterman, 1937 (divorced, 1939); 2) Ronald Reagan, 1940 (divorced, 1948); children: Maureen, Michael; 3) Freddie Karger, 1952 (divorced, 1955). Actress in films from 1932; debuted as Sarah Jane Fulks in The Kid From Spain; radio singer under the name of Jane Durrell; contract with Warner Brothers, 1936-49; host and actress in television series The Jane Wyman Theater, 1955-58; starring role in Falcon Crest, 1981-90. Recipient: Best Actress Academy Award, 1948; Golden Globe Award, 1984. Address: c/o Michael Mesnick, 500 South Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049.

TELEVISION SERIES

1955-58 The Jane Wyman Theater
1957 Jane Wyman's Summer Playhouse
1981-90 Falcon Crest

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES

1971 The Failing of Raymond
1979 The Incredible Journey of Dr. Meg Laurel

FILMS

(as Sarah Jane Fulks)
The Kid From Spain, 1932; Elmer the Great, 1933; College Rhythm, 1934; Rumba, 1935; All the King's Horses, 1935; Stolen Harmony, 1935; King of Burlesque, 1936; Anything Goes, 1936; My Man Godfrey, 1936; (as Jane Wyman) Stage Struck, 1936; Cain and Mabel, 1936; Polo Joe, 1936; Smart Blonde, 1936; Gold Diggers of 1937, 1937; Ready, Willing, and Able, 1937; The King and the Chorus Girl, 1937; Slim, 1937; The Singing Marine, 1937; Mr. Dodd Takes the Air, 1937; Public Wedding, 1937; The Spy Ring, 1938; Fools for Scandal, 1938; She Couldn't Say No, 1938; Wide Open Faces, 1938; The Crowd Roars, 1938; Brother Rat, 1938; Tail Spin, 1939; Private Detective, 1939; The Kid from Kokomo, 1939; Torchy Plays with Dynamite, 1939; Kid Nightingale, 1939; Brother Rat and a Baby, 1940; An Angel from Texas, 1940; Flight Angels, 1940; My Love Came Back, 1940; Tugboat Annie Sails Again, 1940; Gambling 0n the High Seas, 1940; Honeymoon for Three, 1941; Bad Men of Missouri, 1941; You're in the Navy Now, 1941; The Body Disappears, 1941; Larceny, Inc., 1942; My Favorite Spy, 1942; Footlight Serenade, 1942; Princess O'Rourke, 1943; Make Your Own Bed, 1944; Crime By Night, 1944; The Doughgirls, 1944; Hollywood Canteen, 1944; The Lost Weekend, 1945; One More Tomorrow, 1946; Night and Day, 1946; The Yearling, 1946; Cheyenne, 1947; Magic Town, 1947; Johnny Belinda, 1948; A Kiss In the Dark, 1949; The Lady Takes a Sailor, 1949; It's a Great Feeling, 1949; Stage Fright, 1950; The Glass Menagerie, 1950; Three Guys Named Mike, 1951; Here Comes the Groom, 1951; The Blue Veil, 1951; Starlift, 1951; The Story of Will Rogers, 1952; Just for You, 1952; Let's Do It Again, 1953; So Big, 1953; Magnificent Obsession, 1954; Lucy Gallant, 1955; All That Heaven Allows, 1955; Miracle in the Rain, 1956; Holiday for Lovers, 1959; Pollyanna, 1960; Bon Voyage, 1962; How to Commit Marriage, 1969; The Outlanders.

FURTHER READING

Bawden, J. "Jane Wyman: American Star Par Excellence." Films in Review (New York), April 1975.

Morella, Joe, and Edward Z. Epstein. Jane Wyman: A Biography. New York: Delacorte, 1985.

Parish, James Robert, and Don E. Stanke. The Forties Gals. Westport, Connecticut, 1980.

Quirk, Lawrence J. Jane Wyman: The Actress and the Woman. New York: Dembner, 1980.

 

See also Fireside Theater; Gender and Television; Melodrama; Young, Loretta