Melodrama was her thing

Oscar winner, TV star of 'Falcon'

Jane Wyman, who won a best actress Oscar for her performance as a deaf-mute rape victim in 1948's "Johnny Belinda" and played the domineering matriarch on the hit '80s CBS series "Falcon Crest," died Monday. She was 90.

Wyman, who was married to actor and future president Ronald Reagan from 1940-48, died at her Palm Springs home, son Michael Reagan said.

Wyman also earned best actress Oscar noms for "The Yearling" (1946), "The Blue Veil" (1951) and "Magnificent Obsession" (1954) and won three Golden Globes for her film work.

Wyman's icy execution as Angela Channing in "Falcon Crest," a soap-styled primetime drama centering on a prosperous California wine-producing family, won her a Golden Globe in 1984. The show lasted nine seasons and 212 episodes.

In 1957, Wyman was nominated for an Emmy for best continuing performance by an actress in a dramatic series for her TV show, "Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theatre," which ran from 1955-58. She starred in and co-produced many of the episodes.

Wyman enjoyed a long and varied career, beginning as a singer and as a contract player at Warner Bros., where she met Reagan, who was to become the second of her three husbands.

After Reagan became governor of California and then U.S. president, Wyman kept a decorous silence about her ex-husband, who had married actress Nancy Davis.

In a 1968 newspaper interview, Wyman explained the reason: "It's not because I'm bitter or because I don't agree with him politically. I've always been a registered Republican. But it's bad taste to talk about ex-husbands and ex-wives, that's all. Also, I don't know a damn thing about politics."

She and Reagan had one daughter, Maureen Reagan, who died in 2001 after a battle with cancer. She is the adoptive mother of Michael Reagan.

Wyman's other films include "The Lost Weekend" (1945), "Stage Fright" (1950), "Here Comes the Groom" (1951), "The Story of Will Rogers" (1952), "Just for You" (1952), "Pollyanna" (1960) and "How to Commit Marriage" (1969).

Wyman, born Sarah Jane Fulks on Jan. 5, 1917, in St. Joseph, Mo., enrolled at the University of Missouri but dropped out to become a radio singer under the name of Jane Durrell.

In 1936, she appeared in uncredited roles in "My Man Godfrey" and "Cain and Mabel," which convinced Warners to sign her to a long-term contract, and the studio changed her name.

She began to perform in a number of B-movies, including "Brother Rat" (1938) and "Brother Rat and a Baby" (1940), in which she co-starred with Reagan, a fellow WB contract player.

During the late '30s and '40s, she performed in a number of comedies and melodramas, then attracted serious notice when — on loan to Paramount Pictures — she played alcoholic Ray Milland's faithful girlfriend in Billy Wilder's "Lost Weekend." Wyman soon garnered better roles.

Her turn as Ma Baxter in MGM's "The Yearling" on another loan-out brought her first Oscar nom. Her career soared and she was offered major roles, leading to her expressive performance in "Johnny Belinda," using her eyes to convey emotions in a mesmerizing, sympathetic manner.

When studio chief Jack Warner saw a rough cut of the film, he ranted to the director, Jean Negulesco: "We invented talking pictures, and you make a picture about a deaf and dumb girl!"

He changed his attitude when "Johnny Belinda" received 12 Academy Award nominations and the Oscar for Wyman.

Wyman's career was in ascendancy, and she was quickly courted by top directors. She starred in Alfred Hitchcock's "Stage Fright" (1950), Frank Capra's "Here Comes the Groom" (1951) and Michael Curtiz's "The Story of Will Rogers" (1952).

Her best métier, however, was the melodrama, and during the 1950s she starred in such potboilers as "Blue Veil" and Douglas Sirk's "Magnificent Obsession."

Wyman returned to the movies in 1959 with "Holiday for Lovers" and the following year starred in Disney's "Pollyanna," playing the cold aunt Polly. Wyman's last film, "Marriage," came in 1969 when she co-starred with Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason.

Wyman was married three times, twice to studio music director Fred Karger. After their second divorce in 1965, she remained single.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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