Although an accomplished actress, Jane Wyman was most famous for her "role" as the first wife of former U.S. president Ronald Reagan. She was in failing health for several years and passed quietly at her home in Southern California.
Born Sarah Jane Mayfield, she changed her birth date from 1917 to 1914, adding three years to her age for career reasons, something today's starlets are loathe to do. Her biological father died of pneumonia at the early age of 28. Her mother left her in Missouri with their neighbors the Fulks who unofficially adopted her.
After a failed attempt to break into the movie biz, Jane dropped out of high school and with her adoptive mother moved to Hollywood. She was able to get work as a chorus girl from LeRoy Prinz, the son of her former dance teacher in Missouri. During the Depression years, she continued to get bit parts in films, earning money her family sorely needed.
On May 6, 1936, she won a $60-a-week contract with Warner Brothers film studio and changed her name from Sarah Jane Mayfield to Jane Wyman, after her adoptive siblings' first father, Dr. Weymann.
She met Ronald Reagan on a nine-week "stars of tomorrow" vaudeville tour. In 1941, she played opposite Regis Toomey and set a record for the longest kiss in cinema history: three minutes and five seconds long.
The 40's saw better acting roles, away from the "dumb blonde" roles to emotionally demanding ones like her role as a hardened mother in The Yearling (1946) opposite Gregory Peck. She received a Best Actress Oscar nomination.
She then cinched an Oscar with her portrayal of a deaf girl in Johnny Belinda in 1948. n addition to her Oscar win for Johnny Belinda, Wyman garnered a total of three other Oscar nominations for Best Actress in The Yearling (1946), The Blue Veil (1951) — her favorite film for which she also won Golden Globe best actress honors — and as Rock Hudson's Magnificent Obsession in the 1954 Douglas Sirk melodrama.
Her last movie was the 1969 comedy, How to Commit Marriage with Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason.
Jane then had a second career in television, most notably as the hardened matriarch and vintner, Angela Channing on the soap opera series Falcon Crest.
She had a total of four marriages, her second to actor and future U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Her daughter Maureen Reagan, born in 1941, was an actress, singer and White House adviser who died of skin cancer in 2001. In 1945 they adopted a son, Michael Reagan, currently a bestselling author, radio program host and guest commentator on FOX-TV. Another daughter was born prematurely in June,1947 and died.
Jane Wyman filled her later years with philanthropic activities for the Arthritis Foundation and the Catholic Church.
Michael Mesnick, her longtime business manager since before Falcon Crest, said, "She was a tough lady, but a nice lady. She had a real strong backbone and took no nonsense. Her mind was determined in what she wanted to do. In her own way, she was very giving and loving."