Jane Wyman

Jane Wyman: Ronald Reagan's First Wife Found Love With 'The Gipper' in Hollywood

Hollywood actress Jane Wyman, born Sarah Jane Mayfield, was proof that it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from; anything is possible if you follow your dreams and work hard enough. All the odds were against Wyman when her mother dumped her into a foster home at a young age. But despite her rough upbringing, she persevered and became an Academy Award-winning actress in the golden age of Hollywood

The young girl became Sarah Jane Fulks and lived with her foster family in St. Joseph, Missouri. The future star lied about her age as a young teen to gain work singing on the radio, but decided to pack her bags when she was 15 and moved out to Hollywood in 1932, where she worked odd jobs around Los Angeles until she started booking bit parts. The following year, she married first husband, Ernest Eugene Wyman, though she listed her age as 19 on the marriage certificate. A couple of years later, she ended her marriage with Wyman and signed a contract with Warner Bros. She kept her new last name throughout the rest of her career, which was just getting started.

In the '30s, Wyman got her big break starring in various B films like My Love Came Back, The Sunday Round-Up and Brother Rat, where she first met Ronald Reagan. By the time she showed up for filming, she had already divorced husband number two, Myron Futterman, after just a few months of marriage. Reagan and Wyman starred together again in Brother Rat and a Baby before tying the knot in 1940. 

AP Photo

During their marriage, the couple welcomed three children together — Maureen Reagan, adopted son Michael Reagan and Christine Reagan (who passed away right after birth). Allegedly, it was politics that ended the couple's marriage after eight years. Wyman was a dedicated Republican and Reagan was a Democrat at the time (although he obviously changed his stance years later). During her ex-husband's presidential campaign, she never uttered a negative word about him to the press and even voted for him. Twice.

She married once more to Hollywood music director, Fred Karger in the '50s. They divorced after 3 years and tried one more time in the '60s before finally calling it quits in 1965. She opted never to marry again. 

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Despite her lack of success in the marital department, Wyman really started thriving on the big screen. The 1945 film The Lost Weekend led to her landing the lead in The Yearling the following year. The film earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. She starred opposite Dennis Morgan in Cheyenne and Jimmy Stewart in Magic Town before she earned star status with her performance in Johnny Belinda. Wyman spent half a year preparing for her role as a mute rape survivor in a role that earned her a Best Actress Oscar.

This made her the first person to win an Academy Award without any speaking (post silent films, that is). Her acceptance speech was short and sweet: "I accept this, very gratefully, for keeping my mouth shut once. I think I'll do it again."

Pretty soon, Wyman was one of the highest billed actresses of her time — The Glass Menagerie, The Blue Veil,  A Kiss in the Dark, the Bing Crosby film Here Comes the Groom, The Story of Will Rogers, Just for You, Miracle in the Rain, Lucy Gallant, Holiday for Lovers, Alfred Hitchcock's Stage Fright and the Rock Hudson flicks Magnificent Obsession and All That Heaven Allows. She has an incredible filmography and is definitely one of the most memorable actresses of her generation. 

In her later life, Wyman made a comeback from semi-retirement to star in the primetime soap opera Falcon Crest, playing the matriarch of Falcon Crest vineyards. She also made an appearance on the TV series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman as Dr. Quinn's mother. 

When she passed away in 2007 at the age of 90, her son Michael released the sweetest statement to sum up his mother and all of her accomplishments: "I have lost a loving mother, my children Cameron and Ashley have lost a loving grandmother, my wife Colleen has lost a loving friend she called Mom and Hollywood has lost the classiest lady to ever grace the silver screen."

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