Monday, September 10, 2007


Jane Wyman (1914-2007)

Where did Jane Wyman's greatest fame lie? Was it as an Oscar-winning actress? For her work with Douglas Sirk in the 1950s? As the first wife of a future U.S. president? As the wicked matriarch on one of the lesser nighttime soap operas of the 1980s? The answer probably varies from person to person as they recall Wyman, who passed away this morning at 93.

For me, my first introduction to Wyman was on TV's Falcon Crest, which debuted in 1981. She played Angela Channing, the powerful and manipulative matriarch of a wine-producing empire in Napa Valley, Calif. Wyman's every line seemed to be drenched in venom and she was a true hoot to watch. One of my favorite moments: When the despised bastard son of her late husband (David Selby) pulls her from beneath some wreckage, her first words weren't one of gratitude but, "I've died and gone to hell." I caught up with some of her film work later, but none of her roles on screen ever impressed me the way Angela Channing did.

Often, she seemed forgettable, as in 1938's The Crowd Roars, or as a footnote as in the fun 1942 Edward G. Robinson vehicle Larceny, Inc. She tried to support Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend, one of my least favorite Billy Wilder films and I worship Wilder.

I did like her as the no-nonsense mom in 1946's The Yearling, but I wasn't crazy about her Oscar-winning role as the deaf-mute rape victim in 1948's Johnny Belinda.

In the 1950s, she turned to overheated melodramas such as The Blue Veil and her two films with Sirk, Magnificent Obsession and All That Heaven Allows. (Fun Falcon Crest trivia: When they needed a flashback of Angela having a baby, they stole a clip of Wyman from The Blue Veil.)

Of course, many people will remember her as Ronald Reagan's first wife, but both she and Reagan went far beyond their failed marriage.

RIP, Ms. Wyman.

To read The Washington Post obit, click here.

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I'll always remember her on Falcon Crest--she was hilarious! I'll also remember her for All That Heaven Allows, my second favorite Douglas Sirk movie.

As for Johnny Belinda, Wyman started that trend of Oscar loving women who are missing one or more of their senses. She's no Holly Hunter in The Piano, but she's a thousand times better than Marlee Matlin in Children of a Lesser Flick.
Edward, you must see her in Capra's "Here Comes the Groom" with Bing Crosby. Their "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening," partially filmed in an elevator, is one of the greatest little musical numbers there is. It's on youtube.
That was absolutely wonderful!
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