Sarah Jane Mayfield was born on Jan. 5, 1917, in St. Joseph to Gladys Christian and Manning Jeffries Mayfield. Her parents divorced in 1921. When her father died the following year and her mother moved to Cleveland, Ohio, Mayfield was left to be raised by foster parents, Richard and Emma Fulks. For two years, she and her foster mother lived in southern California, but they returned in 1930. While attending Lafayette High School in St. Joseph, Mayfield started going by “Jane Durrell,” added three years to her age (because she was still a minor), and began a radio singing career.
Mayfield dropped out of school at 15, in 1932, and returned to Hollywood. She lived on odd jobs as a manicurist and switchboard operator until she started getting bit parts. Along the way she married Ernest Wyman. In 1936, she signed a contract with Warner Brothers and, by the time she starred in “Public Wedding” in 1937, she was divorced. Although she married four more times, she continued using Wyman for the rest of her career.
For seven decades, Wyman worked with such directors as Alfred Hitchcock and Frank Capra and starred alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood. In 1948, Wyman won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as a deaf-mute rape victim in “Johnny Belinda.” It earned her the distinction of being the first person in the sound era to win an acting Oscar without speaking a line of dialogue.
By the time Wyman began her career in television in 1955, she’d gone through three more husbands: Myron Futterman, married in 1937, divorced 1938; Ronald Reagan (future President of the United States), married 1940, divorced 1949; and Frederick Kargar, married 1952, divorced 1955. Her only children, two girls and a boy, were with Reagan.
Hosted by her former husband Ronald Reagan, Wyman’s first guest-starring role was in 1955 on an episode of “General Electric Theater.” This led to many other roles, including being the hostess of “The Bell Telephone Hour” and “Bob Hope Presents The Chrysler Theatre.” In 1957, she was nominated for an Emmy Award for hosting an anthology television series, “Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theater.” Her career began to fade in the 1960s and she spent most of the 1970s in semi-retirement.
In 1961, she remarried Frederick Kargar, but they divorced again in 1965.
Then, in 1981, just a few months after her ex-husband became president, Wyman was cast as Angela Channing in the primetime soap opera “Falcon Crest.” Her health began to deteriorate in 1986 and she never made a full recovery. The series lasted nine seasons, 1981 through 1990.
After 83 movies, two successful TV series, and four Academy Award nominations with one win, Wyman retired from acting and spent the rest of her life painting and entertaining friends. She died at her home on Sept. 10, 2007.
Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News for over ten years. She has covered the Civil War, U.S. history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.email@example.com.