Jane Wyman may have been most famous for her silence.The 1948 role in Johnny Belinda that won her an Oscar for Best Actress had her playing a deaf mute. (Her famously brief acceptance speech: “I accept this award very gratefully for keeping my mouth shut once. I think I’ll do it again.”) Years later, during her sixth decade in Hollywood, she spent the ’80s running the winery on CBS’ Falcon Crest, while her ex-husband spent the same years running the United States, but she refused to talk about Ronald Reagan in interviews. In fact, she broke her silence about him only after he died in 2004, calling him “a great president and a great, kind, and gentle man.” (Reagan had been equally discreet about her, devoting just two sentences in his autobiography to their eight-year marriage.) Like Reagan, Wyman, who died Monday morning, lived to be 93.
Of course, Wyman was much more than Reagan’s first wife or the matriarch of CBS’ popular 1981-90 nighttime soap. Despite the dubious achievements of her early movie career (Warner Bros. often typecast her as a streetwise dame, and she and Regis Toomey set a record for the longest screen kiss — more than three minutes — in 1941’s You’re in the Army Now), she developed into a top-notch dramatic actress who ultimately earned four Oscar nominations. Besides her still striking performance in Johnny Belinda, her memorable roles came in such films as The Lost Weekend, The Yearling, Stage Fright, The Blue Veil, So Big, Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, and even Disney’s Pollyanna. Still, the role she’ll most likely be remembered for is Angela Channing (pictured), who for nine years on Falcon Crest was fiercely determined to control her own destiny and do things her own way. So, too, was Wyman.