Jane Wyman, Ronald Reagan’s First Wife: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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Jane Wyman and Ronald Reagan, attend an unidentified event in 1939. (Hulton Archive/Getty)

Before former President Ronald Reagan married former first lady Nancy Reagan, who died Sunday, he was married to actress Jane Wyman for eight years.

Wyman and Reagan were married in 1940 and divorced in 1948. She was an actress, singer and dancer best known for her Academy Award winning performance in Johnny Belinda and from her time on the soap opera Falcon Crest.

Here’s what you need to know about her:


1. She Was Born in Missouri & Began Her Acting Career in 1932

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Jane Wyman in an undated photo. (Hulton Archive/Getty)

Jane Wyman was born Sara Jane Mayfield in St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1917, according to her obituary by The Associated Press.

“She grew up in a cheerless home in which her mother’s time was devoted to her seriously ailing husband. After the father died, Sarah Jane accompanied her mother to Los Angeles, where the girl tried to get jobs in the studios. There was no work for the snub-nosed teenager, and she returned to St. Joseph,” the obituary reads. “She attended the University of Missouri, worked as a manicurist and switchboard operator, then sang on radio as Jane Durrell. When that career dwindled, she decided to try Hollywood again, began playing bit parts, and changed Durrell to Wyman.”

Her breakthrough role came in 1937 in Public Wedding. She then starred in Torchy Palys With Dynamite in 1941 and You’re in the Army Now in 1941, in which she had the longest on-screen kiss in movie history: 3 minutes and 5 seconds, according to Cinema Spot.

According to her IMDB.com page, she continued to act until 1993, when she made a guest appearance on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

From 1981 to 1990 she played Angela Channing on the soap opera Falcon Crest, her final major role.


2. She Had 3 Children With Ronald Reagan Before They Divorced

American actress Jane Wyman holds her infant daughter Maureen Reagan on her lap in an undated photo.  (Mark Wilson/Getty)

American actress Jane Wyman holds her infant daughter Maureen Reagan on her lap in an undated photo. (Mark Wilson/Getty)

Jane Wyman married fellow actor Ronald Reagan in 1940, according to her obituary.

She gave birth to their daughter, Maureen, in 1941. They later adopted their son, Michael. In 1947, a year before their divorce, they had a daughter, Christine, who was born premature and died a day after her birth.

Wyman didn’t talk publicly about her ex-husband, saying in 1968, “It’s not because I’m bitter or because I don’t agree with him politically. I’ve always been a registered Republican. But it’s bad taste to talk about ex-husbands and ex-wives, that’s all. Also, I don’t know a damn thing about politics.”

Reagan talked about her briefly in his autobiography, “An American Life,” saying, “That same year I made the Knute Rockne movie, I married Jane Wyman, another contract player at Warners. Our marriage produced two wonderful children, Maureen and Michael, but it didn’t work out, and in 1948 we were divorced.”

After his death in 2004, she said in a statement, “America has lost a great president and a great, kind and gentle man.”

Wyman had previously been married to Myron Futterman from 1937 to 1938, and then twice married Fox musical director and vocal coach Fred Karger.


3. Her Daughter Maureen Died of Cancer in 2001

Former US first lady Nancy Reagan (2nd L) talks with Jane Wyman  after the funeral of Maureen Reagan at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament August 18, 2001, in Sacramento, California. (Getty)

Former US first lady Nancy Reagan (2nd L) talks with Jane Wyman after the funeral of Maureen Reagan at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament August 18, 2001, in Sacramento, California. (Getty)

Maureen Reagan died in 2001 after a five-year battle with cancer, the San Francisco Chronicle reported at the time. She was married to Dennis Revell and adopted a daughter, Rita.

Michael Reagan is 70 and lives in Los Angeles. He is married and has two children.


4. She Won 3 Golden Globes Along With Her Oscars’ Best Actress Award

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Ronald Reagan stands behind his wife, actor Jane Wyman, who sits down to dinner, circa 1940s. (Hulton Archive/Getty)

Jane Wyman won the Academy Award for Best Actess in 1948 for her role in Johnny Belinda as Belinda McDonald, according to her biography.

“Wyman brings superior insight and tenderness to the role. She makes [Belinda] glow with emotional warmth,” New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote.

She also won three Golden Globe Awards.


5. She Died in 2007 of Natural Causes at Her California Home

Maureen Reagan's husband Dennis Revell, her mother actress Jane Wyman and her daughter Rita Revell, walk towards the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament before the start of the memorial service for Maureen Reagan. (Getty)

Maureen Reagan’s husband Dennis Revell, her mother actress Jane Wyman and her daughter Rita Revell, walk towards the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament before the start of the memorial service for Maureen Reagan. (Getty)

Jane Wyman died of natural causes on September 10, 2007, according to her obituary.

She died at her home in Rancho Mirage, California, and was 90.

“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,” her, son Michael Reagan, said in a statement at the time.