Monday, December 22, 2008

The Christmas Album: Jane

The Twenty-Second Day of our Holiday rounds finds us dropping by a proud Jane Wyman's house. Ms. Wyman, resplendent in festive red, seems determined to show the world in the early 1950s that, despite her many years as a working stiff on the Warner's lot, playing dumb blondes, chorines and gold-digging ornaments on the arm of actors like Jack Carson or Dennis Morgan (or was it the other way around?) , she still had unplumbed depths of glam as well as surprising sensitivity.

A radio singer and chorus girl born to a struggling actress in Missouri, her lasting acting reputation may have been built on her eloquent if silent performance in Johnny Belinda, as well as her fine supporting work in The Lost Weekend (1945) as Ray Milland's girlfriend and her quietly detailed work as the backwoods mother in The Yearling (1946), but the fact that at the same time she was making The Yearling, she played a brashly amusing babe from burlesque who befriended Cary Grant's Cole Porter in Night and Day (1946) may have been one of her more challenging feats. Equally adept at comedy and drama, Wyman, who was wed to future prexy Ronald Reagan for some years, found herself at the top of the Hollywood heap just as they divorced, following, it is said, Reagan's deepening commitment to politics, the loss of a longed for baby. The couple, who were the parents of Maureen and Michael Reagan, found a way to have a public life without speaking ill of one another in public, saying only after his death that her ex-husband was "a great, kind and gentle man."


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