Jane Wyatt


Actor
Jane Wyatt

About

Birth Place
Campgaw, New Jersey, USA
Born
August 12, 1910
Died
October 20, 2006
Cause of Death
Natural Causes

Biography

Best known for her work on the enduring television sitcom "Father Knows Best" (CBS/NBC, 1954-1960), Jane Wyatt had displayed her talents in numerous stage and film productions before landing the role that brought her into millions of American living rooms each week. After earning a measure of success on Broadway in the classic farce "Dinner at Eight" (1932-33), the pretty brunette was of...

Photos & Videos

Family & Companions

Edgar B Ward
Husband
Married from 1935 until his death on November 8, 2000 at age 93.

Notes

Information on Wyatt's date of birth varies somewhat, with the year wavering between 1910 and 1913, with most sources giving either 1910 or 1912. There is also some variance with the day; several sources give August 12, though more claim August 10.

Biography

Best known for her work on the enduring television sitcom "Father Knows Best" (CBS/NBC, 1954-1960), Jane Wyatt had displayed her talents in numerous stage and film productions before landing the role that brought her into millions of American living rooms each week. After earning a measure of success on Broadway in the classic farce "Dinner at Eight" (1932-33), the pretty brunette was offered a movie contract and made a splash in Frank Capra's revered fantasy "Lost Horizon" (1937). The efforts that followed included titles like "None but the Lonely Heart" (1944), "Boomerang!" (1947), and "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947), and Wyatt was usually up for the demands of her parts. Ironically, the New Jersey native's blacklisting in the early 1950s for liberal sentiments led her to concentrate on television assignments and that was likely instrumental in Wyatt joining the cast of "Father Knows Best." As one of the model TV mothers of the 1950s, she was able to embue the character with a disarming combination of cordiality and charm, and the program became a cultural touchstone of its time. While she displayed sufficient diversity, Wyatt was never a major Broadway or motion picture star, but her place in show business legend was secured by "Father Knows Best" and the conviviality she displayed as the matriarch of an idealized 1950s middle-class household.

Jane Waddington Wyatt was born on August 12, 1910 in Campgaw, NJ, an area where her well-off, New York City-based parents vacationed in the summer. She spent her childhood in the Gramercy Park area and adored putting on plays at home, which was instrumental in making performing her vocational goal. After attending Miss Chapin's School for Girls, the young socialite spent much time honing her acting skills with the institution's dramatic club. She continued her education at Barnard College and apprenticed at the Berkshire Playhouse, appearing in a number of its productions. The success she enjoyed with this latest round of acting convinced Wyatt to abandon college and concentrate solely on establishing a career. Ironically, the gains she made in pursuit of that goal resulted in Wyatt being removed from the social register. She first stepped on to the Broadway stage in A.A. Milne's "Give Me Yesterday" (1931), but had her first real success in that milieu with the popular farce "Dinner at Eight" (1932-33), where she replaced Margaret Sullavan and stayed with the show when it played in Chicago. Further Great White Way assignments came her way, but all were gone after fairly short runs, which encouraged Wyatt to give movies a go.

Put under a unique contract by Universal that allowed her to do stage work for part of the year, she made her film debut with a supporting role in James Whale's drama "One More Time" (1934) and moved on to play Estella in the studio's adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations" (1934). The following year, she wed investment broker Edgar Ward, a union that produced three children (one of whom died at a young age) and restored her social register status. It was the actress' only marriage, lasting an incredible 65 years. Wyatt's Universal pictures were fairly modest endeavors, but that changed when she was loaned to Columbia for Frank Capra's beloved fantasy "Lost Horizon" (1937). As the paramour of male lead Ronald Colman, Wyatt had a nude swimming scene that revealed little, but was quite eye-opening by the standards of the era. She accidentally cracked a rib during shooting, but any pain Wyatt endured for art was more than worth it for her career, as "Lost Horizon" really established her in Hollywood. Wyatt also made periodic returns to the stage, but, as before, the shows failed to generate the sort of response that led to a lengthy run. Focusing on movie work, Wyatt appeared in such minor, but enjoyable projects as "Kisses for Breakfast" (1941), "Hurricane Smith" (1941), and "The Kansan" (1943). Most notable was Clifford Odets' "None but the Lonely Heart" (1944), which offered a detour into drama for male lead Cary Grant, and Elia Kazan's excellent film noir "Boomerang!" (1947).

Wyatt also essayed a supporting assignment as the sister of Dorothy McGuire in Kazan's "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947), a groundbreaking look at anti-Semitism. Although she was a devout Catholic, Wyatt joined several prominent stars in the Committee for the First Amendment and travelled to Washington, D.C. in 1947 to protest the House Un-American Activities Committee, which encouraged the blacklisting and general ostracizing of entertainment figures with perceived Left Wing ties. She returned to the world of film noir with "Pitfall" (1948), playing the homemaker wife of genre regular Dick Powell and the spouse of killer Louis Hayward in "House by the River" (1950). Wyatt was eventually elevated to the more intriguing femme fatale role in "The Man Who Cheated Himself" (1950), but was generally deemed miscast and ineffectual. Most of her other motion picture parts during that time were of a similarly secondary nature, but they came in solid productions with quality casts and seasoned directors. Unfortunately, Wyatt's previous stance against the blacklist came back to haunt her and she found herself unable to work in Hollywood. Following the completion of "Criminal Lawyer" (1951), she resumed New York stage performing in "The Autumn Garden" (1951), but was soon occupied for an extended period on the small screen.

After guesting on various dramatic anthologies and clearing up her blacklisting issue, Wyatt was cast on the sitcom "Father Knows Best" (CBS/NBC/ABC, 1954-1960). Adapted from a popular radio sitcom of the same name, she played the happily domesticated spouse of Robert Young, who helped him to raise their three children and deal with the trials and tribulations of life in the suburbs. While the thoroughly wholesome and largely deferential Margaret Anderson hardly seemed like a model for women in later, more progressive years, Wyatt brought considerable warmth and personality to her portrayal, making her a quintessential 1950s TV mother. Wyatt won three Primetime Emmys and Margaret became the actress' most fondly remembered character. The program had difficulty finding an audience initially and CBS decided to drop it. However, a write-in campaign convinced NBC to give the show a second try in a new timeslot. That did the trick and "Father Knows Best" was a ratings success for the next several seasons and probably would have continued on for many more if Young had not tired of his duties. Regardless, it continued to draw viewers even after production had ceased. The program had amassed such a following that reruns continued to play in primetime for three seasons before the series began a long and prosperous run in syndication.

Wyatt's television history was commemorated with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame upon its establishment in 1960. She graced only a handful more movies, typified by the unremarkable likes of "The Two Little Bears" (1961) and "Never Too Late" (1965), but enjoyed a fairly regular stream of television offers, including a notable appearance as Amanda, the human mother of Vulcan science officer Spock, in the famous "Star Trek" (NBC, 1966-69) episode "Journey to Babel." This pattern continued into the next decade, with her guesting on various programs as well as telefilms like "Amelia Earhart" (NBC, 1976) and a pair of "Father Knows Best" reunion projects. Wyatt was also given the opportunity to revisit Amanda in "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" (1986), her final big screen credit. She did a six-episode stint on "St. Elsewhere" (NBC, 1982-88) and had a most atypical credit via the made-for-television horror yarn "Amityville: The Evil Escapes" (NBC, 1989). Wyatt had signed on for the project despite having no knowledge of the infamous haunted house or the various films that had already been produced, but gave a game turn nonetheless. A guest star outing in an episode of "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" (ABC, 1992-93) proved to be Wyatt's final credit. Her retirement years were devoted to charity work for the March of Dimes until a stroke at age 85 left her health in variable condition. She lived for more than a decade afterward, dying in her sleep of natural causes at her Bel-Air California home on Oct. 20, 2006.

By John Charles

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes (1989)
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Missing Children: A Mother's Story (1982)
Judge Eloise Walker
A Love Affair: The Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Story (1978)
The Nativity (1978)
Superdome (1978)
The Millionaire (1978)
Amelia Earhart (1976)
Amy Earhart
Treasure of Matecumbe (1976)
Aunt Effie
Katherine (1975)
You'll Never See Me Again (1973)
Tom Sawyer (1973)
Never Too Late (1965)
Grace Kimbrough
The Two Little Bears (1961)
Anne Davis
Interlude (1957)
Prue Stubbins
The Man Who Cheated Himself (1951)
Lois Frazer
Criminal Lawyer (1951)
Maggie Powell
House by the River (1950)
Marjorie Byrne
Our Very Own (1950)
Lois Macauley
My Blue Heaven (1950)
Janet Pringle
Bad Boy (1949)
Mrs. Maud Brown
Task Force (1949)
Mary Morgan Scott
Canadian Pacific (1949)
Dr. Edith Cabot
Gentleman's Agreement (1948)
Jane
Pitfall (1948)
Sue Forbes
No Minor Vices (1948)
Miss Darlington
Boomerang! (1947)
Madge Harvey
The Bachelor's Daughters (1946)
Marta
Strange Conquest (1946)
Dr. Mary Palmer
None But the Lonely Heart (1944)
Aggie Hunter
Buckskin Frontier (1943)
Vinnie Marr
The Kansan (1943)
Eleanor Sager
Army Surgeon (1942)
Beth Ainsley
The Navy Comes Through (1942)
Myra Mallory
Hurricane Smith (1941)
Joan Blair Smith
Kisses for Breakfast (1941)
Laura Anders
Week-End for Three (1941)
Ellen [Craig]
Girl from God's Country (1940)
Anne Webster
Lost Horizon (1937)
Sondra
The Luckiest Girl in the World (1936)
Pat Duncan
We're Only Human (1935)
Sally Rogers
One More River (1934)
Dinny
Great Expectations (1934)
Estella

Cast (Special)

The 1989 Mother/Daughter USA Pageant (1989)
Noel: Best Wishes For a Merry Christmas (1988)
Legacy of the Hollywood Blacklist (1987)
NBC's 60th Anniversary Celebration (1986)
Father Knows Best: The Father Knows Best Reunion (1977)
Margaret Anderson; Mother
Father Knows Best: Home For Christmas (1977)
Margaret Anderson

Life Events

1930

Broadway acting debut as understudy, aged 19, to Rose Hobart in the play, "Tradewinds"; that same year, also understudied Katherine Wilson in the play, "The Vinegar Tree"

1932

Stage breakthrough: played ingenue lead in "Give Me Yesterday"

1933

Took over Margaret Sullavan's role in the hit Broadway play "Dinner at Eight" after Sullavan left the cast

1934

Played first female lead in a film, "Great Expectations"

1934

Signed by Universal Studios; first film, "One More River"

1937

Played one of the female leads in her best-remembered feature film, "Lost Horizon"

1940

Returned to the New York stage to act in "Night Music"

1948

First film in color, "Canadian Pacific" (released in 1949)

1950

Returned to the New York stage to play the role of Nina Denery in "The Autumn Garden"

1951

Last film for six years, "Criminal Lawyer"

1952

Made her TV debut guesting on an installment of the anthology drama series, "Robert Montgomery Presents"

1954

Played Margaret Anderson on the popular family sitcom, "Father Knows Best" (which aired on both CBS and NBC during it initial run)

1957

Only feature film during the run of "Father Knows Best", "Interlude"

1964

First TV-movie, "See How They Run"

1965

Last film for 11 years, "Never Too Late"

1966

Hosted the ABC talk show (with dramatizations included), "Confidential for Women"

1967

Fondly remembered career highlight: Playing Amanda, the human mother of the half-Vulcan Mr. Spock on the cult science-fiction TV series, "Star Trek"; guest starred on the episode "Journey to Babel"

1976

Re-entered motion pictures after 11-year absence to act in "Treasure of Matecumbe"

1977

Reprised the role of Margaret Anderson for two TV-movies, "Father Knows Best: The Father Knows Best Reunion" and "Father Knows Best: Home for Christmas"

1986

Made another one-shot return to features after a decade absence; recreated the role of Amanda for the feature film, "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home"

1989

Was one of the judges for the "Mother/Daughter USA Pageant"

1995

Suffered mild stroke

Photo Collections

Lost Horizon (1937) - Movie Poster
Here is the Window Card from Frank Capra's Lost Horizon (1937), starring Ronald Colman. Window Cards were 14x22 mini posters designed to be placed in store windows around town during a film's engagement. A blank space at the top of the poster featured theater and playdate infromation. (The top has been trimmed from this example).
None But the Lonely Heart - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from RKO's None But the Lonely Heart (1944), starring Cary Grant. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Videos

Movie Clip

Man Who Cheated Himself, The (1950) - You're A Big Girl Now Money scenes, as San Francisco police detective Ed (Lee J. Cobb) arrives to calm down his wealthy married lover Lois (Jane Wyatt), who rightly suspects her husband (Harlan Warde), despite having left for the airport, is plotting to kill her, violence and quick thinking ensuing, in The Man Who Cheated Himself, 1951.
Man Who Cheated Himself, The (1950) - He's Bought A Gun We’ve just met John Dall as eager new San Francisco homicide detective Andy Cullen, and Lee J. Cobb as his brother Ed, who’ll be supervising him, and who offers his wedding gift, then phones his anxious married mistress Lois (Jane Wyatt), having deduced that she called earlier, then meets the fianceè Janet (Lisa Howard), early in The Man Who Cheated Himself, 1951.
Man Who Cheated Himself, The (1950) - Don't Forget To Change Your Will No fooling around in the opening, Harlan Warde as San Franciscan Howard looks to be plotting a crime, and we’re given reason to think it will involve his wife Lois (Jane Wyatt), who intrudes, Felix E. Feist directing, in Columbia’s The Man Who Cheated Himself, 1951, starring Lee J. Cobb, restored in 2018 by Eddie Muller’s Film Noir Foundation.
Lost Horizon (1937) - Shangri La Robert Conway (Ronald Colman) and fellow crash survivors (Thomas Mitchell, Edward Everett Horton, John Howard and Isabel Jewell) are led into Shangri-La by Chang (H.B. Warner) in Frank Capra's Lost Horizon, 1937, from the James Hilton novel.
None But The Lonely Heart (1944) - Black As The Ace After a first spat with his long-suffering mother, Ernie (Cary Grant), back from his latest wanderings, in his London East End neighborhood, visits tolerant friend Aggie (Jane Wyatt), in None But The Lonely Heart, directed by Clifford Odets, from his screenplay and Richard Llewellyn's novel 1944.
Canadian Pacific (1949) - It Got Too Tame Railroad surveyor Tom (Randolph Scott) rides into the construction camp east of the Rockies, meeting Branagan, (Walter Sande), buddy Dynamite (J. Carrol Naish) and villain Cagle (Don Haggerty), the new lady doctor Edith Cabot (Jane Wyatt) intervening, early in Canadian Pacific, 1949.
Kansan, The (1943) - He's No Tenderfoot Straight to business in this RKO programmer, Richard Dix rides into a Kansas town where the James Gang is making trouble (the one who gets away is George "Superman" Reeves), and we meet Albert Dekker, the banker and Jane Wyatt, the overdressed nurse, in The Kansan, 1943.
Pitfall (1948) - No South America? Played just about as it would be in a comedy, Dick Powell as insurance man John and Jane Wyatt as wife Sue are introduced by director Andre De Toth, in the highly-regarded Noir Pitfall, 1948, which writer Jay Dratler originally titled Husbands Die First.
One More River - Light Or Dark? Clare (Diana Wynyard), having left her abusive husband in Ceylon, with sister Dinny (Jane Wyatt), arriving at a London restaurant where they meet friend and candidate David (Reginald Denny), plus various others, early in James Whale's One More River, 1934.
Navy Comes Through, The - Open, Court Of Inquiry Opening credits and court martial scene in which testimony from Mallory (Pat O'Brien) forces Sanders (George Murphy) to do the honorable thing, in the early-war naval drama The Navy Comes Through, 1942.

Trailer

Family

Christopher Billopp Wyatt
Father
Investment banker.
Euphemia Wyatt
Mother
Drama critic.
Christopher Ward
Son
Michael Ward
Son

Companions

Edgar B Ward
Husband
Married from 1935 until his death on November 8, 2000 at age 93.

Bibliography

Notes

Information on Wyatt's date of birth varies somewhat, with the year wavering between 1910 and 1913, with most sources giving either 1910 or 1912. There is also some variance with the day; several sources give August 12, though more claim August 10.