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Posted at 10:42 AM ET, 09/11/2007

Remembering Jane Wyman

By Liz Kelly

Jane Wyman at the height of her 'Falcon Crest' reign. (HO/AFP/Getty Images)

I don't claim to know any more about Jane Wyman than the average bear. She was a starlet back when "starlet" meant someone who actually punched a clock at one of Hollywood's major studios. She was the first wife of Republican deity Ronald Reagan. And she presided over one of last of the great primetime soaps, "Falcon Crest."

It was in this last role that she entered my orbit. As a snot-nosed Army brat living in Naples, Italy in the early '80s, I hungrily devoured tapes of American TV shipped overseas for trade in the ex-pat "Betamax club." These tapes were my first introduction to the sublime canon of early-80s TV -- "The Facts of Life," "Too Close for Comfort," "The Barbara Mandrell Show," "Simon and Simon" and, of course, "Falcon Crest."

While "Dallas" left me somewhat flat, I was enchanted by this idyllic California enclave of Mediterranean-esque estates, grape vines and the effete, moody Lorenzo Lamas skulking around looking hot. And, unlike "Dallas's" J.R. Ewing, I found myself somehow liking Wyman's scheming Angela Channing. Sure, she was evil, but she was impeccably-coiffed and not an off-putting yahoo from Texas with a big hat, big boots and big mouth. In a word, she was subtle. Even my 10-year-old mind appreciated her quiet manipulation of the show's other characters. Good writing, for sure, but much credit goes to Wyman for her ability to hit just the right note of queenly condescension.

Wyman's career spanned six decades, four Oscar nominations and one win for her role in "Johnny Belinda," in which she played a deaf mute. Although often asked about her eight-year marriage to Ronald Reagan, she rarely spoke about him in interviews, in 2004 calling him "a great president and a great, kind, and gentle man."

For me, though, she'll forever be Angela Channing -- matriarch of a make-believe California wine empire, here delivering a monologue on the show's finale:

By Liz Kelly  | September 11, 2007; 10:42 AM ET
Categories:  Celebrities, In Praise Of..., Miscellaneous  
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