Jane Wyatt

Active - 1934 - 1989  |   Born - Aug 12, 1910 in Campgaw, New Jersey, United States  |   Died - Oct 20, 2006   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Crime, Romance

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Biography by Jason Buchanan

Endearing herself to television audiences as the devoted sitcom wife of Robert Young on Father Knows Best, petite brunette actress Jane Wyatt also essayed frequent big-screen roles highlighted by memorable performances in such films as Lost Horizon (1937), in which she plays Sondra, the lover of Robert Conway (Ronald Colman).

Born in Campgaw, NJ, on August 12, 1910, to an investment banker father and a drama critic mother, and raised as a Manhattanite from age three, Wyatt received her formal education at the Chapin School and -- very briefly -- at New York City's Barnard College, where she spent two listless years. Following the irresistible call of the stage, Wyatt bucked university life in favor of honing her acting skills at Berkshire Playhouse in the western Massachusetts community of Stockbridge. Shortly after this, she accepted a position as understudy to Rose Hobart in a Broadway production of Trade Winds. Universal soon took note of Wyatt's talents and offered her a film role, in Frankenstein director James Whale's One More River (1934).

Wyatt embarked on a lucrative screen career following her impressive debut, and many consider the performance in Lost Horizon her crowning achievement, though additional cinematic work throughout the 1940s proved both steady and rewarding. Following memorable performances in Clifford Odets' None But the Lonely Heart (1944) (alongside Cary Grant) and Elia Kazan's Gentleman's Agreement (1947, with Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire), the now-established actress transitioned smoothly into television in the early '50s, given her standing role as the matriarch of the Anderson family (mother of Bud, Princess, and Kitten, and wife of Jim) on the long-running CBS sitcom Father Knows Best. Wyatt deservedly won three Emmys for that role, and remained with the program over the course of its six-year run of original episodes. (Riding the crest of high ratings, CBS stretched prime-time reruns into the spring of 1963.)

This marked the only major recurring prime-time role of Wyatt's career, though (alongside the work of others such as Barbara Billingsley and Harriet Nelson) it did much to establish the now-iconic image of the "archetypal 1950s sitcom mother," and earned the actress a beloved spot in American pop-culture history. In addition to this, Wyatt made occasional appearances, during the Father Knows Best run, on a dramatic anthology series headlined by her small-screen husband, Robert Montgomery Presents (NBC, 1950-1957). Six years after new episodes of Father wrapped, Star Trek landed on NBC, and Wyatt turned up occasionally on that program, as Mr. Spock's mother, Amanda Spock. She also made a guest appearance, alongside the late Bob Cummings, on the early-'70s comedic anthology series Love, American Style (the two play parents who are overanxious about their daughter's decision to embark on a European "swingers' holiday" with a boyfriend).

If the preponderance of Wyatt's roles in the '70s, '80s, and '90s were largely supporting turns, it certainly said nothing about the actress' talent. She remained in the public eye as a fixture of such made-for-television features as You'll Never See Me Again (1973) and Amelia Earhart (1976). Though she entered semi-retirement in the late '70s, Wyatt later appeared (very infrequently) as an occasional supporting character in television's St. Elsewhere and reprised her role as Spock's mother in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986).

On October 20, 2006, after years of inactivity, Jane Wyatt died of natural causes in her sleep, at her home in Bel Air, CA. She was 96.

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  • Was a descendant of Philip Livingston, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
  • After leaving Barnard College in 1930, she studied acting in the Berkshire Playhouse's apprentice program in Stockbridge, MA. Later that year, she made her Broadway debut as an understudy in Trade Winds.
  • Her name was dropped from New York's Social Register after she established herself as an actress, though it was restored upon her marriage.
  • Met her husband through mutual friend James Roosevelt, son of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
  • Opposed Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950s and was temporarily blacklisted.
  • Her work on Father Knows Best made her the first consecutive Emmy winner.
  • Played Amanda, the human mother of the half-Vulcan Mr. Spock, on an episode of the cult sci-fi series Star Trek. She reprised the role in the 1986 big-screen outing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.