Jane Wyatt, a three-time Emmy Award-winner for her portrayal of the patient and understanding housewife and mother on the classic 1950s...
HOLLYWOOD — Jane Wyatt, a three-time Emmy Award-winner for her portrayal of the patient and understanding housewife and mother on the classic 1950s family situation comedy “Father Knows Best,” has died. She was 96.
Ms. Wyatt, whose acting career spanned stage, screen and television over seven decades, died Friday in her sleep at her Los Angeles home, her grandson Nicholas Ward said.
A Broadway veteran who made her screen debut in 1934, Ms. Wyatt appeared in more than 30 movies as both a leading and supporting player, including “None But the Lonely Heart” with Cary Grant and “Gentleman’s Agreement” with Gregory Peck.
Her most memorable screen role was the ethereal Shangri-la beauty who enchants Ronald Colman in the 1937 Frank Capra film “Lost Horizon.”
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But Ms. Wyatt never attained the kind of stardom on the big screen that she achieved on television opposite Robert Young on “Father Knows Best.”
As the warm and charming Jim and Margaret Anderson, Young and Ms. Wyatt presided over their idealistically wholesome family. The series, which ran from 1954 to 1960, featured Elinor Donahue as Betty (“Princess”), Billy Gray as Bud and Lauren Chapin as Kathy (“Kitten”).
Ms. Wyatt was proud of the series, which has been criticized for not being a realistic portrayal of American family life.
“We thought it was,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1986, speaking for herself and Young. “We, each of us, has been married for 50 years. It is what we wanted to do for our children. We can’t have it exactly like life; it would be too boring. We all thought it was life — as we wanted it to be.”
During the show’s heyday, Ms. Wyatt said, many viewers thought she and Young were really married. During those years, she recalled in a later interview, she spent more time with Young than she did with her real husband.
“I remember once going over to the Youngs’ house for a dinner party,” she said, “and when I walked in I fixed Bob’s tie without even thinking about it.”
Ms. Wyatt, a mother of two sons, was also often asked if the children on the show were really hers.
She said she became close to Donahue, Gray and Chapin, “like a favorite aunt with her favorite nieces and nephews.”
Ms. Wyatt won her Emmys for the series in 1958, ’59 and ’60.
Ms. Wyatt was born Aug. 12, 1910, in Campgaw, N.J. Her father, Christopher Wyatt, was a New York investment banker, and her mother, Euphemia Van Rensselaer Wyatt, was a playwright, drama critic and editor.
Ms. Wyatt majored in history and took drama courses at Barnard College, but she left after two years to become an apprentice at the Berkshire Playhouse in Stockbridge, Mass.
She made her first appearance on the New York stage in “Give Me Yesterday” in 1931 and in 1933 succeeded Margaret Sullivan in “Dinner at Eight” on Broadway.
She made her movie debut in 1934 in James Whale’s “One More River.”
Throughout the late ’30s and ’40s, she alternated between stage and screen, including starring on Broadway in 1945 opposite Franchot Tone in “Hope for the Best.”
After “Father Knows Best” ended, Ms. Wyatt continued acting, including an appearance as Spock’s mother on TV’s “Star Trek.”
She also had a recurring role as Norman Lloyd’s wife on “St. Elsewhere.”
Ms. Wyatt was heavily involved in charity work, especially the March of Dimes. She also was involved with Los Angeles Beautiful, a beautification program, for many years.