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Jane Wyman: a tribute to a long-time volunteer.


A Tribute to a Long-Time Volunteer

As a very active and involved volunteer for well over 20 years, actress Jane Wyman has a unique perspective on the work of the Arthritis Foundation. Here, she shares her memories of working with the Foundation and her dreams for the future.

Never let it be said that Jane Wyman does anything half-heartedly. When the Academy-Award-winning actress says "yes" to a project -- be it a movie, a television series, or a volunteer cause -- she says "yes" with her heart and soul.

Before many of today's most active and committed volunteers had even considered working for the Arthritis Foundation -- indeed, before some of them were even born -- Jane Wyman was championing the cause. Without a doubt, she has been one of the most active and dedicated celebrity volunteers in the organization's history.

Since 1967, Miss Wyman has given freely and tirelessly of her time and energy to the Arthritis Foundation. During her stint as National Campaign Chairman in 1973 and 1974, she logged thousands of miles, crisscrossing the United States to see the work of the Foundation firsthand. She worked hard to learn as much as she could about arthritis, and still speaks very intelligently about the arthritis diseases. In 1976, she was the first presenter of the Foundation's highest honor for volunteer service, the Charles B. Harding Award, and the following year she became the first person after Mr. Harding to receive the award.

From the beginning her commitment never waned. She has appeared on the Southern California Chapter's telethon for 23 consecutive years. For her dedicated service, she was honored by that chapter in 1985 with the establishment of the Jane Wyman Humanitarian Award, which has since been awarded to such dedicated Foundation volunteers as actress Victoria Principal and attorney Stanford K. Rubin, a former Foundation chairman. Miss Wyman is a life member of the Southern California Chapter and an honorary trustee of the Foundation at the national level.

Today, at 75, Miss Wyman is beginning to slow down in some areas of her life. Like those she has served for so long, she is beginning to feel the twinges of arthritis herself in her hands. Her leading role on the CBS-TV series Falcon Crest is being reduced this year, and she is spending more time on the leisure pursuits she enjoys, such as painting. But she's not cutting back on her commitment to the fight against arthritis.

Arthritis Today: How did you become involved with the Arthritis Foundation?

Wyman: I initially became involved because of a very dear friend who developed rheumatoid arthritis. I was invited by the Southern California Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation to join them as the chairman of their telethon. My darling friend asked me to please get in and help if I could, so I did.

I worked with the chapter's board to refurbish the telethon and bring it up to date so it wouldn't always be the same old thing. Through that involvement, I was named national spokesperson, and that put me on an airplane all the time.

A T : What kind of visits did you make on behalf of the Foundation?

Wyman: I went into cities to visit the hospitals and to meet all the other volunteers throughout the country. I had some wonderful, wonderful conversations with doctors. In those days, they were really just beginning to do the kind of intricate surgery they do now, and it was just fascinating. The deeper I got into it, the more fascinated I became. Meeting all of these people, you just have to help if you can.

A T : Why was it so important for you to put in the long hours and hard work you did?

Wyman: I felt I had to burn the midnight oil. I'm not going to just jump into something I don't know anything about. I didn't even know how to spell arthritis at first, much less what it was. I had to learn from the bottom up, and I got a very good education.

A T : What are some of your fondest memories of your time volunteering for the Foundation?

Wyman: It's all wrapped up in one lovely bow. I met so many really outstanding people -- volunteers and people with arthritis. It was just heart rending to see how some of them suffered.

When we did a telethon in New York, I met some of the children who had had their knees and other joints replaced. Doctors were just beginning to do those operations on children. It made my heart feel so good to see the children getting around and doing so well. It really breaks your heart to see a little 3-year-old not being able to walk or crawl or anything.

A T : In your opinion, how has arthritis changed since you first became involved in 1967?

Wyman: Well, it's come along with science. Arthritis research is right head-on with science now, and it wasn't at that time. And there are, of course, medications that can relieve some of that terrible pain. The public knows a lot more about arthritis now, and people aren't so frightened of it.

A T : What do you think has been the greatest accomplishment in the fight against arthritis during your involvement?

Wyman: Education. You know, everybody used to call it rheumatism. They didn't know whether they had rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis or what.

The Foundation has done a good job of educating people about the various forms of arthritis.

A T : What do you see as being the biggest challenge still ahead of us?

Wyman: Continuation of the things that we're doing right now, but adding to them every time something new comes through research. That's why we do these telethons and other events -- to raise the money for research. In my lifetime, I want to see a cure, but right now we don't even know where most forms of arthritis come from. the knowledge has to be continually practiced and updated.

A T : Clearly, you have been the epitome of the word "volunteer" for the Arthritis Foundation. What would you say to encourage others to become involved?

Wyman: If a person wants to spend the time and get involved with the Arthritis Foundation, I'm quite sure they will find it very gratifying, and that's worth more than anything else -- to feel like you've done the best you can do at that particular time for something you believe in.

A T : What do you feel has been your greatest contribution to the fight against arthritis?

Wyman: Attention, I think. Because I'm not an unknown person, I'm able to get the kind of attention an ordinary person might not be able to get, whether it be over the airwaves or in print or something. But I don't really dwell on that as much as I do the hard work that goes into being a volunteer, and it is hard work. It's not easy; you don't just sit, unless you want to make phone calls or something.

There are so many causes going on today -- I can't keep track of many of them. But my dedication is, and always has been, to the Foundation since I started with it, because I am dedicated to that particular malady. If I split myself wide open and I'm doing a little of this and a little of that, I'm wasting my time.

A T : What message of hope would you give to the millions of Americans who have arthritis?

Wyman: Have trust in us; we're still out there working for them. We're working to give them hope that something will come along to alleviate their pain. That's the thing we're out there for; they just have to believe in us.

Putting Her Money Where Her Heart Is

For more than 20 years, Jane Wyman hasn't just asked for the contributions and commitments of others to the arthritis cause; she has led by example, giving freely of her own time and efforts. The same is true in terms of preparing for the Foundation's financial success in the future by planning gifts today; Jane Wyman has done her part to ensure that the fight against arthritis continues for years to come by naming the Arthritis Foundation in her will.

To encourage others to do the same, Miss Wyman recently taped several public service announcements on the importance of planned gifts. "A bequest makes sure that your light of hope will be burning when the answer is found," she said in one announcement. "So, for the millions of people with arthritis today, and until we find a cure, the millions yet to come, please give them your love by remembering the Arthritis Foundation in your will. I have."


During the '80s, Jane Wyman has become widely known as Angela Channing, the wealthy wine baroness she plays on the CBS-TV hit series, Falcon Crest. But her fame was established much earlier. During her long and successful showbusiness career, Jane Wyman starred in 74 feature films and two long-running television series, as well as a variety of programs on which she made guest appearances.

The daughter of a chief of detectives, she was born Sarah Jane Fulks in St. Joseph, Mo. When she was still a child, her father died and she and her mother moved to Hollywood. Her career began in the mid-'30s as a chorus dancer at Paramount Pictures. From there, she progressed to musicals, comedies and light dramatic roles with Warner Bros., where she became known as Jane Wyman. In the late '30s and early '40s, she appeared in such films as Anything Goes, The King and the Chorus Girl, Slim, Brother Rat and Tugboat Annie Sails Again. In the latter two films, she appeared with a young actor named Ronald Reagan, to whom she was married from 1940 to 1948.

In 1944, Miss Wyman won public attention and acclaim in her first major dramatic role as Ray Milland's loyal, level-headed woman in The Lost Weekend. After that, offers to play choice roles started pouring in. In 1946, she was nominated for Best Actress by the Motion Picture Academy for her portrayal of Ma Baxter in The Yearling.

In 1948, Miss Wyman tackled one of her most deeply dramatic challenges as the deaf mute in the classic Johnny Belinda, for which she was awarded an Oscar. She was later nominated by the Academy for her performances in The Blue Veil (1951) and Magnificent Obsession (1954). Her other film highlights from the early '50s include Here Comes the Groom, In the Cool, Cool of the Evening, Just For You, Zing a Little Zong, and Miracle in the Rain.

In addition to her Academy Award, Miss Wyman has two Golden Globes from the Hollywood Foreign Press, has been voted one of the Ten Top Box Office Stars, and has been honored in Spain, Holland and Great Britain. In 1951, she and Gregory Peck were voted favorite international screen actors in a poll of 1 million people from 50 countries throughout the world.

In 1955, Miss Wyman entered the still-young medium of television with her Jane Wyman Theatre, for which she was nominated for two Emmys. She was one of the few women in television to act as both the star and the producer of her own show.

She later returned to motion pictures and starred in such films as Holiday for Lovers and Pollyanna before capping her movie career in 1968 with How to Commit Marriage, opposite Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason.

During the '70s Miss Wyman took a break from show business and devoted almost full-time efforts to the fight against arthritis. But in 1981 she ended her "retirement" when she accepted the starring role of Angela Channing on Falcon Crest. After eight successful seasons as matriarch of the Channing family, she is once again looking toward a reduction in her acting workload and a return to some of her other favorite endeavors, such as painting. Her realistic landscapes, often sold through a Carmel, Calif. gallery, have won artistic praise. "I paint whenever I'm in the mood," she says. "I have a couple of things started now, so I think I'll finish those. That's fun."

PHOTO : In 1988, Miss Wyman Presented the Jane Wyman Humanitarian Award to Larry Scherzer,

PHOTO : honoring his more than 20 years of service to the Arthritis Foundation's Southern

PHOTO : California Chapter.

PHOTO : For more than 20 years, Miss Wyman has worked to increase awareness of the fight against

PHOTO : arthritis by promoting fundraising activities such as the 1969 Three Day Neighborhood

PHOTO : March (above) and by making personal appearances, as she did with gameshow host Tom

PHOTO : Kennedy during the Southern California Chapter's 1976 telethon (right).

PHOTO : Abby Dalton (left), one of the original cast members of Falcon Crest, supported Miss

PHOTO : Wyman's efforts in the fight against arthritis.

PHOTO : Miss Wyman's leadership on behalf of the Arthritis Foundation was recognized in 1971 when

PHOTO : George Johnstone (left) and Charles Hovorka presented her with the Southern California

PHOTO : Society of Fund Raiser's Volunteer Award.

PHOTO : The 1950 film The Glass Menagerie starred Jane Wyman, above, and Kirk Douglas.

PHOTO : Miss Wyman, pictured below with co-star Lew Ayres, portrayed a deaf-mute in her

PHOTO : Oscar-winning performance in the 1948 film Johnny Belinda.

PHOTO : Jane Wyman and Richard Egan co-starred with Haley Mills in the 1960 Disney classic

PHOTO : Pollyanna.

PHOTO : Miss Wyman was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in the 1954 film Magnificent

PHOTO : Obsession. She's pictured above with co-star Rock Hudson.

PHOTO : In 1988, Cesar Romero joined the cast of Falcon Crest as an old friend of Miss Wyman's

PHOTO : character, Angela Channing.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:for the Arthritis Foundation, includes related article
Author:McDaniel, Cindy T.
Publication:Arthritis Today
Article Type:interview
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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