Jane Waddington Wyatt was born on August 12, 1910, in Mahwah, New Jersey, but raised in Manhattan. Her father, Christopher Billopp Wyatt, Jr., was a Wall Street investment banker, and her mother, the former Euphemia Van Rensselaer Waddington, was a drama critic for the Catholic World. Both of her parents were Roman Catholic converts. Wyatt had two sisters and a brother. While in New York City, Wyatt attended the Chapin School and later attended two years of Barnard College. After leaving Barnard, she joined the apprentice school of the Berkshire Playhouse at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where for six months she played a variety of roles. One of her first jobs on Broadway was as understudy to Rose Hobart in a production of Trade Winds–a career move that cost her her listing in the New York Social Register (she later was relisted upon her marriage). Receiving favorable notices on Broadway and celebrated for her understated beauty, Wyatt made the transition from stage to screen and was placed under contract by Universal Pictures.
She made her film debut in 1934 in One More River. In arguably her most famous role, she co-starred as Ronald Colman’s character’s love interest in Frank Capra’s Columbia Pictures film Lost Horizon (1937). Of her experience in Lost Horizon, she noted in an article in the St. Anthony Messenger newsletter, “During the war, they cut out all the pacifist parts of the film—the High Lama talking about peace in the world. All that was cut because they were trying to inspire those G.I.’s to get out there and go ‘bang! bang! bang!’ which sort of ruined the film.” Other film appearances included Gentleman’s Agreement with Gregory Peck, None but the Lonely Heart with Cary Grant, Boomerang with Dana Andrews, and Our Very Own with Farley Granger. Wyatt co-starred in the crime dramas Pitfall and House by the River, and also with Randolph Scott in a western, Canadian Pacific. She played the wife of Gary Cooper in the war story Task Force. Her film career suffered because of her outspoken opposition to Senator Joseph McCarthy, the chief figure in the anti-Communist investigations of that era, and was temporarily derailed for having assisted in hosting a performance by the Bolshoi Ballet during the Second World War, even though it was at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Wyatt returned to her roots on the New York stage for a time and appeared in such plays as Lillian Hellman’s The Autumn Garden, opposite Fredric March.
For many people, Wyatt is best remembered as Margaret Anderson on Father Knows Best, which aired from 1954 to 1960. She played opposite Robert Young as the devoted wife and mother of the Anderson family in the Midwestern town of Springfield. This role won Wyatt three Emmy Awards in 1958-1960 for best actress in a comedy series. After Father Knows Best, Wyatt guest starred in several other series. On June 13, 1962, she was cast in the lead in “The Heather Mahoney Story” on NBC’s Wagon Train. In 1963, she portrayed Kitty McMullen in “Don’t Forget to Say Goodbye” on the ABC drama, Going My Way, with Gene Kelly and Leo G. Carroll, a series about the Catholic priesthood in New York City. In 1965, Wyatt was cast as Anne White in “The Monkey’s Paw – A Retelling” on CBS’s The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. Wyatt portrayed Amanda Grayson, Spock’s mother and Ambassador Sarek’s (Mark Lenard) wife, in the 1967 episode “Journey to Babel” of the original NBC series, Star Trek, and the 1986 film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Wyatt was once quoted as saying her fan mail for these two appearances in this role exceeded that of Lost Horizon. In 1969, she made a guest appearance on Here Come the Brides but did not have any scenes with Mark Lenard, who was starring on the show as sawmill owner Aaron Stemple.
In 1976, she guest-starred in an episode of Gibbsville and she appeared as Anna, mother of the Virgin Mary, in the 1978 television film The Nativity. Late in her career, she played Katherine Auschlander, wife of hospital administrator Dr. Daniel Auschlander (Norman Lloyd), on the 1980s medical drama St. Elsewhere. Jane Wyatt died on October 20, 2006, at her home in Bel-Air, California, aged 96. She was interred at San Fernando Mission Cemetery, next to her husband. Wyatt is survived by her sons, Christopher and Michael Ward (according to an obituary in The Washington Post, a third son died in infancy in the early 1940s), three grandchildren, and five great grandchildren.
- August, 12, 1910
- Mahwah, New Jersey
- October, 20, 2006
- Bel-Air, California
Cause of Death
- natural causes
- San Fernando Mission Cemetery
- Mission Hills, California