On film, Ms. Wyatt was known for playing pretty, devoted and rather dull wives to virtuous men, who were often portrayed by Hollywood's leading men, including Gary Cooper (in "Task Force"), Dana Andrews ("Boomerang") and Cary Grant ("None But the Lonely Heart"). Still, she did her wifely duty in service of some of filmdom's finest directors, including Elia Kazan, who directed her in "Boomerang" and "Gentlemen's Agreement," and Frank Capra, who cast her in what is perhaps her best-known role, as an enchanting resident of the mythical Shangri-la, who almost tempts Ronald Colman away from the wicked world.
Ms. Wyatt found a wider variety of roles on the Broadway stage, where she appeared 16 times, first in 1921, in The Midnight Rounders of 1921. She was 9 years old at the time. She returned to Broadway a decade later in A.A. Milne's Give Me Yesterday. In 1933, she stepped into the role of Paula Jordan, daughter of the wealthy couple giving the lavish dinner party in Dinner at Eight. The part led to a film contract. She also had roles in W. Somerset Maugham's For Services Rendered and Philip Barry's The Joyous Season, Clifford Odets' Night Music and Lillian Hellman's The Autumn Garden. In the latter two, she was directed by Harold Clurman.
Shortly after the Hellman play, she was cast as a member of the Anderson household in "Father Knows Best" opposite Robert Young. The show was emblematic of the anodyne sitcoms favored by the viewing public in the 1950s, in which contented families nested in spotless suburbs (the Andersons lived in Springfield, which was a galaxy away from the town of the same name which claims the Simpsons as citizens) and never had a wrestle with a problem that rose above the anecdotal. The show was hugely popular, and, when CBS cancelled it in 1955, a flood of letters caused NBC to pick it up. It ran until 1960 and Ms. Wyatt was rewarded with three consecutive Emmy Awards for her portrayal.
Jane Waddington Wyatt was born on Aug. 12, 1911, in Campgaw, New Jersey. She was both an unlikely candidate for the stage—she was from the distinguished van Renssalaer family whose American roots go back to the 1500s—and fated for it: Her mother was a drama critic. When, after attending the Chapin School and Barnard College, she found work on Broadway, her name was removed from the social registrar.
She married Edgar Ward in 1935. They had two children. He died in 2000.