R.I.P. to a Horror Icon

Betsy Palmer, ‘Friday the 13th 1’ star dies at 88


Betsy Palmer was cast as Mrs. Voorhees, the homicidal camp cook and Jason's mom in “Friday the 13th.”

Betsy Palmer, an actress bound to be remembered by different generations for different career incarnations. As a performer on live television, as a panelist on game shows and as one of Hollywood’s more bloodthirsty villainesses.
Palmer died on Friday in hospice care near her home in Danbury, Conn. She was 88, her death was announced by her manager Brad Lemack.

Ms. Palmer began her career in the early 50's and was frequently on the anthology drama series, some of them live.
Outgoing and friendly, she was known back then as a girl-next-door type.

She was also tall and shapely, Newsweek magazine described her in '58 as a “sugar-cookie blonde” 
 all of which made her a natural for other types of live programming that flourished in the 1950s and ’60s. 

For a time she appeared regularly on the “Today” show during its first decade, alongside Dave Garroway, the host.


 From left, Ms. Palmer, Garry Moore, Jonathan Winters and Bess Myerson on the game show “I’ve Got a Secret.” Ms. Palmer appeared nearly 200 times on the show from 1955 to 1967.
CBS, VIA EVERETT COLLECTION
“Women’s news is provided by Betsy Palmer, one of television’s most photogenic and intelligent performers,” John P. Shanley wrote in '58 in an assessment of the show in The New York Times.

Baby boomers grew familiar with Ms. Palmer for her nearly 200 appearances on “I’ve Got a Secret,” a long-running game show, hosted by Garry Moore, in which four panelists peppered guests with questions in order to determine a hidden peculiarity about them. 


Ms. Palmer’s colleagues often included Bess Myerson, Henry Morgan and Bill Cullen.
A later generation, however, knows Ms. Palmer better (or perhaps only) as, “The Mommy of the King of Slashers,” for her appearance as the insanely murderous Mrs. Voorhees, the camp cook bent on bloodily eliminating a roster of teenage counselors, in the 1980 horror film “Friday the 13th,” which has spawned enough sequels to give her son Jason the highest body count in horror history and become one of Hollywood’s most profitable franchises. She starred in number one, but has appeared in flashbacks in some of the sequels.
As she often told the story, Ms. Palmer took the part only because she needed $10,000 to buy a new car, a Volkswagen Scirocco.
“So the script came and I read it", Ms. Palmer recalled in a 2003 documentary called “Return to Crystal Lake: Making Friday the 13th,” She then said, "Not many will see it, It'll come & go, and I’ll have my Scirocco.” boy was she wrong (thank the horror gods)

Patricia Betsy Hrunek was born in East Chicago, Ind., on Nov. 1, 1926. Her father, Rudolph, was a chemist. Her mother, Marie, started and operated the East Chicago School of Business, which Betsy briefly attended before studying drama at DePaul University in Chicago.

She started acting in summer stock and, according to an NBC biography of her in 1957, appeared in a show outside Chicago with the actress and comedian Imogene Coca, who encouraged her to move to New York. There, in addition to her work on television dramas, she did commercials and appeared on game shows, including “Masquerade Party,” in which a panel of celebrities tried to discern the identity of another celebrity who appeared in disguise.

She had a few small parts in movies, including as a nurse in “Mister Roberts” (1955), the hit comedy-drama about life on a Navy ship during World War II with Henry Fonda and Jack Lemmon (who won an Oscar). She played the female lead in a western that starred Fonda, “The Tin Star” (1957).

She also appeared on Broadway in two short-lived comedies: “The Grand Prize” (1955), with Tom Poston and June Lockhart, and “Affair of Honor” (1956), which The Times’s critic, Brooks Atkinson, described as (through no fault of the actors, he pointed out) “dull and odious.”

Ms. Palmer’s marriage to Vincent J. Merendino, an obstetrician, ended in divorce. Her survivors include their daughter, Melissa Merendino.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ms. Palmer was host of a syndicated talk show, “Girl Talk.” Her later credits on television include a recurring role on the prime-time soap opera “Knots Landing” and guest appearances on “Murder, She Wrote,” “Charles in Charge,” “The Love Boat” and “Just Shoot Me!” In the 1960s and the 1970s, she also returned to Broadway as part of replacement casts in “Cactus Flower” and “Same Time, Next Year” and as a star of the Tennessee Williams drama “The Eccentricities of a Nightingale.” For many, if not most, however, it is Mrs. Voorhees and “Friday the 13th” that linger.

“I dismissed it for many, many years, and wouldn’t ’fess up to it at all,” she said in the documentary. “And then it just became such a big thing where everybody seemed to enjoy it so much. I thought, ‘Well, alright, I’m comfortable with it now.’ embracing it, she added 'It was almost like a badge of honor, and in a way, it has become that."



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