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Betsy Palmer
Betsy Palmer 1960.JPG
Palmer in 1960
Patricia Betsy Hrunek

(1926-11-01)November 1, 1926
Died May 29, 2015(2015-05-29) (aged 88)
Education East Chicago Business College
Art Institute of Chicago
Occupation Actress
Years active 1951–2007
Notable work
Friday the 13th
Television I've Got a Secret,
anthology series,
game shows
Vincent J. Merendino
(m. 1954; div. 1971)
Children 1

Betsy Palmer (born Patricia Betsy Hrunek; November 1, 1926 – May 29, 2015) was an American actress known for her many film and Broadway roles, television guest-starring appearances, as a panelist on the game show I've Got a Secret, and later for playing Pamela Voorhees in the 1980 film Friday the 13th.

Early life

Palmer was born Patricia Betsy Hrunek on November 1, 1926, in East Chicago, Indiana, the daughter of Marie (née Love), an adoptee, who launched the East Chicago Business College before she married, and Vincent Rudolph Hrunek (1894-1969), an industrial chemist who immigrated from Czechoslovakia, and became a stay-at-home father. She performed in school plays all through childhood, graduated from East Chicago's Roosevelt High School in 1944, then attended East Chicago Business College. After graduation, she worked as a stenographer and secretary for the car foreman on the RIP track of the B&O Railroad. She hated it, she said, because she was shut off from people. Some time after Palmer took an aptitude test at the Chicago YWCA, which indicated a flair for the arts, her father brought a coworker home for dinner, a former New York actor who recommended she study with David Itkin. Working days and commuting to night classes from East Chicago, she graduated from the Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago (now at DePaul University).

Acting career

Betsy Palmer 1958
Palmer in 1958

Palmer began working in summer stock in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, then in winter stock at the Woodstock Opera House in Woodstock, Illinois, with Paul Newman, and then summer stock in Chicago with Imogene Coca. Having saved $400, she told her parents she was changing her name to Betsy Palmer and moving to New York City with Sasha Igler, who had a job in advertising.

Palmer got her first television acting job in 1951 when she joined the cast of the 15-minute weekday television soap opera Miss Susan, which was produced in Philadelphia, and all actors traveled each day from New York City by train. She was "discovered" for this role by Norman Lessing while attending a party in the apartment of actor Frank Sutton, who was married to Toby Igler, the sister of Palmer's roommate, Sasha Igler. She had been in Manhattan less than one week.

A life member of the Actors Studio, Palmer's stage work included a tour of South Pacific (as Nellie Forbush) and a summer-stock season in the title role in Maggie, the 1953 musical adaptation of What Every Woman Knows by William Roy and Hugh Thomas.

In 1953, she created the role of Virginia in the original teleplay version of Paddy Chayefsky's Marty. Also in 1953, she appeared in a Studio One television broadcast of Hound-Dog Man with Jackie Cooper and others. She became a familiar face on television as a news reporter on Today in 1958 (the Today Girl), and a long-running regular panelist on the quiz show I've Got a Secret. She joined the show's original run, replacing Faye Emerson in 1958 and remaining until the show's finale in 1967. She did not reprise her role in any of the various revivals of the show. Palmer was the last surviving member of the I've Got a Secret first version's cast.

Palmer appeared as Kitty Carter in The Long Gray Line (1955), starring Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara. She also played nurse Lt. Ann Girard (the main female character) in Mister Roberts (1955), starring with Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon, James Cagney, and William Powell. In the same year, she played Carol Lee Phillips in Queen Bee, which starred Joan Crawford.

Palmer starred alongside Anthony Perkins and Fonda again in the Paramount production of The Tin Star (1957).

In 1958, she played undercover agent Phyllis Carter/Lynn Stuart in the film The True Story of Lynn Stuart, co-starring Jack Lord and featuring Kim Spalding as her husband, Ralph Carter.

Palmer appeared in seven Broadway shows. All the original productions had short runs, but she replaced other actresses in long-run shows, notably Lauren Bacall in Cactus Flower in 1967, and Ellen Burstyn in Same Time Next Year in 1977. In 1976, Palmer was the actress whom Tennessee Williams chose to embody the frustrated lead, Alma Winemiller, in his The Eccentricities of a Nightingale.

Palmer's Mercedes-Benz stopped working on the highway to her home in Connecticut after a performance in New York City. She arrived home at five o'clock in the morning, so she resolved to replace her car, and later, her daughter suggested that the Volkswagen Scirocco was a cute car and it was $10,000. The offer of $1000 a day for 10 days work on location at a Boy Scout camp in New Jersey, to fund the car purchase, was a reason for taking her most famous, recent role, Friday the 13th. ..... Despite her distaste for the film, she reluctantly consented to a cameo appearance in Friday the 13th Part 2. She ultimately came to accept and celebrate her participation in the franchise, as it made her more famous rather than infamous; she eventually commented "I was dumb, 'Friday the 13th' is an excellent film." Palmer was asked to reprise her role as Mrs. Voorhees in Freddy vs. Jason in 2003 and agreed to return, but she ultimately turned down the role after being offered a surprisingly low salary.

In 1982, Palmer created the role of Suzanne Becker on the CBS daytime soap opera As the World Turns. From 1989 to 1990, the actress appeared on Knots Landing as Virginia "Ginny" Bullock, the aunt of Valene Ewing (played by series star Joan Van Ark). Palmer acted in a Mayfield Dinner Theatre production of On Golden Pond in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1997.

In 2002, Palmer provided the voice of the title character, the ghost of a witch, for the horror film Bell Witch: The Movie, released in 2007.

In 2005, at around 79 years old, she appeared as Trudie Tredwell in the horror short Penny Dreadful, and in 2007, at 81, as the older version of the title character in Waltzing Anna.

Palmer appeared in the 2006 documentary, Betsy Palmer: Scream Queen Legend, as part of the publicity for the 2007 release of Bell Witch: The Movie.

Personal life

Palmer dated James Dean; the two met while working on an episode of Studio One television series.

Palmer married Vincent J. Merendino, an obstetrician-gynecologist, in 1954, whom she met in New York on a blind date. They divorced in 1971 after 17 years. She had one daughter, Melissa.

Palmer died of natural causes on May 29, 2015, at a hospice care center in Danbury, Connecticut. She was 88.


Betsy Palmer and Jackie Gleason in The Time of Your Life (1958)
Garry Moore Betsy Palmer Crosby boys Ive Got a Secret 1961
Palmer on I've Got a Secret with host Garry Moore and three of Bing Crosby's sons (1961)
Year Title Role Notes
1955 Death Tide Gloria
The Long Gray Line Kitty Carter
Mister Roberts Lt. Ann Girard
Queen Bee Carol Lee Phillips
1957 The Tin Star Nona Mayfield
1958 The True Story of Lynn Stuart Phyllis Carter / Lynn Stuart
The Time of Your Life Kitty Duval
1959 It Happened to Jane Herself (panelist)
The Ballad of Louie the Louse Tina Adams TV movie
The Last Angry Man Anna Thrasher
1968 A Punt, a Pass, and a Prayer Nancy TV movie
1980 Friday the 13th Pamela Voorhees
1981 Friday the 13th Part 2
Isabel's Choice Ellie Fineman TV movie
1988 Windmills of the Gods Mrs. Hart Brisbane TV movie
Goddess of Love Hera TV movie
1992 Still Not Quite Human Aunt Mildred TV movie
1994 Unveiled Eva
1999 The Fear: Resurrection Grandmother
2005 Penny Dreadful Trudie Tredwell
2006 Waltzing Anna Anna Rhoades (final film performance)
2006 Betsy Palmer: Scream Queen Legend Self documentary
2007 Bell Witch: The Movie Bell Witch (final film release)

Television appearances

From 1953 to 2001, Palmer was a guest star on 73 television programs, including (in no particular order):

  • Marty (1953) as Virginia
  • The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse (1953–1956) as Janice Gans / Virginia
  • Studio One in Hollywood (1953–1957)
  • Janet Dean, Registered Nurse (1954) as The Jinx Nurse
  • Lux Video Theatre (1954) as Intermission Guest
  • The Goodyear Playhouse (1954–1957) as Paula Ferris
  • Appointment with Adventure (1955)
  • I've Got a Secret (1955-1967) as herself
  • Kraft Television Theatre (1956-1957)
  • Playhouse 90 (1958) as Kitty Duval / Emmy Verdon
  • Password (1961-1964) as herself
  • The Mike Douglas Show (1966-1971) as herself
  • The Joey Bishop Show (1967) as herself
  • The Today Show (1968) as herself
  • The $10,000 Pyramid (1973) as herself
  • The New Candid Camera (1974) as herself
  • The Love Boat (1982) as Millicent Holton
  • Murder, She Wrote (1985-1989) as Valerie / Lila Norris
  • Charles in Charge (1987) as Gloria
  • Newhart (1987) as Gayle Crowley
  • Out of This World (1987-1988) as Donna's Mom
  • Knots Landing (1989–1990) as Virginia Bullock
  • Columbo: Death Hits the Jackpot (1991) as Martha Lamarr
  • Just Shoot Me! (1998) as Rhonda
  • Hallmark Hall of Fame
  • Toast of the Town
  • Chips


Award Category Work Result
Fantasporto Film Festival Special Career Award Penny Dreadful Won
Golden Raspberry Award Worst Supporting Actress Friday the 13th Nominated
New England Theatre Conference (NETC) 2005 Major Award Award for Stage Work Various Won

See also

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