Betsy Palmer, Actress in 'Friday the 13th,' Dies at 88
She also appeared in such films as 'Mister Roberts,' 'The Long Gray Line' and 'The Tin Star' and was a regular on 'I've Got a Secret.'
Betsy Palmer, the veteran character actress who achieved lasting, though not necessarily sought-after, fame as the murderous camp cook in the cheesy horror film Friday the 13th, has died. She was 88.
Palmer died Friday of natural causes at a hospice care center in Connecticut, her longtime manager, Brad Lemack, told The Associated Press on Sunday.
Palmer also was known for her work as a regular panelist for about a decade on the CBS game show I’ve Got a Secret, starting in 1958.
The wholesome Indiana native appeared in films, on Broadway and in TV shows for years before she took the role of Mrs. Voorhees in the 1980 movie in which young camp counselors suddenly begin meeting their bloody ends. The back story was that she was the mother of Jason Voorhees, who had died at the camp years before. He would come to life in several sequels, and she is seen oh-so-briefly in the 1981 Friday the 13th follow-up.
Palmer said that she only took the role in that first film because she wanted the money to buy a new car, a Volkswagen Scirocco that cost $9,999. Her old Mercedes had just broken down on the road days earlier.
"My agent called and said, 'How would you like to be in a movie?'" she recalled. "I said, 'Great, I haven't done a movie since the 1960s.' He said, 'It’s 10 days’ work, they’ll pay you $1,000 a day.' I said, 'Great, I want to buy a car. It’ll just cover the car, perfect.' He said, 'There’s a drawback … it’s a horror film.' I said, Oh, no.’"
But Palmer did want to pay for that car, so she asked to see the script. "I said, 'What a piece of junk,'" she said. "Nobody is ever going to see this. This will come and go."
Her film credits included three movies released in 1955: Mister Roberts with Henry Fonda (as nurse Lt. Ann Girard, she was one of the few women in the cast), The Long Gray Line with Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara and Queen Bee with Joan Crawford. She also starred in The Tin Star (1957) with Fonda and Anthony Perkins, The True Story of Lynn Stuart (1958) opposite Jack Lord and The Last Angry Man (1959) with Paul Muni.
Other TV credits included Knots Landing (as the aunt of Joan Van Ark), The Love Boat, Newhart, Just Shoot Me!, T.J. Hooker and Murder, She Wrote.
Palmer attended DePaul University in Chicago, trained at New York’s famed Actors Studio and made her Broadway debut in 1955 in The Grand Prize opposite June Lockhart and Tom Poston. She later appeared on the Great White Way in such plays as Cactus Flower in 1965 and Same Time, Next Year a decade later.
She also starred in numerous TV shows from the early 1950s, among them Kraft Theatre, Playhouse 90 and Studio One.
Survivors include her daughter, Melissa.