It’s an unfortunately frequent occurrence in the acting world…a long and varied career that sometimes boils down to a singular iconic role. Hey, better then no iconic roles, right? Actress Betsy Palmer has left us at the age of 88. Her film and television resume shows credits that span six decades. There were roles on memorable T.V. series like “Love, American Style”, “CHiPs”, “The Love Boat”, “Newhart” and “Murder, She Wrote”. And, of course, sticking out like a cockroach on a white rug, is her highly billed performance as Lt. Ann Girard, in the 1955 classic, “Mister Roberts”. Ms. Palmer was just a sprightly twentysomething back then, with only a handful of onscreen credits–and then there she is, holding her own, with Henry Fonda, James Cagney, William Powell and Jack Lemmon. You go, girl!
But it all comes down to “kill her Mommy, kill her!”, for the vast majority of us (me included). I was sitting in the 13th row, of the now demolished Rialto Theatre, in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, on a Friday the 13th evening, during some month in 1980 (I’ve forgotten which month, but I’m certain of that 13th row…we counted!). That movie we were watching was the original “Friday the 13th”, of course, and I was a 14-year-old high school freshman. It seemed my entire class was in the auditorium that night, and we all screamed and oohed and shuddered, and laughed at ourselves–it’s a great memory. Of, course, it all wrapped up (well, almost!) with the unexpected appearance of Ms. Palmer as the distraught and unravelled Mrs. Vorhees. Saying that the loss of her young son, Jason, caused her to lose her head is an understatement! But you’ll never forget the scene. And because of it, Betsy Palmer is a huge touchstone in macabre cinematic history. This is meant to honor her, not to mock her. I truly respect her long and varied career. Here’s to you, Betsy!