BETSY’S SMILE

Betsy Palmer

Yet another one of my favorites died. Betsy Palmer, age 88, died of natural causes.

She started her career in a 15 minute TV soap opera back in 1951 and continued as an actress and television personality the rest of her life. During the 50’s and 60’s she was one of the most popular and well-known entertainers on TV.

And yet, all the news of her death leads off with her playing a murderous cook in the FRIDAY THE 13TH movie series. She was a true pioneer of American TV, and yet they focus on her having played in slasher pictures. Heck, I’d rather they led off with a gossipy fact like she lived with James Dean for eight months, no easy task, or that she remained a good friend of Joan Crawford up until the day Miss Crawford died, again, no easy task. Or, how about the fact that she had a smile that could light up the room and that smile never left her face when she was appearing as herself.

Betsy Palmer was a guest on all the big game shows of the 50’s and 60’s. Those years, game shows on network TV were as big as ‘reality’ shows are today. She was the first ‘letter turner’ on WHEEL OF FORTUNE, a few years before Vanna was even born. She was a mainstay on I’VE GOT A SECRET for 12 years. During those years she also was a regular on THE TODAY SHOW. She had personality, wit, and — that smile.

Palmer studied at the Actor’s Studio and was a fine actress on TV, the stage, motion pictures. During the Golden Age of Television, she was appearing in many of the great playhouse dramas, all live. Her resume includes work on Broadway and theaters all over the country. Heavy dramatic parts, comedic parts, parts in musicals. Her movies credits include MISTER ROBERTS with Henry Fonda, QUEEN BEE with Joan Crawford, among many other credits in movies that don’t center around blood and gore.

I had the privilege of working Miss Palmer in a touring revival of GIGI. She played the part of Gigi’s aunt Alicia.

It was a good production. Louis Jourdan who was the young suitor in the movie, played the part of the old advisor, a part played by Maurice Chevalier in the movie. Sadly, Mr. Jourdan also passed away recently. He was not only a movie star, he was a ‘hero’ in WWII. Refusing to do propaganda movies for he Nazis, he manged to escape and join his father fighting in the French Resistance. In his movies he was known for playing a suave gentleman. That week of working with him, I came away with the impression he that didn’t have to work hard for those portrayals. I found him to be a very suave gentleman in real life also.

As far as working with Miss Palmer… I always remembered her for her perkiness, her wit, and of course, her smile. I must admit I came prepared to dislike her. I just didn’t believe her real persona could ever match the one she had in front of a camera. I mean, how could anyone have that big a smile all the time.

And boy, was I surprised!!!

She was great to work with. She was always laughing and talking with us as if she knew us all her life. One of my cues was to help her down some escape stairs. She would stand on the top step and wouldn’t move until I took her by the arm.

The last performance, at the bottom of the stairs, she confessed that she really didn’t need my help, but she just wanted me to hold her arm. I told her I kind of knew that about half way down the stairs the first performance. She gave me a kiss on the cheek and told me that would be our little secret. I guess now I won’t be in trouble for revealing that little secret.

R.I.P. Miss Betsy Palmer. I pity those who remember you mostly as a deranged knife wielder. I’ll always remember you as a real professional, as a joy to be around, and of course, I’ll always remember your smile.

And that’s a wrap.

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