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Actress Betsy Palmer Dead at Age 88

Actress Betsy Palmer, whose long film, stage and television career began back in 1951 in the early days of live television and who later found a new generation of fans in her role as Mrs. Vorhees in the cult film classic Friday the 13th, has died at the age of 88, it was announced today by her longtime manager Brad Lemack. Lemack reports that Palmer died of natural causes on May 29th at a hospice care center near her Danbury, Connecticut home.

Born in East Chicago, Indiana on November 1, 1926, her career aspirations took her to New York where she first appeared on the television series Miss Susan (which shot in Philadelphia). Her substantial resume of early television work includes the acclaimed 1953 live Philco Television Playhouse production of Paddy Chayefsky's Marty, with Rod Steiger, in the title role, and Sentence of Death, a Studio One teleplay, in which she starred with James Dean, also in 1953.

Palmer's tremendous body of acting work grew to include a prolific career that spanned five decades.

Her early film work includes many films that are now also considered classics, including Mister Roberts, in which she co-starred with Jack Lemmon, Henry Fonda and James Cagney, The Long Gray Line, in which she co-starred with Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara, and Queen Bee, in which she co-starred with Joan Crawford, all three in 1955 alone. She appeared with Fonda again, as well as with Anthony Perkins, in the 1957 Academy Award-nominated film The Tin Star.

Photo Coverage: 'What's My Line?' Live on Stage

Betsy had a very diverse performance career that also included high profile stints as a regular contributor on NBC-TV's The Today Show, from 1958 through 1959 and her role as a regular panelist on the long running and popular prime time TV game show I've Got a Secret, from 1952 through 1967. In 1953, she appeared as the original letter turner in a new CBS-TV game show called Wheel of Fortune.

The iconic television game show player later appeared numerous times as a celebrity player on other classic game shows, including What's My Line, Password and The $10,000 Pyramid.

In 1969, Palmer took over the hosting duties of the nationally Syndicated morning talk show Girl Talk, which Virginia Graham began in 1962.

It was in 1980 when audiences first saw Palmer in a strikingly new light, as the murderous Pamela Vorhees in the original and still very popular cult film classic Friday, the 13th. It was an unlikely role for Palmer, who later said that the only reason she accepted the job was that she was convinced no one would ever see the it - and to earn the money for a new car.

The day before getting a call about the film, the car she was driving broke down on the Connecticut Turnpike during her drive home from a day in New York City. Her mechanic told her that it would cost $10,000 for the needed repair, which was also, she discovered, the cost of a brand new car. She wanted to take a day to think about it. That next day brought the offer for the film that would pay her exactly $10,000, leading to a sporty new vehicle and a revitalized career.

Her extensive television work grew to include guest star appearances in episodes of countless dramatic and comedic series, including her work with pal Angela Landsbury on Murder, She Wrote and a recurring role on the long running prime time drama Knots Landing.

While she achieved fame and notoriety from her film and television work, it was her work on stage that brought Palmer the greatest professional joy. Her Broadway credits include Roar Like a Dove (1964), Cactus Flower (1967) The Eccentricities of a Nightingale (1976) and Same Time, Next Year (1977).

Betsy was also a regular fixture in summer stock theatre for years during the genre's heyday, starring in numerous productions, including South Pacific, The King and I, Hello, Dolly! and A Doll's House. Her work in regional theatre in her later years includes productions of On Golden Pond and A Perfect Ganesh. She also starred in a national tour of A.R. Gurney's play Love Letters, performing opposite a variety of leading men, including Robert Reed, Eddie Albert and Van Johnson.

In her personal life, Palmer was a staunch supporter of many non-profit organizations, including those involved in the fight against AIDS and in the care for AIDS patients.

Betsy is survived by her daughter Melissa Merendino.

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