Bettye Ackerman, 82; ‘Ben Casey’ star, Sam Jaffe’s widow

Times Staff Writer

Bettye Ackerman, who played Dr. Maggie Graham on the popular “Ben Casey” medical series in the 1960s and was the widow of Sam Jaffe, has died. She was 82.

Ackerman died Nov. 1 at her home in Columbia, S.C., after having a stroke Oct. 28, said her brother, Robert Ackerman. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years after selling her home in Beverly Hills in 1998 and moving to Columbia to be near family members, he said.

Ackerman played an anesthesiologist on “Ben Casey,” a hit ABC series that debuted in 1961 with Vince Edwards in the title role of the idealistic young surgeon and Jaffe as his fatherly mentor, Dr. David Zorba. The series ended in 1966.


Ackerman met Jaffe when they appeared together in a New York stage production of Moliere’s “Tartuffe” in 1955. Jaffe, who had played the title role in “Gunga Din” and the High Lama in “Lost Horizon,” was more than 30 years Ackerman’s senior; they were married in 1956.

In a tribute to Sam Jaffe published in The Times after his death in 1984 at age 93, writer and retired publicist Ben Irwin wrote that, after Ackerman and Jaffe met in New York, “the two fell in love almost immediately.”

“Discussing marriage, a troubled Sam tried his best to dissuade her. He pointed out the very large difference in their ages, the fact he had for years been a victim of McCarthyism, never capitulating, and was $2,000 in debt. He said, ‘My future is behind me.’ Their marriage turned out to be one of the happiest in all of Hollywood.”

Born in Walterboro, S.C., on Feb. 28, 1924, Ackerman grew up in Williston, S.C., where her father was superintendent of schools. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English literature at Columbia College in Columbia, S.C., in 1945, she moved to New York City, where she did graduate work in theater at Columbia University and launched her acting career.

Ackerman, who made her film debut in the 1959 drama “Face of Fire” with Cameron Mitchell and James Whitmore, made numerous guest appearances on TV series, including “Perry Mason,” “Police Story,” “The Waltons” and “St. Elsewhere.”

She also was the original Constance MacKenzie on the daytime soap “Return to Peyton Place,” which ran from 1972 to 1974.

In the 1960s, she launched a side career as an artist and exhibited her work in the Los Angeles area, New York, Georgia and South Carolina.

In addition to Robert Ackerman, she is survived by another brother, Tom Ackerman.