Betsy Palmer dies at 88; was killer summer-camp cook in ‘Friday the 13th’

Bryant Gumbel, Betsy Palmer

Betsy Palmer, with Bryant Gumbel, earned her greatest acclaim as an actor playing Pamela Voorhees in the 1980 horror film “Friday the 13th.”

(Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

Betsy Palmer, an actress who started out as a game-show panelist and worked in serious theater but achieved her greatest fame as a slasher and ax murderer in “Friday the 13th,” has died. She was 88.

Palmer died Friday at a hospice near her home in Danbury, Conn., her manager, Brad Lemack, said in a statement.

In the horror film “Friday the 13th” (1980), Palmer portrayed Pamela Voorhees, a summer-camp cook with a penchant for impaling the counselors.

Although she later attended numerous horror-film fan conventions, she told interviewers that she hated the script and refused to act in the film’s many sequels.


She took the job, she said, because it required only 10 days of work and would earn her $10,000 — just what she needed to replace the aging Mercedes that quit on her one terrible night as she drove on busy Interstate 95. She replaced it with a Volkswagen Scirocco.

“And here we are, 25 years later, and I get fan mail from all over the world,” Palmer told a Newark Star-Ledger reporter in 2005. “What do they call me? I’m ‘The Queen of the Slashers.’ I can’t believe it.”

Born Patricia Betsy Hrunek in East Chicago, Ind., on Nov. 1, 1926, Palmer studied at DePaul University before heading for the Actors Studio in New York. She had dramatic roles on respected television shows including “Playhouse 90" and “Studio One” in the 1950s. In 1953, she appeared on a new game show called “Wheel of Fortune” as the letter-turner — the original Vanna White, as she later recounted it.

Her film work included “Mr. Roberts” with Henry Fonda, “The Long Gray Line” with Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara, “Queen Bee” with Joan Crawford, and “The Tin Star” with Fonda and Anthony Perkins.


Meanwhile, she did stints on “The Today Show” and became a long-running celebrity panelist on the quiz show “I’ve Got a Secret.”

Her other TV credits included “Knots Landing,” “The Love Boat,” “Newhart,” “Just Shoot Me” and “Murder, She Wrote.”

On Broadway, Palmer appeared in “Cactus Flower” (1967), “Same Time, Next Year” (1977) and many other productions.

Palmer was married in 1954 to Dr. Vincent J. Merendino. They divorced in 1971.

She is survived by daughter Melissa Merendino.

Twitter: @schawkins

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