Once on film, you kind of live forever. Few achieve the sort of cinematic infamy and icon status of Betsy Palmer, however.
The longtime performer and Chicago native, a veteran of stage and screen (both big and small), including Mr. Roberts and multiple appearances on Password and The Today Show, would find greatest notoriety as Mrs. Voorhees, a vengeful mother in 1980’s Friday the 13th. Famously taking the role for the simple need of a new car, Palmer’s Mrs. Voorhees grew larger than life as the unusual and unexpected killer (within film and without) of Sean Cunninghams early, infamous slasher.
In Peter Brackes essential Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th, director Cunningham explains of the morning show veteran, she was squeaky clean, like a completely scrubbed up Katie Couric. As a person, and certainly as a personality, Betsy was perceived to be somebody that would never get her hands dirty, who would never do anything wrong.
How it worked, too. Even those unfamiliar with Palmer (likely most who saw Friday the 13th young) are still utterly taken aback as the wild eyed parent reveals herself. The twist is a surprise, but shes both maniacal and human. And its difficult to not feel for her in such a sensible sweater.
Funny enough, and perhaps all too typical of the genre, Palmer thought Friday the 13th was headed nowhere, taking the role for aforementioned car and referring to the script in Brackes book disparagingly. Still, her further comments in the tome prove those of a professional. She lays out the work of an actor, having created an entire biography of Mrs. Voorhees, and truly taking the characters perspective within.
Palmers longtime manager Brad Lemack announced her passing, at the age of 88, today. For many years, she was a regular at conventions, with the prevailing word that she was always a giving, sweet human being. My few minutes with Palmer when I was at Fangoria were very much in affirmation of such.
Were just past Friday the 13ths 35th anniversary. Thanks to the perfect mix of an actors work, Palmers image and demeanor, and an older mother as murderer, were still talking this little slasher movie and Mrs. Voorhees. Surely, we wont stop anytime soon.
Rest in peace, Betsy Palmer (1926-2015)