Sunday, 31 May 2015

Betsy Palmer

The last few months haven’t been good ones for fans of the old game show “I’ve Got A Secret.” Within the last six months, three of the ladies who graced the panel have passed away. First, it was Bess Myerson late last year, then Jayne Meadows a little over a month ago, and now Betsy Palmer has died.

Growing up in the ‘60s, it seemed to me that Betsy was one of those people who TV Guide classified as “television personalities.” It meant they made the rounds of game shows and talk shows. They appeared on TV as themselves. They never seemed to do any acting. That wasn’t really the case, but that was the impression I got.

Let’s pass on a couple of clippings from, arguably, Betsy’s heyday in the late ‘50s. Here’s a syndicated column from September 29, 1958. On “I’ve Got A Secret,” Betsy was always upbeat and in good humour. That apparently bothered some TV viewers.
Betsy Palmer Galled ‘Too Happy’

Betsy Palmer, TV’s answer to the old Happiness Boys of radio, is so cheerful that a few grouches have written to the “Today” show complaining that nobody has any right to be that happy so early in the morning. One disgruntled viewer even went so far as to suggest that what the “Today” show really needs to make it a smashing success is to dispense with Betsy and bring in some people who know how to snarl and act nasty. In that way, reasons the writer, people watching the show will feel right at home.
Betsy, who has to get up a half hour ahead of any normal rooster to get to the show on time, confesses she’s cheerful all day long. “I’M VERY LUCKY,” SHE TOLD ME.
“I’m married to a man who can get up at the same hour I do and be just as cheerful. He’s a doctor. Can you imagine what our married life would be like if either of us woke up grouchy the way so many other people seem to?”
Professionally, Betsy Palmer has every right to be cheerful. She’s probably the workingest actress on TV. In addition to her daily “Today” chores, she’s a regular panelist on “I’ve Got a Secret,” you’ll be seeing her in “The Time of Your Life,” on Oct. 9 (CBS-TV), she makes frequent appearances on such shows as Playhouse 90 and the U. S. Steel Hour, she’s slated for a guest shot on the new Garry Moore Show, and may be yanked off to Hollywood on a moment’s notice to play a leading role in the film version of “The Last Angry Man”.
“I’m also going to be seen in that Doris Day thing,” she added, referring to a picture now called “The Jane From Maine” (and Columbia Pictures ought to be ashamed of that title), formerly known as “Miss Casey Jones”, for which the entire “I’ve Got a Secret” panel filmed a sequence.
Though she’s almost letter per feet on lines, Betsy admits even she makes occasional fluffs. On her most recent U. S. Steel Hour appearance, she red-facedly confessed:
“The line was ‘I phoned the base.’ I improved it. It came out ‘I bored the face.’”
This syndicated column appeared in the Niagara Falls Gazette, November 1, 1959. I can’t find it bylined elsewhere on-line, and this version ends very abruptly; I suspect it was longer in other papers.
Betsy Palmer Thrilled At Role Opposite Muni
HOLLYWOOD — Ever since her appearance with Paul Muni in a short-lived play, titled “Home At Seven” [in November 1953], blonde, brown-eyed Betsy Palmer declares that Mr. Muni is not only one of her favorite actors, but one of her favorite human beings.
Thus, she was delighted when she was cast in Columbia’s Fred Kohlmar production, “The Last Angry Man,” film version of Gerald Green’s best-selling novel, in which Mr. Muni plays Sam Abelman, the dedicated Brooklyn slum doctor. As to producer Kohlmar and director Daniel Mann, Miss Palmer says, “I’m hoping that I’ll soon have another opportunity do work with them; they’re both simply wonderful.”
Married to Doctor
It was just so much more interesting for her to watch Mr. Muni playing the doctor because she herself is well indoctrinated in the medical life, its demands, penalties and rewards; in private life, she's the wife of Dr. Vincent Merindino, whom she met in New York on a blind date, and married after four months of courtship.
In “The Last Angry Man,” Miss Palmer plays the understanding young wife of David Wayne, top-billed with Mr. Muni as the television executive who hopes to put Dr. Abelman on the air as star of his own-life story. This is a straight dramatic role, and one of the many in the playing of which Betsy has been called upon to “just be herself.”
But that isn’t to say that she can’t play—and hasn’t played—many other types. Whether it be a misunderstood wife, a street girl, or a young mother, she delivers, with the talent to make the part convincing.
Laudatory Comment
“When Betsy’s around, things sparkle and look and sound good,” Dave Garroway once said of her. “She’s young, gentle, lovely—and a lady.”
Along with her weekly stint as panelist on “I’ve Got A Secret,” Miss Palmer can usually be found around the studio in any one of the networks, for she is one of the most sought-after young actresses the medium—Playhouse 90, U.S. Steel Hour and many others.
There are no secrets about this girl, who frequently amazes more devious colleagues with her frankness. “Why shouldn’t I admit my age?” says Betsy. “I’m 32. After all, if I’m too young, I might lose out on playing somebody’s mother.”
Jackie Gleason picked her to play the part of Kitty Duval in “The Time Of Your Life,” declaring, “I've watched her on a lot of shows. She’s a fine actress, with a quality that is intangible. She’s adorable; she has a niceness and a sweetness and a wholesomeness that really come across.”
‘Typical’ Girl
Miss Palmer is invariably referred to as “a typical American Girl,” even though she enjoys playing roles that are at variance with that label. Her childhood, she says, was a completely normal and happy one. She was born Patricia Betsy Hrunek — and that isn’t American at all; the name is Czech, and she is proud of her Slavic descent.
The place of her birth was East Chicago, Indiana. Her father was a chemist and her mother operated a successful business school. The youngster went to grade school in East Chicago and Roosevelt High. Then, for a time, planning to become a Girl Scout executive, she attended her mother’s institute of learning, the East Chicago Business College.
She wasn’t exactly a tomboy, but she was something of a cut-up, addicted to practical jokes. Hoping for more discipline, in the life of her ebullient young daughter, Mrs. Hrunek packed her off to DePaul University, where she became Queen of practically everything in the way of campus activities.
The first TV role I’ve found for her in the New York papers was on April 28, 1952 on WOR-TV’s “Broadway TV Theatre,” where she played Mary Dale in a mounting of “The Jazz Singer,” with Lionel Ames in the role made famous by Al Jolson. 1953 seems to have been her breakthrough year as she landed roles on the big network shows. Her credits: “Studio One,” “Sentence of Death” (supporting with James Dean, Aug. 17); “Danger”, “Death Is My Neighbor” (supporting with James Dean, Aug. 25); “Studio One, “Look Homeward Hayseed” (with Russell Nype, Sept. 7); “Armstrong Circle Theatre,” “A Story to Whisper” (with Leslie Nielsen, Sept. 15); “Studio One,” “Hound Dog Man” (supporting Jackie Cooper, Sept. 28).

This little piece from November 19, 1953 is the earliest story I can find about her (other than mentions in a gossip column linking her to a TV director). It appears Betsy was the original Vanna White.
Betsy Palmer Vetoed Martin and Lewis Job
Ever think you’d hear about a television actress turning down the lead in a Martin and Lewis picture? Neither did we until the charming and refreshingly sensible Betsy Palmer confided in us the other day. “I was afraid of being type-cast as a dumb blonde,” blond Betsy explained and proceeded to add that she’d also refused a long-term contract with Hal Wallis, partly because she didn’t want to get tied up for five years. Betsy owes her first major TV break to CBS producer William Dozier, who spotted her at a general audition and promptly gave her a good supporting role a few weeks later. The play was a Studio One production of “The River Garden,” last Spring. Betsy’s outstanding job was soon followed by consistently exciting work on other major dramatic shows, "and by late Summer Betsy was back on Studio One playing a lead. Betsy hastened to add, “I only got the role because Barbara Britton refused the part. I’ve also done commercial pictures and I was on ‘Wheel of Fortune’ where I was a poor man’s Roxanne. That's because I handed out less7 money on the daytime show than that girl R does on the nighttime ‘Break the Bank.’” We don’t think it’s a question of money, Betsy. After all; you can act!
I suppose the 1959 story sums up how many people think of Betsy Palmer today (her role in “Friday the 13th” notwithstanding), the friendly, somewhat bubbly girl-next-door. But my favourite interview with Betsy was a great and funny conversation she had with old comedy chronicler Kliph Nesteroff a few years ago. She’s still somewhat bubbly but isn’t quite the girl-next-door. Read it HERE. Find out if she’s got a secret.

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