Friday, June 5, 2015

Betsy Palmer

Part of me is annoyed that many people probably remember her only as the killer in the “Friday the 13th” movie.

Then again, I suppose that if it weren’t for that slasher film, the same people wouldn’t know of her at all.

And like so many of her contemporaries, she deserves to be remembered.

I am of that generation that mainly thinks of her as one of the four panelists on “I’ve Got a Secret,” the others being Bill Cullen, Henry Morgan and Bess Myerson. And Ms. Myerson herself died last year. (I sadly remember editing many stories about her during my time on the wire desk during the 1980s. She was embroiled – as journalists like to say – in a scandal in New York City that was called “The Bess Mess.” Memo to celebs: If you want to avoid being ensnarled in a catchy phrase like “The Bess Mess,” get yourself embroiled in some other community that is far, far from Manhattan’s creative scribes – another word journalists like to use.)

I should add that before I started watching the show, the original panelists included Jayne Meadows and Faye Emerson. I’ve seen kinescopes of some of those shows, though, and Ms. Emerson often annoys me for some reason. Maybe it’s because she sometimes seems to come across as a know-it-all who is at best a know-it-some.

And I remember how, during a visit to my hometown many moons ago, Ms. Emerson very much annoyed the manager of the local summer playhouse when she insisted that he turn off the air-conditioning system during her play. To the surprise of absolutely no one who knew this producer (who many years later got away with not paying for a tetanus shot after my sister, working as an unpaid apprentice, stepped on a nail) easily prevailed.

I should also note the recent passing of Ms. Meadows, whom I did find to be charming, savvy and intelligent, even if she did sometimes seem overly appreciative of whatever her husband, Steve Allen, happened to be saying or doing. (Can't help wondering if whoever performed their marriage ceremony concluded it by saying "I now pronounce you man and laugh track.")

Betsy Palmer had a telegenic sweetness that was perfect for television, and a friend of mine who interviewed her for his radio show says that what you saw was what she was.

Yet there was a certain, infrequent slyness about her on-air naivete. She would once in a while, and seemingly inadvertently, say something that was a little risqué, apparently not realizing exactly what she had said, but I think I knew what she was doing all the time, and because she didn’t do it often, and because she wasn’t annoying about this sort of thing (memo to Carol Channing and Charo: Yes, I do mean you), I was apt to look the other way.

A few days ago I watched a segment of “I’ve Got a Secret” that involved three women. As she was questioning them on live TV, Betsy Palmer’s zipper broke, and Cullen and Morgan rushed to her aid.

This could have happened to any woman on live TV.

But what made Betsy Palmer unique was that as this on-air embarrassment was playing itself out, she thought it necessary to apologize to the three women.

That shows a genuineness, and a class, that I fear we don’t find often these days, and not just on TV.

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