Wall to Wall Smile: Actress Betsy Palmer inducted this week for South Shore Wall of Legends

2013-12-15T00:00:00Z 2013-12-15T09:12:05Z Wall to Wall Smile: Actress Betsy Palmer inducted this week for South Shore Wall of LegendsBy Philip Potempa philip.potempa@nwi.com, (219) 852-4327 nwitimes.com

Editor's note: Times Columnist Philip Potempa, whose third cookbook "Further From the Farm" (2010) was written with help from actress Betsy Palmer, will present her award Thursday when she is inducted to Northwest Indiana's South Shore Wall of Legends.

Times Columnist Archibald McKinlay, 86, who pens his Sunday newspaper feature "Calumet Roots," once described actress Betsy Palmer as having "a brilliant smile, which could solve the energy crisis."

He went on to add, in a 2008 column, "this former East Chicago Roosevelt High School beauty has earned more success in show business than anyone I can think of from the Calumet Region. That's saying a lot because Karl Malden, of Gary, practically retired the trophy for success. Michael Jackson didn't do bad, either."

McKinlay is a 1945 East Chicago graduate, while Palmer, who turned 87 last month, and is known to her Northwest Indiana childhood friends like McKinlay as Pat Hrunek, graduated just a year earlier in 1944.

For the record, Malden was inducted to Northwest Indiana's South Shore Wall of Legends in 2008 and Jackson and his brothers earned the same honor in 2011.

This week, it's Palmer's turn to be honored with the same distinction, at a ceremony Thursday at the South Shore Convention & Visitors Authority in Hammond with the event sponsored by BP's Whiting Business Unit. The program, held in the theater auditorium is free and open to the public and will include a program and clips about Palmer.

"I couldn't be more pleased by such a wonderful surprise," Palmer said, speaking from her home in Connecticut.

"I've had many honors during my lifetime. But when the honor comes from your hometown roots, it's something extra special."

This month's cold weather snap makes it difficult for Palmer to travel this time of year. But she emphasized her "heart and spirit remain in the Region, and will be so especially this Thursday, while thinking about the specially gathering for this honor."

Even though Palmer enjoyed a busy and successful career in movies and on TV for decades, she received a second career with new generations after 1980, when she played a murderess in the Paramount film "Friday the 13th," which also starred a young Kevin Bacon and singer Bing Crosby's son Harry Crosby.

After decades of living in her same beautiful apartment in New York City, late last year, Betsy moved back to Connecticut (where she previously had a residence in the late 1970s) to live near her only child, daughter Melissa.

Her California agent and manager Brad Lemack of Lemack & Company Management, said he visited Palmer and her daughter last month to join the recent birthday celebration.

"Betsy is doing just great and we had business to discuss about a couple possible projects coming up," Lemack said.

"She's a great lady who loves her work and cherishes her long career."

Palmer was last back home to Northwest Indiana in April 2005 to do a charity play performance of "Love Letters" at Munster High School.

Her career has ranged from her 1955 role in the film "Queen Bee" opposite Joan Crawford to her longtime run as a celebrity panelist on the CBS game show "I've Got A Secret."

But her original ambition was to be a secretary. It was Jan. 5, 1925, the East Chicago Business College was launched by Palmer's mother Marie L. Hrunek.

However, she said she also had a desire for the lure of New York City and Broadway to pursue other dreams as an actress.

In a Nov. 14, 1954 interview in the New York Journal Amercian newspaper owned by William Randolph Hearst, Palmer, then a 28-year-old fresh faced actress new to the Big Apple, described her challenges for "trying to make it in a tough business."

Described by the writer as "a brown-eyed blonde," Palmer said: "You earn your money and there isn't too much of it, either,"

She explained she took an aptitude test which indicated she was most suited for working as an actress.

"I enrolled in the drama department of DePaul University in Chicago and for three years, attended night classes and in the daytime worked as stenographer and also sold bedroom slippers at Marshall Fields," she said.

By 1958, she got her big break and national exposure when she was selected to appear as a "Today Girl" on NBC's "Today" morning show, chatting about fashion and women's news.

But her 1954 newspaper interview cited how once in New York and finding modest success with small roles, she "lived simply" and discovered taxicabs took "a big chunk of her TV earnings, as much as $20 a week."

"It's no gold mine," she said.

"But who'd ever give it up?"

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