Horror movie star Adrienne King looks back on her days in the fashion industry, the making of Friday the 13th, and her friendships with co-star Betsy Palmer and designer Zandra Rhodes.
Halloween is more festively creepy than usual this year as 2015 marks the 35th anniversary of the release of Friday the 13th, the iconic thriller that began as a low budget blip and ended up a nationwide sensation. The movie inspired a hefty franchise and made a star out of 20-year-old Adrienne King, the lone survivor of the bloody Camp Crystal Lake murders that have fascinated generations of horror fans.
But a real-life terror tale cut Adrienne’s acting career short. Amid the slasher flick’s popularity with audiences in 1980 (and its evisceration by critics), the young star was stalked by a wealthy psychopath who stepped up his pursuit after her cameo appearance in a sequel the following year. Trying to move past the turmoil, she resumed work in TV soap operas while considering movie scripts, but the ordeal’s emotional toll forced her to take a break from New York.
Adrienne went to London where she enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in 1984. Her own personal horror behind her, she soon found happiness, marrying producer Richard Hassanein three years later. Adrienne eventually won professional success again, too, this time as a voice actor in numerous films, from Sleepless in Seattle to Titanic. Yet it wasn’t until 2004 that she made peace with her past, sharing with attendees at a horror movie convention the reason for the quiet life she had led since Friday the 13th.
Fans’ outpouring of sympathy affected Adrienne, encouraging her to return to work in front of the camera. Since then, she’s appeared in 10 features, revisiting her “scream queen” fame in Tales of Poe and the upcoming William Froste, among others.
Life is good for Adrienne today. With Richard, she’s found peace in the beauty of Oregon where she paints the landscapes that were her first love decades ago, even before majoring in art at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Snug in her bucolic life, Adrienne is no hermit, making public appearances between film shoots, and greeting fans at the winery she helps run.
Recently, I spoke by phone with Adrienne, who took time out from painting (and chasing after her German Shepherd Angie!) to remember her time in the New York fashion world of the ‘70s. She also talked to me about her legendary “mum-in-law,” British designer Zandra Rhodes. In this interview, Adrienne shares how she’s come to terms with her horror film legacy and pays tribute to the great character actress Betsy Palmer, her Friday the 13th co-star, whose death in May is still mourned by lovers of classic Hollywood.
Randy Bryan Bigham: Adrienne, I know we’re bound to go off-subject, and since this is supposed to be a fashion article, let’s dive in to that part of it first
Adrienne King: Great!
RBB: I don’t think many of your horror fans know of your fashion background.
AK: No! This is going to be fun. I never get asked about that.
RBB: So how did it happen?
AK: Well, I went to FIT in the ‘70s, where I majored in fine art. I’d chosen FIT because I wanted to study at a New York City college while continuing to pursue my acting career.
RBB: You were living then with your parents on Long Island, right?
AK: Yes, Oyster Bay. I commuted to the city for casting calls and for the commercials I was doing at the time. I was the Burger King Girl back then! Anyway, in my second year of college, my arts professor encouraged me to change my major to fashion buying and merchandising. It wasn’t that I wasn’t good in class. I made straight As, but I’d missed some school for work on soap operas like Ryan’s Hope and Edge of Night. Apart from that, the professor felt that, as I concentrated on acting, I should have something viable to fall back on. So I switched my major to fashion.
RBB: While you were at FIT you met and worked for a burgeoning young designer who went on to head the house of Pucci. Tell about Julio Espada, or Julio, as his first label was called.
AK: First of all, I fell in love with the New York world of fashion — who wouldn’t have? So I interviewed with this brand new designer on the scene named Julio. His benefactor, a M. Bergeron, had discovered him in Puerto Rico and backed him. Julio’s work was fabulous — exquisite handmade silk dresses, flowing printed tunics, innovative jumpsuit designs. Initially, I came on for six months as an intern through FIT’s co-op program in order to graduate. But after graduation, I was promoted to Julio’s assistant, and the shop moved into the first floor of the Rhinelander Mansion at E. 72nd St. and Madison Ave., where Ralph Lauren is now. Anyhow, I got to do everything — buying, selling, you name it.
RBB: Unfortunately Julio Espada has been forgotten in fashion but he was remarkable in his day, with his own line as well as in his work for Perry Ellis, his collaborations with Marc Jacobs and finally with Pucci. So what was it like working with him?
AK: Oh, it was great. Think Devil Wears Prada but with a wonderful boss! It was an incredible experience.
RBB: Did you keep any of his designs?
AK: I wish I still had them, but my last Julio things were in some luggage that went missing on a trip years ago. So that’s a loss; I loved his clothes.
RBB: You have another fascinating link to fashion — legendary British designer Zandra Rhodes.
AK: Yes – how cool is that?
RBB: Very! So what’s it like having that fabulous pink-haired lady as your “mum-in-law?”
AK: Randy, she is absolutely an inspiration. I’ve known Zandra since 1987 when Richard and I were married at the Carlton in New York, although I was at FIT when she visited once to speak to the undergraduates. Zandra has been with my father-in-law, Salah Hassanein, for 27 years, dividing her time between Del Mar and London. We’ve shared some incredible family trips together, including trekking through Antarctica, boating down the Amazon, touring Istanbul, Troy, Naples, Malta. We even did seven days of horse-back riding through Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. I’ve always admired Zandra’s non-stop energy and, of course, I love her designs in fashion and textiles, as does all of England. In fact, the Queen recently made her a Dame! So I’m in the best company these days, thank you very much!
RBB: Touch you! Now, let’s go back a bit. You were a child actor, appearing in TV and film as early as 6 months old, and by the time you were in your late teens you were a hot commodity, even before getting a dance part in Saturday Night Fever. Talk about that time.
AK: I’d catch the 12:55 into Manhattan to study acting, dancing and singing. Then I’d go to work, doing the small roles, commercials and voice-overs I was booked for. It was heaven. You’d never let a teenager walk the streets of New York City alone these days. But for me, it was pure bliss — knowing what I wanted in life and getting a good jump on it. Then, at the end of the day, I would ride back home with my dad, who worked in advertising.
RBB: You were trained in acting by William Esper and in dancing by Phil Black. These experiences obviously helped win you your roles on Broadway and your breakthrough part in Saturday Night Fever.
AK: Yes. Bill Esper was an incredibly gifted teacher. It was such a bloody brilliant experience, super intense. Esper evoked the depths of emotion and truth in acting. Those two years of the Sandy Meisner technique via William Esper gave me what I needed to complete me as a confident actor. When I finished my studies with Bill, I felt I could conquer the world. And Phil Black — he nurtured each and every one of his dancers. I started with him at the age of 16. I’d take as many classes as I could fit in, mostly tap and jazz. He followed our careers and was always happy for our successes. When I was in Saturday Night Fever, Phil and the class gave me a big cheer after we watched the movie together.
RBB: In 1979, the year you filmed Friday the 13th, what were you doing just before being cast as Alice Hardy, the camp counselor who survives the wrath of Pamela Voorhees?
AK: I was doing commercials mainly — and quickly getting typecast as an “all-American” girl. I had national Burger King and 7-Up commercials running that summer when I auditioned at an open call for Friday the 13th. The director, Sean Cunningham, told me as soon as he met me that I had the “right look,” but he didn’t know for which character yet. It wasn’t until weeks later, after four or five callbacks, reading with different actors, that I screen-tested for Alice. Yes, I had the look but I believe I nailed it with my scream!
RBB: I’ve got to ask a clothes question here: Did you save any pieces of your wardrobe from the movie?
AK: I saved my boots, the jewelry I wore, and maybe the jeans are still around somewhere. I don’t remember. But one thing that’s kind of funny is that some years ago in a box I found a bunch of polaroid shots of behind the scenes stuff during the filming, along with a page of notes that Sean had used. I remember finding that paper on the beach after we wrapped shooting, and I scooped it up and put it in the pocket of my jeans, probably thinking Sean might want it back. But I forgot to give it to him. And you know what? There were exactly 13 notes on the page! We got a big kick out of that when I called Sean to tell him.
RBB: The death in May of your Friday the 13th costar Betsy Palmer, who played Mrs. Voorhees, the killer mom avenging her son, brought sadness for fans of the movie and for lovers of classic Hollywood. It’s been a personal loss for you because she was more than your costar — she was a friend. But I understand you weren’t close at the time of making the movie.
AK: That’s right. We didn’t get to know each other until more recent years. Sean Cunningham was so smart to keep Betsy and me apart between scenes when we were filming. He realized we would have become fast friends on set. That might have gotten in the way of our biting and slapping and smashing each other’s heads in the sand!
RBB: But you reunited at a horror movie convention 11 years ago, and finally did become fast friends, right?
AK: Exactly. When we saw each other again in 2004 we quickly became good friends. I’m so blessed to have gotten to know the Betsy Palmer behind Mrs. Voorhees. She was an all-around stunner, so smart and incredibly talented. I always enjoyed her during the Q&A segments at conventions. I just sat back and let her be Mrs. V! She always rocked the room with her quick wit and brutal honesty.
RBB: Betsy admitted to making peace with the fact that her legacy would forever be entwined with Friday the 13th. How do you feel about your own legacy?
AK: Before I answer that, I want to tell you a little story about Betsy and how she came to terms with the fact that Friday the 13th, out of all her films, would be the one she’d be remembered for.
RBB: Please do!
AK: I was there when Betsy finally embraced that legacy, Randy. Betsy had invited me to dinner at her little brownstone off Central Park West in the spring of 2009. By this time, Betsy had convinced me to become a vegetarian. “Chicken?” she would say. “You don’t want to eat an animal that eats its own shit!” That was the way Betsy was; she never minced words. Anyway, we had our vegetarian meal, and I brought along that brilliant book by Peter Bracke, Crystal Lake Memories. She’d never seen it, and as we looked through that bloody humongous book, I could see her amazement at the phenomenon our little low-budget horror flick had spawned, all unfolding as we flipped through the pages together. She looked at me and said, “This all began with us!”
RBB: How moving.
AK: It was. It brought tears to our eyes and this is what she said to me: “I guess being remembered as a devoted mother isn’t the worst thing in the world,” and I said, “Betsy, you have three generations of fans around the globe who adore you. You’ve impacted them forever.” And Betsy smiled and said, “I’m going to have to embrace that,” then she chuckled and held the book to her chest. It’s such a special memory for me.
RBB: Do you accept your own legacy the same way?
AK: I totally embrace the “scream queen” banner. More than that, I cherish the fact that my character Alice has become a role model to so many “happy campers,” as I call my fans. Over the decades, Alice has embodied what it means to be a survivor in all the many ways that it can mean. She’s a touchstone to many girls and boys. I hear from them, so I know. Alice empowers women and the underdog. Alice inspires kids who are bullied, or who are a little quirky or different; some tell me that popping in the DVD helps them get through school one more day.
RBB: And surely their knowledge of your own struggles in life helps them relate to you as a person, not just as an actress.
AK: No doubt. I’m blessed to have survived my stalking incident, and even more blessed to be able to help others through the internet and at conventions by telling my story. The film, All American Bully, which I’m in, also deals with important issues like that, and I’m proud to be associated with it.
RBB: How do you spend your days now? I know you have a new movie coming out, William Froste, a horror story, which must be a real stretch for you!
AK: Yes, it’s hard trying new things! But you know, really I’m just loving life here in southern Oregon. I love playing with Angie, my German Shepherd, and it’s great exercise. I adore walking by the river with Richard, and when I’m not painting, I spend time at the tasting room at Valley View Winery, pouring our vintages for happy campers from all over the world. It’s wonderful to have my art gallery there and my Crystal Lake Wine Corner, where all my gifts and fabulous Friday the 13th fan items are housed.
RBB: Life seems to have come full circle for you. You used to draw and color as a kid in Oyster Bay, then left behind the goal of being a painter, only to come back to it.
AK: And dropping my fine art major in school didn’t hurt a bit. My professor told me at the time not to worry, that he believed my art would “adorn walls around the world” someday. And he was right. My “Alice in Canoe” oil painting now resides in London, and just last week I sent a giclee of my “Midnight on Crystal Lake” to Japan.
RBB: So what does the 35th anniversary of Friday the 13th mean to you? It must be bittersweet with Betsy gone, but are you still surprised by the public’s love for this film?
AK: I miss Betsy desperately. She was a big part of my life once we reunited. She taught me to celebrate “something, anything” every day of my life. Living to 88 is not a bad run, so that inspires me to want to work right up to the end like she did. We both felt the same about Friday the 13th, though for different reasons. The critics lambasted her for doing the movie because they said it was beneath her, and it brought me tremendous hell personally — nearly cost me my life. But Betsy and I would always say, “All the pain was worth it in the end.” I am astonished that this little movie we made in 1979 is such a cult hit, but I’m grateful that it still packs a punch after all these years. Mostly, I’m just humbled that it means so much to people. You could say I’m a pretty happy camper about it!
Randy Bryan Bigham is a fashion historian and the author of Lucile – Her Life by Design.