Betsy Hale was one of the Sixties’ most enthralling child stars
The often-forgotten child star wowed in Westerns
“The Kite” remains a memorable Gunsmoke episode largely because of the child star at its center: Betsy Hale.
In the episode, Hale played Letty, a young girl whom Festus finds hiding on the prairie after she watches her mother get brutally murdered by a complete stranger.
Throughout the episode, viewers watch as Letty wanders Dodge, knowing at any moment she may recognize the murderer among those dismounting their horses or tossing back drinks at the saloon.
For Hale, 1964 was the most sensational time in her short career.
Not only did she feature prominently on Gunsmoke, but also in episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, Ben Casey and Wagon Train.
Hale started acting at the age of 6, snagging a small part at 7 as a little girl in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. From there, she featured steadily, taking small roles through the early Sixties, appearing on TV more than 50 times before she turned 11.
She told the Hartford Courant in 1964 how she got interested in acting:
“When I was little, I used dolls to act out plays, taking all parts myself. My parents are both actors and when they asked me if I wanted to get into the business, I told them that I did.”
Supporting their daughters’ dreams, Hale’s parents got her an agent and then Betsy said she had to push herself not to feel “impatient” when trying to land roles.
Her patience paid off. She wowed on Westerns like Have Gun – Will Travel, drew laughs on sitcoms like My Three Sons and appeared twice on Perry Mason.
By 1964, newspaper critics described her a serious child star who was better than most, predicting big things for the tween.
However, the child star promptly shut down her career in 1965, giving her final appearance in an episode of Gomer Pyle: USMC where she got to ride in the very same truck that the Darlings first rode into Mayberry.
After sharing the screen with Jim Nabors and Dabs Greer, Hale retired from acting in 1965, never appearing on TV again.
Not much is known about Hale after she stopped acting.
However, we can probably assume that accepted her fate of not becoming a big star and found a new career to love, based on how open-minded she was as a child star just starting out:
“I don’t want to become a big star unless it just happens,” Hale said. “I’m interested in doing some writing, and I also want to train animals. Train them and love them, that is.”