Director Ryan White (HBO’s “The Keepers”) turns his camera on Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and the result is a charming biopic that is also very moving, and a statement of human survival and creation.
Simply put, Dr. Ruth is a power-house. At 10 years of age, on the night before Kristallnacht, Ruth’s father was arrested by the Nazis. Ruth was taken to an orphanage in Switzerland for safety. After a couple of years, she never heard from her parents again.
Ruth educated herself covertly with the help of a boyfriend.
At 20, she was trained as a sniper for the Israeli underground army. During a bombing she very nearly had both of her feet amputated, reduced to a bloody horror.
After the war, she married and became a student at the Sorbonne. Because of her height, just four feet seven, she needed help to see the lecturers. Ruth enlisted the help of “big handsome men” to lift her up.
Divorced from her husband over differences, she became a single mom to her daughter Miriam in the 1950s at a time when it was quite unusual. She then received a Doctorate at Columbia in her 40s.
After working at Planned Parenthood, she got the opportunity to have a radio show “Sexually Speaking” at 30 Rockefeller Center. Because of the subject, lawyers were nervous but the show was a hit.
Dr. Ruth quickly became famous. Her warm and easy manner endeared her to others. Surprisingly, people became comfortable talking about sex and sexual mores and the subject that usually made everyone squirm, lost its verboten nature.
For over 30 years, Dr. Ruth became adored, a pop icon and a name trusted.
This is an affectionate documentary without a trace of artifice.
Through fame and loss, Ruth Westheimer never loses her heart or integrity, no matter what comes her way.
Emotional it is to see Ruth at 90 years search for her parents on the Holocaust Museum database and learn that her mother was executed, location unknown.
Her family believes that she seldom talks or cries about this as a means of survival and one cannot blame her in any fashion.
As an empathetic sex advisor on the talk show circuit from Carson to Conan, not to mention having her own show Dr. Ruth for some twenty years, as well as appearing in some campy feature films, she changed our cultural landscape. Through Ruth, we saw that most sexual fetishes were not taboo, strange or “sinful.” As Ruth provocatively asks in the film. “What is normal?” She despises the word.
Dr. Ruth made us seriously mindful about AIDS and patients were suddenly seen more for what they actually are, contributing human beings delivering us to action.
For all these things, Ruth Westheimer is a treasure, but most of all she is a compassionate woman of sincere motion and emotion.
After “Ask Dr. Ruth” one feels that Westheimer is known intimately in spirit. The doctor’s smile will not fail to get under your skin and the experience of seeing her so courageous—an odd mixture of sunshine and steel—is almost kinetic.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org