8:30am PT by Chris Gardner
Dr. Ruth Got Very Invested in Her Documentary Director's Love Life
Ruth Westheimer is better known by her stage name, Dr. Ruth, and perhaps best known for how easily terms like clitoris, orgasm and fellatio have rolled off her tongue for close to five decades.
Now 90 years old, the German-born Holocaust survivor became a pop culture phenomenon in the '80s, first on the radio and later as a media magnet who had a series of sex therapy-centered show on television, where frank discussions of sex and sexuality were especially taboo.
Westheimer is prepping for another round of fame when Ask Dr. Ruth hits theaters May 3 via Magnolia Pictures and, later, on streaming service Hulu June 1. The Ryan White-directed documentary largely focuses on her dramatic backstory and early romantic life (Westheimer married twice before finding lasting love with Fred Westheimer; the two were married from 1961 until his death in 1997).
Even though she’s lived the majority of her life in the public eye, it turns out there’s a lot the world doesn’t know about the pint-sized spitfire who stands 4-foot-7. Following a free screening April 22 at Westwood’s Hammer Museum, White — joined by moderator Liz Goldwyn, founder of The Sex Ed — revealed that Westheimer’s talk show The Dr. Ruth Show cast actors as guests because Westheimer didn’t want regular people to suffer in their personal lives for revealing details about their sexual habits.
She also refuses to talk sex outside of a professional setting and never discusses intimacies with family (including her four grandchildren), yet she couldn’t help but play Yenta in the love life of doc director White. “She was very concerned with why I was single and wanted to know what my mom thought about that,” White explained. “She was thrilled by the end of filming that I had a boyfriend who was Jewish — and short. Her daughter Miriam said she wasn’t sure if her mother was happier about the film or that I had found a Jewish boyfriend.”
As for Goldwyn, she tells THR that without Westheimer, Americans wouldn’t be so open to discussing sex across all mediums, from radio to TV or even on the stage of The Hammer Museum. “We forget that there was a time when the word ‘vagina’ could not have been uttered on a broadcast; when people living with AIDS and HIV were ostracized; when we couldn’t Google information about our bodies and desires. Dr. Ruth opened the door for so many of us working in the field of sex education‚ including her own contemporaries in academia and psychiatry."
Continued Goldwyn, who debuts a new season of her Sex Ed podcast May 8: "My late mentor, Dr. Walter Brackelmanns, who founded UCLA’s Sex & Relationship Therapy Training Program, credited her with challenging his own biases around the many flavors of sexuality through her radio and TV shows — making statements like, 'Oh, you like to have sex in a canoe hanging from the ceiling with the chains? Oh, that’s so nice,' seem normal. It is, in part, due to her that I am able to have broad conversations about sex, health and consciousness on my podcast and platform. Though we still have far to go in terms of open and honest dialogue around pleasure, consent and other important aspects of human sexuality, when I watch Ask Dr. Ruth, I am reminded of how far we have come."
A version of this story first appeared in the April 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.