Becoming Dr. Ruth


I want to be like Dr. Ruth — positive, energetic, honest.

Sometimes I worry about my kids — with a father with Parkinson’s Disease, maybe their lives are too hard. Maybe they miss out on too much.

But then I remember there are other great people who’ve managed to survive much worse childhoods and go on to help others and retain a positive attitude. One such American is Dr. Ruth who was born Karola “Ruth” Siegel in Germany, whom I learned a lot about and grew to love as her life story unfolded at Becoming Dr. Ruth, a new Off-Broadway show.

She was a holocaust orphan sent by kindertransport to basically indentured servitude in Switzerland at age 10. Her grandmother’s last words to little Karola — “Stay cheerful!”

Dr. Ruth Westheimer
Mary Beth and Dr. Ruth

I listened to Dr. Ruth on the radio in the ’80s and occasionally caught her Lifetime TV show. She was a charismatic sex therapist. And looking back, I see how important — even life saving — her message of safe sex was. Especially at a time when people did not talk about sex.

drinks at BEA
Fancy drinks at BEA, a new bar. Ask for Jason, a brilliant mixologist. So fun! delish.

When I met Dr. Ruth, I wanted to give her a hug — she seems like a hugger, but she said she has a bad shoulder so we just smiled at each other and chatted.

Before the show at this fantastic new bar, BEA, Dr. Ruth asked the dozen or so bloggers if we had any questions. One guy asked, “How do you have great sex even when you wear a condom?” She said, “First off, good for you, wearing a condom. Too many young people forget that we need to do this.” Go! Dr. Ruth, keep on reminding us about safe sex.

Dr. Ruth, actor Debra Jo Rupp, playwright Mark St. Germain, and producer Michael Alden at the talk back for “Becoming Dr. Ruth”

At the talk back, Dr. Ruth was asked how she felt seeing herself on stage, she retorted, “Don’t analyze me!” (She apparently does not let her emotional guard down even though she is encouraging and comfortable when others talk freely of their feelings and sexuality. Ironic.)

When asked her motivation for doing the play, Dr. Ruth said she wanted to do this show to let people know, “How important is the early socialization of the child. How important is the love I had for my first 10 years,” from parents and grandmother whom she never saw again. The play chronicles her childhood to her possible move out of a Washington Heights apartment in 1997, a few months after her husband Freddy’s death. In the talk back, Dr. Ruth said that she wanted to create this show as a tribute to her (third) husband Freddy Westheimer.

Dr. Ruth said she was, “happy to participate with non-Jews. To be a witness to — that it (the Holocaust) did happen.” The writer (and apparently, a non-Jew) Mark St. Germain also wrote the charming play, Camping with Henry and Tom. There are heavy and surprising moments in the play but the character of Dr. Ruth is so disarming and funny, the show never sinks you. Rather, it uplifts you.

It’s a one-woman show. The actor, Debra Jo Rupp, the mother from ‘That ’70s show, really carries it — she’s efficient, decisive, loving, and smart.

When pictures of her grandchildren are shown in the play, Dr. Ruth says, “Hitler lost and I won.” And implicit is the message, never forget.

I loved this play and highly recommend it.

I walked out of the theater, inspired to be more cheerful and compassionate. The play also reminded me that, even as we age — Ruth’s 85! — we still have so much to give and we must continue to make the world a more loving place.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Becoming Dr. Ruth and Serino/Coyne for the tickets to the Westside Theatre and the mixology at BEA. The opinions on this blog are always my own.

Wrote and Directed a Short Comedy Film

We shot our short comedy film last Wednesday night for the February 2, Iron Mule Festival. The title, Spork Wars, was shouted from the audience. A spork, of course, is a spoon and fork.

Spork Wars is a silly story of a spork salesman, played by Michael Martin, who tries to sell sporks and connect with diner owner, Jay Fortunato, only to discover a familial bond from the old country.

While I had hoped the shoot would take an hour, it took three.

The secrets of my recent filmmaking productivity?

1. a deadline.. there is nothing better than having to finish something by a drop-dead date. A deadline is a line in the sand and I’m pretty good about not crossing.

2. a crew… one of my seven secrets to success is to “Pile on the People.” In filmmaking, you get to work with awesome, funny, creative people. It’s been superfun to make new friends, like Ryan Decker, Ali Mao, Michael Martin, as well as work with old friends, like Pat Bishow and Jay Fortunato!

Don't you love a good diner? Gee Whiz Diner!
Don’t you love a good diner? Gee Whiz Diner!

3. a location… The peeps at the Gee Whiz Diner were super-nice. And in exchange for free use of their lovely diner space, I promised to promote them! They are located on 295 Greenwich Street, right near the Chambers Street subway. Try the Greek salad.

4. a sense of humor (and flexibility)… Of course I wanted my actors to speak the lines exactly as I wrote them. But Jay and Michael are improv geniuses. Naturally, they strayed. It was cool. In fact, I was laughing so hard, especially at their improved bit about gyros, that I feared my convulsive laughter would ruin the sound track.

5. a letting go… I really don’t know what the credits should look like or how the background music should sound. I forget to call, “Action!” I don’t know all the filmmaking nomenclature, but I did my best. And done is always better than perfect. And very good is a nice place to start.

Alison sent me the RC (rough cut!) last night. And I have to admit, I found it pretty funny. I showed it to my 15-year old who chuckled, which is a pretty good response from a 15-year old.

Let me know what you think. Come to The Iron Mule Short Comedy Film Festival, 8 pm on Saturday night, February 2.

I won’t be there. I’ll be in in Charlotte, NC, co-leading a memoir writing workshop with Ms. Cynthia Sloan. If you’re nearby, please join us. When she and I get together, there’s always laughter (and tears)! There’s still room for a few more at the story of your life, memoir.