Ask Dr. Ruth

By David-Elijah Nahmod, June 2019 Issue.

There are a few

things that Dr. Ruth won’t say. In Ask Dr. Ruth, a delightful new

documentary from filmmaker Ryan White, the good doctor assures the camera that

no one will ever know who she’s sleeping with or how much money she has. Beyond

that, you can expect just about anything from Dr. Ruth.

“You should insert the penis into the

vagina from behind,” she says matter-of-factly during one of her television

appearances. Her bluntness makes some audience members giggle. Talk show host

Arsenio Hall blushes as he’s prodded by the doctor to say “vagina” on the air.

One man is so shocked by Dr. Ruth’s frankness that he tries to put her under

citizen’s arrest.

But most people adore the cute, folksy

grandmotherly type with the thick German accent. She makes it okay to talk

about topics some consider to be forbidden.

She doesn’t judge. And the advice she gives

is sound.

“Don’t worry about her past,” she says to

one young man who’s concerned that his girlfriend has had too many bad relationships

before she got together with him.

You can say anything to Dr. Ruth. One man

bemoans the size of his 14 inch penis, which he says frightens the women he

dates.

Ask Dr.

Ruth tells the whole

story of this unusual woman’s life. Born Karola Ruth Siegel to Orthodox Jewish

parents in 1928, the film recalls what began as an idyllic childhood in

Frankfurt, Germany. But young Ruth’s innocence was shattered when the Nazis

forcefully took her father to a labor camp. Ruth’s mother and grandmother sent

her to an orphanage in Switzerland where she was able to escape the horrors of

the Holocaust — she never saw her family again.

In one of the film’s most moving sequences,

Ruth visits Yad Vashem, the world Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem, where

computer files verify what she already knew: that her entire family were

murdered by the Nazis.

As someone who understands all too well the

harm that hatred and bigotry can do, Ruth becomes a champion for people who are

viewed as “subhuman.”

Her rise to fame in the 1980s, which began

with a midnight radio show called “Sexually Speaking”, coincided with the onset

of the AIDS epidemic, which hit the gay community especially hard. Ruth finds

herself answering a question from a man whose girlfriend has a lot of gay

friends. He’s afraid that she’ll pick up the disease from them and pass it

along to him. Holocaust survivor Ruth refuses to stigmatize anyone.

“I don’t waste my time blaming people,” she

says.

For all her celebrity, Dr. Ruth is a simple

woman. She still lives in the same cluttered, two bedroom apartment in New York

City that she’s called home for 54 years, the apartment where she lived with

her husband of nearly 40 years and raised her children. It’s a comfortable

apartment, filled with mementos of a life well lived. Though her husband has

since passed on, she maintains a close relationship with her children and

grandchildren.

“He would love to have seen his

grandchildren grow up,” she says of her husband, one of the few times she lets

her private emotions show.

Now 90 years old, Dr. Ruth has yet to slow

down. She continues to make television appearances, write books, teach college

courses, and speak frankly about everyone’s favorite topic, sex. You can still

ask Dr. Ruth anything about sex, and she’ll cheerfully give you a

no-holds-barred answer.

As a film, Ask Dr. Ruth is a

treasure. It’s a peek inside the mind and psyche of a remarkable woman who’s

made a memorable impact on society.

There’s never been anyone quite like Dr.

Ruth. It’s highly unlikely we’ll see anyone like her again.

Ask Dr. Ruth begins

streaming on Hulu on June 1.


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