Maple Counseling Center Holds ‘Friendraiser’ Premiere Of New Documentary’ Ask Dr. Ruth’
Posted Friday, May 10, 2019 - 11:26 pm
By Laura Coleman
In a prescient move, the Maple Counseling Center held a movie premiere “Friendraiser” for Ask Dr. Ruth at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last Thursday evening. The film is already a strong contender for a nod from the Academy for the 2020 Oscars and movie watchers will be hard pressed to find a more engaging documentary this year.
Ask Dr. Ruth chronicles the incredible life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who became America’s most famous sex therapist. With her diminutive frame, thick German accent, and uninhibited approach to sex therapy and education, Dr. Ruth transformed the conversation around sexuality.
Lines like “size has nothing to do with the sexual satisfaction of a woman” and “short people make the best lovers” (Dr. Ruth is a petite 4-foot-7-inches) – underscore both how revolutionary she was as well as her indefatigable wit. Now 90, Dr. Ruth is still as sharp as ever.
A Holocaust survivor who left Wiesenfeld via the Kindertransport at the age of 10, her parents were murdered for being Jews in Eastern Europe under the Nazis. Dr. Ruth spent her formative years in an orphanage in Switzerland until the war ended.
In one of the most tender moments in the documentary, Dr. Ruth reunites with her first love—the very young man aged 75 years now, who at the age of 14, slept under her bed when girls were not allowed further education, while she studied on the steps outside the dormitory after he’d taught her that day’s lesson.
I was so scared,” Dr. Ruth’s first boyfriend recounts in the documentary of the prospect of being discovered, visibly lighting up at the memory of how, while adolescents at the boarding school, the two had fallen in love.
“You left me for an older woman,” Dr. Ruth chastises, her hand firmly placed on top of his while she laughs through their shared past. “A woman even older than me!”
This reunion, like the movie’s opening scene with her daughter and granddaughter, where Dr. Ruth comes to terms with the fact that she is, in fact, a feminist, despite not one who marches on the streets, is beautiful in its honesty.
In addition to thoughtfully edited portrayals of the people and experiences that helped contribute to Dr. Ruth’s being, the documentary also renders parts of her past via animation. Interviews, both from the present day as well as those from the past, further serve to enrich the viewer’s understanding of just how truly exceptional Dr. Ruth was.
After the war was over, Dr. Ruth was taken by boat to Israel where she went to live on a Kibbutz. In Israel, she both had her first sexual encounter, with a soldier who was the brother of her previous boyfriend, as well as became a sniper in the Israeli army. She then moved to France where she studied and taught psychology in Paris.
Indeed, it wasn’t until she was living in New York, had raised two children with Manfred Westheimer, and had already crested 50 that she suddenly became a late night radio host in 1980 with Sexually Speaking. Her own personal brand of wisdom quickly made her show a favorite on the airwaves and by 1984, she was hosting the first of many shows on television.
Always outspoken and forthright about sex and relationships, beginning at a time when women’s pleasure in the bedroom was seldom acknowledged and inaccurate labels like “frigid” (which Dr. Ruth says should never be applied to any woman) were doled out, Dr. Ruth’s voice offered a font of wisdom for generations of Americans. Simply by not shying away from the fact that gay people have sex lives, for example, starting back when doctors first characterized AIDS as a rare form of cancer in the early 1980’s, she became an advocate on behalf of gay rights.
In truth, her unflinching advice dispensed with kindness and a smile has clearly earned revered place in American households.
The documentary, which is directed by Ryan White, is out in theaters now before it releases on Hulu on June 1.