“I’ve never seen this movie and wonder if I ever will” ponders Ruta Lee in her zesty memoir, Consider Your Ass Kissed. Having appeared in 25 films and over 2000 television episodes, it’s understandable that Ms. Lee is hazy about the Troma Entertainment epic in question, Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills. Lee does recall that Beverly D’Angelo and Barry Humphries were in it. She has more clarity on being one of the brides in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, acting with Charles Laughton in Witness for the Prosecution, befriending Fred Astaire while filming Funny Face and almost becoming intimate with Frank Sinatra during the Sergeants 3 shoot. Sinatra scholarship is enhanced by Lee’s explanation of what derailed their budding romance:
I was sort of being ushered to the bedroom. All of the sudden, he pulled out his “masculinity.” I took one look and gasped. It was huge. “I can’t. I can’t!” and started to cry. That was the end of even beginning to have an affair with him.
Still, they remained close for quite a while until Sinatra perceived a sleight involving Lee’s gossip columnist friend Rona Barrett and gave Lee his patented silent treatment. A chance meeting a year later led to a reconciliation.
To become “The Lithuanian Shirley Temple” was Lee’s stage mother’s dream for her. So, in the 1940’s when Lee was a child, her Lithuanian immigrant parents uprooted the family from Montreal, to Los Angeles. After getting fired from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre’s box office for cashier ineptitude as a teenager, she began acting in movies and television. In true Hollywood fashion, Ruta Kilmonis became Ruta Lee.
With chapters like “How I Got Laid on Hollywood Boulevard,” Consider Your Ass Kissed is as cheeky as its title. This one deals with her 2006 Hollywood Walk of Fame induction ceremony where her sidewalk star was ironically placed in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre,
Lee chronicles her remarkable career with staccato gusto, citing her voluminous credits and the gallery of celebrities she’s known, through witty anecdotes. Serious events are rendered with straightforwardness. There was a 1964 diplomatic trek to Lithuania to get her formerly Siberian-exiled grandmother to the U.S. Her one happy marriage of over 40 years to recently deceased Texas businessman Webb Lowe is warmly recalled. Thoughts about her adoration of animals and of real estate are imparted.
Founded in 1955 by a group of Hollywood actors, the Thalians is a charitable organization dedicated to mental health causes. Lee has long been an ardent member and devotes much space in her book to its history and activities, including its annual starry gala where an honoree receives a statuette designed by Walt Disney. Previously, Lee has been mostly positive about the famous people she’s known, but in this section she mildly dishes on Lauren Bacall, Sylvester Stallone and Bette Davis, who “gave attitude better than anybody but coming from her it was fabulous.” We’ve also found out that Lucille Ball was a stingy hostess and learned the history of the Gabors.
“We have remained dear friends for 45 years, so I know the stories she has to tell. You’ll love this!” wrote Alex Trebek in his foreword to Consider Your Ass Kissed. He and Lee co-hosted the game show High Rollers in the 1970’s. One of the most entertaining chapters is where Lee recounts her game show guest oeuvre. There’s behind the scenes of the classics, Password, The Dating Game and Hollywood Squares. Pithy mini portraits abound; “Paul Lynde: Venomously bitchy, but so funny it didn’t matter.”
That technique it taken to the heights in the best chapter, “Principal Players.” Here, Lee crisply runs through her other film roles and offers reflections on her amazing television career. You name a show, she was on it. Gunsmoke, Bonanza and Rawhide, are just a few of her numerous Westerns. She appeared five times on Perry Mason, “Raymond Burr had the most gorgeous eyes and lashes longer than mine.” She did a Twilight Zone, The Flying Nun, three Love American Styles, Marcus Welby, M.D., Hogan’s Heroes and on and on. “I went in to see Gary Marshall about a part. The script literally called for a Ruta Lee type. I didn’t get the part, Gary said I was too on the nose.” Rejection happens to everyone.
There is no analysis of acting or theories of it which is refreshing. Lee went from job to job within her range, proud to be a working actor. She laments opportunities she passed on. Andy Warhol wanted her for a film project, but she was then too afraid of him and his druggy coterie, “I was such a goody-two shoes.” An audition to replace Elaine Stritch in Company went well but Lee instead opted for touring engagements where the pay was much higher than Broadway. Hello, Dolly!, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Irma La Douce, and Woman of the Year are among the productions she starred in. “I’ve had the joy of playing Broadway shows around the country, but never on Broadway.”
With its exuberance and sense of history, Consider Your Ass Kissed is a captivating show business saga.
Consider Your Ass Kissed by Ruta Lee
Published by Briton Publishing
Hardcover: $36.99 Paperback: $26.99 (284 pages)