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    Hollywood Legend Ruta Lee Dishes on Closeted Stars of the Golden Age … and Sinatra’s Privates

    By Jan Wahl–

    I recently enjoyed a conversation with Ruta Lee, who is a true Hollywood and show business veteran. She starred and costarred in many well-known plays and films, as well as in many classic TV shows. She knew and/or worked with countless stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age, many of whom were closeted.

    Regarding Tyrone Power, she told me for the San Francisco Bay Times: “He was so warm and nice, bisexual. Deep friends with my very good friend Cesar ‘Butch’ Romero.” She added, “Danny Kaye, also bisexual. And the marvelous Charles Laughton, he was gay and had a lovely relationship with his wife Elsa Lanchester. She would take care of him like a mother.” Ruta did not express much fondness for Marlene Dietrich, though. “I called her the ice queen, very cool to me,” she said. “But she would bring her own lighting and use it if she had to, demanding her perfect shadows and angles.” 

    Ruta is still gorgeous and glamorous, and loves animals and raising money for her famous charity—more on that later. Let’s move to her film roles that include two of the greatest movies ever made. The first is Billy Wilder’s Witness for the Persecution, which is the film she worked on with Dietrich, Power, and Laughton. At the end of the movie, she is the other woman attached to the hunky Power and tells Dietrich she is too old for him. Somehow Ruta lived to tell the tale. Dietrich’s expression alone could have killed her. 

    Ruta often found herself in films and television surrounded by gorgeous guys. That has to take us to the second film of hers that I’m highlighting: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It is my idea of one of the finest musicals of all time. 

    “All the brothers were the greatest dancers anywhere,” she said. “At least three or four were straight. I loved Tommy Rall and Jacques d’Amboise. I became great friends with Jacques and he’d put me in the wings for his ballet performances. He’d come off after doing one of his amazing turns and mutter, “Oh f–k. [He was] a real New York guy.”

    She continued: “Making the film was a huge challenge. We had to shoot everything twice, in wide screen and then Cinemascope.  For one we squished together, for the other wide apart. Michael Kidd would say spread out for one and push in for the other.”

    In terms of her TV show guest appearances, Ruta said, “It was great to be around the boys of Bonanza, a TV show that still plays in syndication. I played a drunk on one episode; really fun.”

    She added, “People seem to remember me from a classic episode of Twilight Zone, playing a tart who was such a little b—h. Those parts are great to play, so much better than just a pretty girl or sweetheart. I wanted to be closer to Rod Serling, but he was a total chain smoker and that made it impossible. It killed him.”    

    “For so much of this I was young and sometimes kind of foolish,” she said, looking back at her career as a whole. “I didn’t realize how much I was in the presence of genius, style, and longevity. Johnny Mercer, Kaye Thompson—cold like Dietrich on the set of Funny Face where I played her secretary, but so wonderful—and warm and kind Audrey Hepburn and Astaire. I never felt harassed by the men, maybe because I was so loud. Dean Martin and the Rat Pack gang (she was one of the stars of Sergeants 3) called me ‘Loudy,’ saying I had a set of speakers attached to me.”

    “They were so funny with tricks and nicknames: Dean Drunky, Sammy Smokey, and Frank The Pope,” she said, sharing some of their creations. “Frank was a good friend and responsible for my screen test in Witness for the Prosecution. Once he showed me his penis. Huge. Largest I’ve seen before or since. I didn’t experience it, but I’m sure he made many ladies happy.”

    Ruta has that and more in her new memoir Consider Your Ass Kissed. Yes, I know the witty and wise Tom Ammiano has Kiss My Gay Ass, but Ruta admits she has been using her expression for years, too. She has helped achieve millions of dollars for an organization dedicated to emotionally disturbed children, seniors, and veterans. It is called The Thalians:

    This is one hell of a woman and getting to know her is a showbiz dream come true!

    In other movie news, Ruthe Stein and colleagues are again bringing us the Mostly British Film Festival 2022: New Films from the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, and India, from March 10–17. This is one of my favorite festivals, offering a diverse and terrific group of films, documentaries, and tributes, co-curated by the remarkable Ruthe. See you there and visit

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian, film critic on various broadcast outlets, and has her own YouTube channel series, “Jan Wahl Showbiz.” She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at

    Published on March 10, 2022