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Ruta Lee Profile

Ruta Lee
Ruta Lee
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(Ruta Mary Kilmonis)
30 May 36 is born in Montreal, Canada, the only child of Lithuanian immigrants Joseph (a tailor) and Mary (a seamstress). She later confesses that she "can't sew a stitch."
41 does her first acting by playing a "Dutch Mayoress" in a kindergarten operetta
growing up in the Montreal suburb of Verdun, she appears in a parish play while attending elementary school at St. Williboards, as well as taking outside dancing lessons
48 her father sells the small chain of clothing stores he had built in the eastern provinces of the Dominion, and her family moves to Los Angeles to escape the cold Canadian winters.
50 enters Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles but later switches to Hollywood High, where David Nelson is also a student. While there, she begins to seriously study dramatics.
52 while still attending Hollywood High, she stars in a school production of Naughty Marietta, after which her school drama teacher, Helen Pointner, introduces her to agent Lionel Thompson
begins taking drama lessons from an old character actress named Laura Kasley Brooks. Brooks stages a symposium with her few students and invites the secretary for 20th Century-Fox talent head Ivan Kahn. Kahn's secretary is impressed and introduces her to Kahn, who also likes her and sees her as a young Anne Baxter. Unfortunately, 20th Century-Fox "closes up shop" due to an industry slow down and she is not signed.
nearly flunks high school by staying up nights for rehearsals in the chorus at the Gallery Stage where her idol, Jeanne Cooper, is starring. She also admires an actress named Karen Sharpe.
16 November 52 with a newly acquired agent, she lands her first television acting role in an episode of "Roy Rogers" that airs on this date. She is credited under her real name, Ruta Kilmonis.
54 wins a coveted role in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers by giving a demonstration of her dancing skills, which includes doing an impromptu Lithuanian polka. During the filming, she shares a trailer with fellow newcomer, Julie Newmeyer (Newmar).
55 - 56 while attending Los Angeles City College, she kicks her career into high gear by doing a variety of roles on early network television; this includes playing George Burns and Gracie Allen's daughter on their live television show, a "Superman" episode in which she is billed as Rita Kilmonis, and multiple appearances on "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." She also makes her stage debut in a production of Kiss Me Kate in San Bernardino.
57 is spotted by producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr., during a Frank Sinatra concert at the Mocambo. Hornblow sends a waiter over to her table to fetch her and tells her, "I think you'd be an interesting choice to play Tyrone Power's girlfriend in Witness For the Prosecution.
when she shows up on the set for Witness For the Prosecution, Marlene Dietrich takes one look at her blonde hair and insists she be turned into a brunette
58 meets former actress-turned-executive producer Gail Patrick, who takes her under her wing and helps guide her early television career. Patrick, who is now executive producer on "Perry Mason," secures the first of five leading appearances for the young actress on the popular new lawyer show. She debuts in "The Case Of the Screaming Lady" as murderess Connie Cooper. Patrick also helps to get her on the crime show, "Lineup," where she is a guest star so often that many people assume she is a regular performer on that show.
59 along with being a popular guest star on shows like "Perry Mason" and "Maverick," she starts a run as the most popular distaff performer in Warner Brothers television history by making multiple appearances on every one of Warner's popular weekly Westerns and hot new detective shows. She even bests blonde rival Merry Anders by just one show to become queen of the Warner Brothers lot, with 33 guest shots to her credit by 1964.
60 turns down Jack Warner's offer to put her under a movie contract at $300 dollars a week because she is busy making $700 dollars a week guest starring on network shows. She will later regret the decision when television work dries up and her movie moment has passed.
August 60 continues to hone her stage skills (which will come in handy over a decade later) with a starring engagement with the Los Angeles-San Francisco Civic Light Opera Assn. production of Show Boat
further develops her artistic skills by painting with oils and sells her first painting, a landscape, for $200
January 61 wins leading distaff role in B-grade exploitation film, Operation Eichmann, playing the role of Eichmann's mistress, Anna. The role was originally intended for actress Erika Peters, but the producers are bowled over with her Germanic looks and ability to deliver a "flawless German accent." She particularly likes working with Werner Klemperer, whom she had worked with on a "Maverick" episode several years earlier. About working with Werner she later said, "Werner was, in real life, quite a liberal, and I consider myself to be rather conservative, so we were always at odds with each other about something in the world or other."
in Lithuania, Operation Eichmann is released on a double bill with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and she is touted as a star.
13 April 61 is cast, along with Cesar Romero, in the Western pilot "Man From Everywhere," which airs on this date. Starring in the unsold pilot is an unknown named Burt Reynolds.
May 61 Frank Sinatra tunes into a television program she's on one night and tells his Badlands producer, Howard W. Koch, "That's the girl for our picture." She is promptly signed to Sinatra's Essex Productions for the distaff lead in the picture to be renamed, Sergeants Three. After making this second 'Rat Pack' picture, Sinatra described her as "The best young talent in the business."
5 November 61 it's reported in the Los Angeles Examiner that she is to begin work on a new Essex Production called, The New Yorkers. In an article titled, "Work, Work, Work," the writer asks her about her busy schedule, and she replies: "I believe that show business means business," she said. "Sure, keeping busy has its drawbacks. It cuts down on my dating, but I'm an actress who has to act."
7 June 62 appears in a CBS summer pilot called, "Poor Mr. Campbell," which stars the great character actors Edward Andrews and Agnes Moorehead. The show, which aired on this date, also features comic actresses Mary Grace Canfield and Barbara Pepper.
13 December 63 guest stars, along with Patrick O'Neal, on one of the most memorable episodes of "Twilight Zone" ever aired. In the episode, "A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain," she plays "Florence," the mean-spirited, gold-digging trophy wife of an old man who desperately seeks the fountain of youth in an effort to hold on to her. Also in 1963, she guest stars, along with Anthony Franciosa, on the ambitious 90-minute drama, "Arrest and Trial." Thirty years later, this program will be copied right down to the name for a successful run on the A & E Network.
64 after trying unsuccessfully for twelve years, she makes world headlines by flying to Lithuania to obtain the freedom of her ailing grandmother. Soviet officials had steadfastly refused 88-year-old Ludvise Kamandulis to leave her Iron Curtain home to spend her remaining years in California with her actress granddaughter.
8 November 65 in a Los Angeles Times article by Hal Humphrey titled, "Always Actress but Never a Star," she is quoted as saying of Witness for the Prosecution star Marlene Dietrich: "She looked fabulous, but why shouldn't she? There was a special hairdresser, her own make-up man and even a special light for her chin. Dietrich's chin looked better than all of me." In the article, Humphrey went on to say: "Unlike some of her sister actresses who sit home on their hassocks waiting for that "right" part, Ruta will take on anything that's legal."
66 while she is in Connecticut performing in a touring company production of Peter Pan, the grandmother she successfully rescued from behind the Iron Curtain several years earlier dies in California at the age of 90.
lives in a large house in the Hollywood Hills that was once owned by Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. At age thirty she is a self-confessed animal lover who shares her home with her parents and her two Great Danes, Sascha and Spike. She also has a white peacock, a pair of Siamese cats and a Persian, a toy poodle named Yo-Yo, and, until recently, 11 puppy offspring of the Danes. She also seriously considered adopting a baby elephant who had recently worked in the film Hatari.
67 remains one of the most popular actresses on television by making memorable appearances on top-rated shows like "Wild, Wild West," in which she plays a gypsy queen who steals an elephant. She makes several guest appearances on "The Lucy Show" where she hits it off well with thered-headed comedienne. She also guest stars on two of the season's hottest new entries, "Mannix" and "Judd, for the Defense."
68 with her television work suddenly drying up, she turns more and more to live theater. In a Los Angeles Times article titled, "Passed Over By the Starmakers," writer Margaret Hartford says: "The Montreal-born dancer has fought the good fight for stardom but the results have been frustrating. Hollywood knows her without noticing her."
69 hunting for acting jobs, she begins appearing on daytime quiz shows such as "Hollywood Squares" in order to maintain her visibility to the public. Now that she's age 33, her mother keeps reminding her that she would be considered very much an old maid if she were in Lithuania; she confesses that she is now a "dedicated husband hunter."
70 with less acting work to do, she travels throughout the country with friend and former actress Juli Reding as a national spokeswoman and anti-smoking crusader for the American Cancer Society
January 71 is hostess for a closed-circuit stereo interview with musical personalities for all of TWA's national and international flights called "Music and Me With Ruta Lee"
20 February 71 joins Regis Philbin on KHJ's popular show "Tempo," which airs daily in Los Angeles. Fred Astaire becomes an avid watcher of the show and takes a liking to her. He starts sending her little notes in the mail telling her what he thinks she shouldn't do on the show or what she does that he likes.
9 November 71 does one of her last acting stints on a serious network drama when she appears along with Larry Blyden on ABC's hot cop show, "The Mod Squad," in an episode titled, "Exit the Closer."
72 becoming a popular audience draw in Midwestern and Texas regional theater, she remains frustrated on her home turf in Los Angeles. She says, "I am more popular in San Bernardino, Ft. Worth and Cleveland than I am right here." She added in a burst of candid annoyance, "I've never played in the round theater or any other theater in Hollywood."
becomes fast friends with fellow actress Mala Powers while both are filming the Z-grade low budget movie, Doomsday Machine. Twenty-five years later, she looked back on the film and commented, "It really could have been a sweet little picture, you know, but it was done on twenty-nine cents. But we really had a ball making it, and this was the early seventies when we all had huge hair, I mean when I think of that movie now and wonder... I could have floated off into space with that hairdo."
73 doing less acting and selling more of her paintings, she admits to wearing blue jeans when she is painting. "But the jeans are especially made for me by a custom designer," she admits. "They're originals, but they're still jeans," she says, "and I wouldn't be caught dead with them in public."
74 frustrated by her inability to find enough work as a television actress, she tells the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, "I grew up in TV and had a great career until, suddenly in 1968, the big feature movie names decided that television was no longer detrimental to their careers. The motion picture people began taking all the choice roles. They worked for the same money that I demanded, and, naturally, the networks were influenced by their presence."
2 August 74 in need of work, she becomes hostess on the daytime NBC-television series "High Rollers." "I like to wear pretty clothes, and I enjoy the comments of the viewers," she says. She adds, "Sometimes I find my favorite dress is not the most admires by others."
13 Febuary 76 marries Texas restaurant executive Webster B. Lowe in Los Angeles. He's 44; she's 38. She met him a year earlier on a jetliner taking off from Miami. Lowe is president of Bonanza International, a nationwide restaurant chain.
77 travels to Kansas to begin shooting her last film in which she will have a major role. The film is called Rooster, (aka, Spurs Of Death), and it turns out to be a very interesting and bizarre cult relic that doesn't get released until 1983.
88 becomes a semi-regular performer on the CBS television series "Coming of Age." The show stars Alan Young, in his first new series since "Mr. Ed" was on twenty-five years earlier.
00 after a forty-year involvment with the Hollywood charity organization called The Thalians, she continues to chair the organization which raises millions each year for troubled youth and mental health organizations, while she still occasionally does a cameo role.
Author: Paul Woodbine
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