Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rant #746: Roto-Ruta

During the 1960s and into the early 1970s, there was a culture of game shows that existed on television that was off the charts.

There were so many game shows on the air that seemingly any celebrity could make a living appearing on these shows on a regular or semi-regular basis.

A while back, I wrote about one of the "queens" of that game show circuit, Anita Gillette. Gillette appeared on just about every game show there was during that time, and just about every one on the East Coast.

Her West Coast counterpart was Ruta Lee, the feisty actress who also seemingly made a living by appearing on these game shows.

Today, Lee turns 76, but 40 years ago, the pretty lady was probably best known for her appearances on these shows, everything from "Hollywood Squares" to "Match Game."

Her life away from Hollywood made her something of a unique personality during those years. Born in Canada as Ruta Mary Kilmonis, Lee became very involved in the plight of her Eastern European relatives during her years in Hollywood, and did so very publicly.

In 1964, she pleaded with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev for her grandmother to be pardoned from a Siberian internment camp that she had been in since World War II. The pardon was granted, and Lee and her grandmother were reunited. She later was granted custody of another relative who had been living in the Soviet Union.

She also did much charity work during her career for other causes.

While these episodes became very public, Lee appeared on a wealth of TV shows that went way beyond game shows. She was on everything from "The Flying Nun" to "Gunsmoke," and while she never had a series of her own, she became one of the most reliable guest stars in Hollywood.

And she was also in a number of films, including "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers," but she was mainly known for her TV work.

And this culminated with her co-hosting duties on a game show--"High Rollers"--with a very young Alex Trebek!

For kids like me, Lee was simply a regular guest on just about every game show I used to watch. She was also on so many of the TV shows I watched that that name stuck in my head for decades.

I mean, you didn't hear the name "Ruta" very often, did you?

Lee is still very active, although the game show circuit is pretty much dead now. She still appears here and there on TV and the movies, but her "glory" days of being one of those ubiquitous actors on TV are certainly in the past.

Here's to Ruta on her birthday. May there be at least one more game show that she can appear on!

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