Ruta Lee as Dolly Levi!

Photo courtesy: Judy Diamond
Richard: How long were you Hello, Dolly!?
Ruta: First time in the 60’s and still playing the role.
Happy Saturday!
I hope your day is as gloriously beautiful as it is here in New York today. 
Today, I'll be having a few friends over for our first night of the season sitting out on the back deck and I am so looking forward to it. As I type these words, I'm listening to Karen Mason. I would LOVE to see her play Dolly Levi someday. 
Barbara Van Orden, Ann Jeffries, Carol, Ruta

One actress that did play Dolly who I never saw but God, do I wish I had is Ruta Lee. I have always loved Ruta. 
All those television appearances throughout the 60s and 70s, and then her recurring role on Roseanne in the early 90s. 
I always dreamed of meeting her. 
When I finally did meet her, it was as I were meeting a long lost friend. She has not aged one iota! She has to have a "Dorian Gray" stashed away somewhere! The first time I met her was at Carol Channing's 90th Birthday in February of last year at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. She exuded the Hollywood glamor that you see so little of these days!
I saw Ruta again when I was in Hollywood again in January for the LA screening of Carol Channing: Larger Than Life. When I told her of my book idea, she said, "Honey, come over for a glass of wine and I'll tell you all you wish to know."  
I hope that day comes! Trying to get her to sit down and talk is a difficult task, however! It is not that she is difficult. She's anything, but! 
She is busy! 
Certainly one of Hollywood's most glamorous ladies, Ruta Lee is also one of its most multifaceted and top-notched civic contributors. Born in Montreal, Lee is the daughter of a Lithuanian tailor. While at Hollywood High, Lee's career in show business began at the famed Grauman's Chinese Theatre… as an usherette, then candy girl. She was quickly promoted to box office cashier and just as quickly fired. Her dancing was better than her math. She vowed to return to that famous courtyard (years later, talent and serendipity placed her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, directly in front of that box office from which she was fired). (Source: Ruta Lee's website)

Ruta's assistant, Judy Diamond, was able to get a few answers for me regarding Dolly!

On March 18th of 1971, Variety reported, " Dolly' In Fort Worth"
Ruta Lee has been signed by producer Melvin 0. Dacus to legit "Hello, Dolly!" at the Caaa Manana. Fort Worth, for three weeks starting May 24.It will be Miss Lee's sixth appearance
That would be the first of many productions of Dolly! over the years. 
 The one quality that Ruta brought to Dolly that separates her from the others is the quality that she is still very much known for...her energy...which is still enough to illuminate the entire west coast with enough brilliance for us to see it here in New York. 
Dick Gautier as Billis w/Ruta (South Pacific)
  She did not need to audition. She was already a star and had done South Pacific, Unsinkable Molly Brown and the Bells Are Ringing at Casa Manana.

Ruta's approach to Dolly was that she was a forward thinking woman who cared little for public opinion. She was an Irish Catholic girl who had been married to a Jew when that was a “no no”.

The first time Ruta played Dolly, she was in her 20s. By her own admission, she says, " My first time..oh Jesus, I was frankly too young for the role ( in my 20’s)...but I made it mine and continued to do so for over 40 years. "

© Copyright 2009, Salon Six 9, LLC. All rights reserved. Photography by Alan Mercer (Ruta with David Blackstock)
From Variety, November 22nd, 1971:  Ruta Lee Wins 4th Ft. Worth Legit Nod
For fourth time in six years, Ruta Lee has won annual Fort Worth "Best Actress" award for her stellar appearance In "Hello, Dolly!" at Caaa Manana Theatre last May. Her previous nods were for "Unsinkable Molly Brown," "South Pacific" and "Hello, Suckers!"
 One of Ruta’s favorite memories happened at Casa Manana, her favorite theater in the country. Upon her entrance into Harmonica she came down the stairs singing “It’s so nice to have you back where you belong” the audience stood, burst into applause and continued to do so for 4-5 minutes. The conductor Joe Steko got tired of keeping his arm up and gave her a knowing smile which meant...when it’s over... they would resume.

This was without a doubt her most thrilling night in theater.

I asked Ruta what one thing she learned during her stint that moved her to the next level as an entertainer: "When my worth as an entertainer meant my name above the title provided me with the privilege of telling a musical director “ NO I can't do it in that key...LOWER IT!” Now I no longer get laryngitis."

Peter Palmer

Ruta loved ALL of Her Horace
Vandergelder's.  Peter Palmer stands out because he was this huge, burly man for her “little Dolly” to push around. Great Comedy.

When I asked her about Jerry Herman, she said, "I worship at his shrine!"  She goes on to say that Gower Champion was a sensational choreographer. 
The first time she heard the score was over the radio in those days were DJs played cast albums. 

Debbie Reynolds, Freyda Payne and Ruta Lee
'The Thalians' 53rd Annual Gala honouring Clint Eastwood, held at The Beverly Hilton
Los Angeles, California - 02.11.08
Credit: Fayes Vision/WENN WENN/Fayes Vision
The one major change that Ruta has seen in the industry since she first did Dolly is that music of most of the new shows is no longer “humable” and the lyrics are not on everyone’s lips.

Ruta has only seen two other women play Dolly: Carol Channing and Carole Cooke. 

Ruta says, " It was lovely to play a role that is so international famous and will continue to live in musical history."

Thank you Ruta Lee for the gifts you have given and continue to give to the world!

Your devoted fan,

I want this to be a definitive account of Hello, Dolly! Did any of you reading this appear in any of these productions? Do you know Ruta Lee personally? Do you have any pics? If you have anything to add or share, please contact me at


May 31
CHICO'S HOUSE OF JAZZ, 631 Lake Ave., Asbury Park, NJ 07712
ReVision Theatre and the City of Asbury Park couldn't have a better summer kickoff! After introducing ReVision Theatre to the great City of Asbury Park 5 years ago, Richard Skipper returns in "Richard Skipper: At Last". Richard is the perfect start to the musical summer of 2012 in Asbury Park. For more information visit or call us at 732-455-3059. To purchase $15.00 General Admission tickets please visit
This show is not to be missed! Musical Direction by: Rich Siegel

Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
Tomorrow's blog will be..Carleton Carpenter's Memories of Hello, Dolly!

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Richard Skipper,                            

This Blog is dedicated to Judy Diamond and EVERYONE who has EVER had a connection with Ruta Lee on ANY Level!!  THANK YOU! THANK YOU!! THANK YOU!!


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