15 Members of the EGOT Winners' Circle (and 20 Almost-EGOTS)

Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty Images
Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty Images

Life should have been good for Miami Vice’s Philip Michael Thomas in 1985. He was the star of one of television’s biggest hits, had released his first album as part of a multimillion dollar deal with Atlantic Records, and was making a name for himself in the fashion world (or at least trying to) with his very own women’s clothing line. But Thomas still had loftier goals, both in mind and on the gold medallion he was so fond of wearing. That dream was an EGOT.

Though Thomas swore that the engraved letters E, G, O, and T on his prized necklace stood for energy, growth, opportunity, and talent, those around the then-36-year-old actor unanimously gave a different translation: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony—the four awards Thomas had intended to win over the next few years. It’s now more than 30 years later and Thomas has yet to even be nominated for any one of those accolades.

While an EGOT may seem an unlikely reality for Thomas, it’s not an impossibility for all artists. On September 9, 2018, the club added three new members: John Legend, Andrew Lloyd Weber, and Tim Rice. Here are the 15 official members, a couple of SHEGOTS, plus several artists who are just one award away.

1. RICHARD RODGERS

Richard Rodgers
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Before there was even a name for it, American composer Richard Rodgers became the first person to EGOT (yes, the acronym can also be used as a verb) when he won an Emmy for the television documentary Winston Churchill: The Valiant Years. His Oscar came in 1945, when his “It Might as Well Be Spring” from State Fair was named Best Song. He earned Grammys in both 1960 and 1962, for the original cast recordings of The Sound of Music and No Strings, respectively. Between 1950 and 1962, he won six Tony Awards, three of them in that first year for South Pacific. The same year, South Pacific also earned Rodgers a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, which we guess makes him a PEGOT.

2. HELEN HAYES

Helen Hayes
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In 1977, 15 years after Rodgers inaugurated the honor, actress Helen Hayes joined him as the first female EGOT—an honor that took her 45 years to achieve, the longest of any of her EGOT peers. Her road began in 1932, when she won the Oscar for The Sin of Madelon Claudet (she won a second Oscar for 1970’s Airport). Her first Tony came in 1947, for Happy Birthday, followed by another in 1958 for Time Remembered. And she won a Best Actress Emmy in 1953 for an episode of Schlitz Playhouse of Stars. But it would take more than two decades for her to nab that elusive second letter, which she did for Best Spoken Word Recording for Great American Documents.

3. RITA MORENO

Rita Moreno
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Seven months after Hayes earned her EGOT, actress Rita Moreno did the same when she won her first of two consecutive Emmys for a guest spot on The Muppet Show in 1977 (the following year she won one for an appearance on The Rockford Files). But Moreno did it in about a third the time of Hayes, 16 years, which was an EGOT record until Lopez smashed it last night. Her Oscar came in 1961 as Best Supporting Actress in West Side Story, followed by a Best Recording for Children Grammy in 1972, for The Electric Company. In 1975, Moreno nabbed a Tony playing Googie Gomez in Terrence McNally’s The Ritz, a role she reprised in the 1976 big-screen version.

4. JOHN GIELGUD

John Gielgud
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Unlike his three predecessors, the Oscar wasn’t the first award John Gielgud won to earn his EGOT. Instead it was the Tony, which he first won in 1948 for The Importance of Being Earnest. He won a second Tony in 1961, as the director of Big Fish, Little Fish. Next came the Grammy, in 1979, for his dramatic recording of Ages of Man. In 1981, Gielgud took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his iconic role as Dudley Moore’s butler/sidekick in Arthur. And when he won the Emmy in 1991, for Outstanding Lead Actor in Summer’s Lease, he was 87 years old, making him the oldest EGOT-getter.

5. AUDREY HEPBURN

Audrey Hepburn
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Unfortunately, Audrey Hepburn didn’t live long enough to enjoy her EGOT. Two of her awards—her 1994 Grammy for the children’s album Audrey Hepburn’s Enchanted Tales and her 1993 Emmy for the informational Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn—were awarded after her passing on January 20, 1993, which made her the first posthumous EGOT recipient. She did, however, have the chance to bask in the glow of her 1953 Oscar for Roman Holiday, and a Tony for Ondine one year later.

6. MARVIN HAMLISCH

Marvin Hamlisch
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There’s a distinctively heavy emphasis on the “O” in composer Marvin Hamlisch’s EGOT, as he is the most Academy Award-winning of the bunch, with a total of three. All of them were awarded in 1973—two for The Way We Were and one for his score for The Sting. It was “The Way We Were” that earned him his first of four Grammys, too, in 1974. His collaboration with Barbra Streisand continued, and earned him two Emmys in 1995, for Barbra: The Concert. Hamlisch’s Tony came in 1976 for A Chorus Line, the musical that also got him a Pulitzer Prize, making him the only other PEGOT on this list.

7. JONATHAN TUNICK

Jonathan Tunick
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Composer/conductor Jonathan Tunick’s path to EGOT glory was a straight shot over the course of 20 years: In 1977 he won an Oscar for A Little Night Music, followed by an Emmy for Music Direction in 1982 for Night of 100 Stars, a 1988 Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement for Cleo Laine’s “No One is Alone,” and, finally, a 1997 Tony for Best Orchestrations for Titanic.

8. MEL BROOKS

Mel Brooks
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Yes, Mel Brooks can do it all. In June of 2001 he became the world’s eighth EGOT winner, just a few weeks shy of his 75th birthday, when he earned three Tony Awards—for Best Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Book of a Musical—for The Producers. It was The Producers that brought Brooks his Oscar as well, for Best Original Screenplay (albeit 33 years earlier). Brooks’s first award came in 1967, when he won the Emmy for writing The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special. Beginning in 1997, he won three consecutive Emmys, this time as a guest actor on the sitcom Mad About You. It was during that same period that he also won his first of three Grammys, in 1998 for Best Spoken Comedy Album for The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000. In a 2013 NPR interview, Brooks mentioned this crowning achievement, saying, “I'm an EGOT, so I don't need any more [awards].”

9. MIKE NICHOLS

Mike Nichols
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Mike Nichols earned his EGOT in the same year as Mel Brooks, though it took him a full 40 years to get there (versus Brooks’s 34). The late comedian-turned-director’s path began with a 1961 Best Comedy Performance Grammy for An Evening With Mike Nichols And Elaine May. In 1964, he won his first of nine Tony Awards for Barefoot in the Park (his second came a year later for The Odd Couple). In 1967 he was named Best Director at the Oscars for The Graduate. And in 2001 he won his first two of four Emmys—for Outstanding Directing and Outstanding Made for Television Movie—for Wit.

10. WHOOPI GOLDBERG

Whoopi Goldberg
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If Philip Michael Thomas invented the idea of the EGOT, Tracy Morgan—as Tracy Jordan—brought the phrase back into popular use on 30 Rock, when he set the same goal and even wore the necklace. And they even got real-life EGOT winner Whoopi Goldberg to play along and poke fun at the debate over whether she should truly be included as her Emmy is a Daytime one. (“It still counts,” she told Tracy. “Girl’s gotta eat!”) Goldberg's first award was a 1985 Grammy for Best Comedy Recording of Whoopi Goldberg—Original Broadway Show Recording. Next came a 1990 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Ghost. In 2002 she got her E and T: an Emmy for hosting Beyond Tara: The Extraordinary Life of Hattie McDaniel and a Tony as co-producer of Thoroughly Modern Millie, which won Best Musical.

11. SCOTT RUDIN

Scott Rudin
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Scott Rudin is the first producer to EGOT. He earned his gold medallion in 2012 when The Book of Mormon: Original Broadway Cast Recording earned a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album (an award Rudin shares with fellow EGOT Robert Lopez). Rudin’s first award—an Emmy—came in 1984, for the kid’s show He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’. He earned his first of 15 Tony Awards in 1994 for Passion, and his most recent in 2017 for Hello, Dolly!. While Rudin is probably best known as a film producer, he’s only got one Oscar to his credit, a 2007 Best Picture statue for the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men.

12. ROBERT LOPEZ

Robert Lopez
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In 2014, songwriter Robert Lopez became an EGOT when he and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, took home the Oscar for Best Original Song for Frozen’s “Let It Go.” (The pair won a second statuette earlier this year for the song "Remember Me" from Coco.) At the time, he was also the youngest member of the club (he's 43 years old now, but had just turned 39 when he was "inducted.") Lopez is also the fastest artist to achieve the honor, taking just 10 years to earn all four awards, beginning with a 2004 Tony Award for Best Score for Avenue Q, followed by two Daytime Emmys in 2008 and 2010 for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction and Composition for Wonder Pets. In 2012, Lopez and Rudin shared the Grammy for The Book of Mormon, making them the first pair of EGOTs to have a shared award get them into the circle.

13., 14., AND 15. ANDREW LLOYD WEBER, JOHN LEGEND, AND TIM RICE

 Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, John Legend and Tim Price pose in the press room during the 2018 Creative Arts Emmys at Microsoft Theater on September 9, 2018 in Los Angeles, California
Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty Images

September 9, 2018 is a date that will go down in the history books of EGOT'ing, as the club added a total of three new members. Amazingly, it's for a shared award. Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert's Emmy win for Outstanding Variety Special (Live) made official EGOT members of all three of its producers—John Legend, Tim Rice, and Andrew Lloyd Weber. For Legend, the honor was even more monumental as he's both the youngest person to ever EGOT and the first black male to join the club.

(SH)EGOTS

Though the official number of EGOT winners is 12, it’s worth noting that there are a handful of other rather famous faces who have also earned all four awards ... but because at least one of them is a special or honorary award only—not a competitive one—their inclusion in the official club is questionable. Let’s call them SHEGOTs?

1. BARBRA STREISAND


Terry Fincher, Express/Getty Images

Amazingly, the only Tony Award that Barbra Steisand has on her mantel is a non-competitive one; in 1970, she was named Star of the Decade.

2. LIZA MINNELLI

Performer Liza Minnelli
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Liza Minnelli may have been handed a Grammy Legend Award in 1990—but this legend has no competitive Grammy to speak (or sing) of.

3. JAMES EARL JONES

James Earl Jones accepts the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre onstage during the 2017 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 11, 2017 in New York City
Theo Wargo, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

Though he's been a Hollywood icon for decades, James Earl Jones's only Oscar win was an honorary one in 2012. He did receive a Best Actor nomination in 1971 for The Great White Hope, but lost out to George C. Scott for Patton. (It's worth noting that Scott had alerted the Academy ahead of time that he refused the nomination, so it was hardly surprising that he wasn't there to accept the actual award.)

4. ALAN MENKEN

Johnny Mercer Award Honoree Alan Menken performs onstage at the Songwriters Hall Of Fame 48th Annual Induction and Awards at New York Marriott Marquis Hotel on June 15, 2017 in New York City
Larry Busacca, Getty Images for Songwriters Hall Of Fame

Composer/songwriter Alan Menken won the Tony for Best Original Score for the Broadway version of Newsies in 2012, but his 1990 Emmy for his contribution to "Wonderful Ways to Say No," an anti-drug cartoon special, was an honorary one—leaving him one official award short of an EGOT.

5. HARRY BELAFONTE

Harry Belafonte attends the 2016 Library Lions Gala at New York Public Library - Stephen A Schwartzman Building on November 7, 2016 in New York City
Theo Wargo, Getty Images

In 2014, Harry Belafonte was awarded the Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award—putting him in the elite class of a half-dozen (SH)EGOTs.

6. QUINCY JONES

Music producer Quincy Jones attends Spotify's Inaugural Secret Genius Awards hosted by Lizzo at Vibiana on November 1, 2017 in Los Angeles, California
Matt Winkelmeyer, Getty Images for Spotify

Music producer Quincy Jones may be one of the world's most award-winning artists, but a competitive Oscar has so far eluded him. Like Belafonte, the only Academy Award he has won is the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (which he received in 1994). Beyond that, he is a seven-time Oscar nominee.

ALMOST EGOTS

While there are are a number of artists who came close to EGOT'ing during their lifetimes—including Robin Williams (who was short a Tony), Jessica Tandy (she was missing a Grammy), Henry Fonda (who was minus an Emmy), and Leonard Bernstein (who never won an Oscar)—the EGOT dream is still alive for dozens of artists.

1. JULIE ANDREWS

It's hard to believe that Julie Andrews has yet to win a Tony Award (though she's been nominated for three). If and when she does, she can add EGOT to her resume.

2. LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA

The Hamilton creator came so close to EGOT'ing last year. But something tells us it won't be long before he's inducted into this elite group of artists.

3. MARTIN SCORSESE

He may be one of the world's most acclaimed filmmakers, but it took him more than a quarter-century to earn his first (and so far only) Oscar. Hopefully a Tony will be next.

4. FRANCES MCDORMAND

Just below the EGOT, there's what is known as the Triple Crown of Acting: a performer who has won an Oscar, Emmy, and a Tony (but is missing a Grammy). Frances McDormand is among that group.

5. VIOLA DAVIS

Like McDormand, Viola Davis is part of the Triple Crown club.

6. RANDY NEWMAN

It took 20 years and 16 nominations, but Randy Newman finally became an Oscar winner in 2002 when he won the award for Best Original Song for "If I Didn't Have You" from Monsters, Inc. He still needs a Tony though.

7. AL PACINO

He's one of the most celebrated actors alive, but Al Pacino is no Grammy winner.

8. JOHN WILLIAMS

The iconic composer may hold the record for the most Oscar nominations for a living person, but John Williams has yet to receive a single Tony Award nomination.

9. CHER

The iconic singer is one Tony Award short of an EGOT.

10. ELTON JOHN

The "Rocket Man" singer is one Emmy Award away from an EGOT.

11. AND 12. RON HOWARD AND BRIAN GRAZER

Longtime producing partners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer have seemingly conquered every medium, but neither one has yet won a Tony (though Grazer has come closer; he was nominated in 2008).

13. AND 14. TREY PARKER AND MATT STONE

The South Park creators are just an Oscar short of the EGOT goalpost.

Ira Aldridge: The Black Shakespearean Actor Who Broke Theater's Color Barrier

Ira Aldridge as Othello circa 1830
Ira Aldridge as Othello circa 1830
Henry Perronet Briggs, Wikimedia // Public Domain

It's easy to forget that before the dawn of film, stage actors were power players; many of them carried just as much clout as modern Hollywood stars. In 1880, Sarah Bernhardt earned $46,000 for a month of performances on her first New York tour alone (which would be well over $1 million today). In 1895, English actor Henry Irving made enough of a name for himself to become the first actor in history to receive a British knighthood. And way back in 1849, two rival Shakespearean actors, William Macready and Edwin Forrest, caused such a stir with their competing productions of Macbeth that their fans ended up rioting in the streets of Manhattan.

But before all of them, there was Ira Aldridge. Born in New York in 1807, Aldridge made such a name for himself in the theaters of the mid-19th century that he went on to be awarded high cultural honors, and is today one of just 33 people honored with a bronze plaque on a chair at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. But what makes Aldridge’s achievements all the more extraordinary is that, at a time of widespread intolerance and racial discrimination in the U.S., he was black.

Young, Gifted, and Black

The son of a minister and his wife, Aldridge attended New York’s African Free School, which had been established by the New York Manumission Society to educate the city's black community. His first taste of the theater was probably at Manhattan’s now-defunct Park Theatre, and before long he was hooked. While still a student, Aldridge made his stage debut—at the African Grove Theatre, which had been established by free black New Yorkers around 1821—in a performance of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s adaptation of Pizarro. According to some accounts, his Shakespearean debut followed not long after, when he took on the title role in the African Grove Theatre's production of Romeo & Juliet.

These early performances were successes, as was the African Grove Theatre, which quickly proved the most renowned of the few theaters in New York staffed mainly by black actors and attended mostly by black audiences. But despite these early triumphs, both Aldridge and the Grove had their fair share of hardships.

Shortly after its opening, the Grove was forced to close by city officials, supposedly over noise complaints. The project was relocated to Bleecker Street, but this move took the theater away from its core black audience in central Manhattan and planted it closer to several larger, more upmarket theaters, with which it now had to compete. Smaller audiences, coupled with resentment and competition from its predominantly white-attended neighbors, soon led to financial difficulties. And all of these problems were compounded by near-constant harassment from the police, city officials, and intolerant local residents.

Eventually, the situation proved unsustainable: The Grove closed just two years later (and was reportedly burned to the ground in mysterious circumstances in 1826). As for Aldridge, having both witnessed and endured racist abuse and discrimination in America, he decided he'd had enough. In 1824, he left the U.S. for England.

The African Tragedian

Ira Aldridge in the role of Othello, 1854
Ira Aldridge as Othello in 1854
Houghton Library, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

By this time, the British Empire had already abolished its slave trade, and an emancipation movement was growing. Aldridge realized that Britain was a much more welcoming prospect for a young, determined black actor like himself—but what he didn’t know was that his transatlantic crossing would prove just as important as his decision to emigrate.

To cover the costs of his travel, Aldridge worked as a steward aboard the ship that took him to Britain, but during the journey he made the acquaintance of British actor and producer James Wallack. The pair had met months earlier in New York, and when they happened to meet again en route to Europe, Wallack offered Aldridge the opportunity to become his personal attendant. On their arrival in Liverpool, Aldridge quit his stewardship, entered into Wallack’s employ, and through him began to cultivate numerous useful contacts in the world of theater. In May 1825 Aldridge made his London debut, becoming the first black actor in Britain ever to play Othello

The critics—although somewhat unsure how to take a "gentleman of colour lately arrived from America"—were won over by Aldridge’s debut performance in a production of Othello at the Royalty Theatre. They praised his "fine natural feeling" and remarked that "his death was certainly one of the finest physical representations of bodily anguish we ever witnessed." Astonishingly, Aldridge was still just 17 years old.

From his London debut at the Royalty, Aldridge slowly worked his way up the city’s playbill, playing ever-more-upmarket theaters across London. His Othello transferred to the Royal Coburg Theatre later in 1825. A lead role in a stage adaptation of Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko followed, as did an acclaimed supporting turn in Titus Andronicus. To prove his versatility, he took on a well-received comedic role as a bumbling butler in an 18th-century comedy, The Padlock. Aldridge’s reputation grew steadily, and before long he was receiving top billing as the “African Roscius” (a reference to the famed Ancient Roman actor Quintus Roscius Gallus) or the renowned “African Tragedian”—the first African-American actor to establish himself outside of America.

Even in the more-accepting society of abolitionist Britain, however, Aldridge still had mountains to climb. When his portrayal of Othello later moved to Covent Garden in 1833, some reviewers thought a black actor treading the boards on one of London’s most hallowed stages was simply a step too far. The critics soured, their reviews became more scathing—and the racism behind them became ever more apparent.

Campaigns were launched to have Aldridge removed from the London stage, with the local Figaro newspaper among his vilest opponents. Shortly after his Covent Garden debut, the paper openly campaigned to cause “such a chastisement as must drive [Aldridge] from the stage … and force him to find [work] in the capacity of footman or street-sweeper, that level for which his colour appears to have rendered him peculiarly qualified.” Fortunately, they weren’t successful—but the affair temporarily ruined the London stage for Aldridge.

"The Greatest of All Actors"

Portrait of Ira Aldridge by Taras Shevchenko in 1858
Portrait of Ira Aldridge in 1858
Taras Shevchenko, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Instead of accepting defeat, Aldridge took both Othello and The Padlock on a tour of Britain’s provincial theaters. The move proved to be an immense success.

During his national tour, Aldridge amassed a great many new fans, and even became manager of the Coventry Theatre in 1828, making him the first black manager of a British theater. He also earned a name for himself by passing the time between performances lecturing on the evils of slavery, and lending his increasingly weighty support to the abolitionist movement.

Next, he took his tour to Ireland, and on his arrival in Dublin became a near-instant star. With the island still locked in a tense relationship with Britain at the time, he was welcomed with open arms when Irish theatergoers heard how badly he had been treated in London. (In one flattering address in Dublin, Aldridge told the audience: “Here the sable African was free / From every bond, save those which kindness threw / Around his heart, and bound it fast to you.”)

By the 1830s, Aldridge was touring Britain and Ireland with a one-man show of his own design, mixing impeccable dramatic monologues and Shakespearean recitals with songs, tales from his life, and lectures on abolitionism. As an antidote to the blackface minstrel shows that were popular at the time, he also began donning “whiteface” to portray roles as diverse as Shylock, Macbeth, Richard III, and King Lear. When the notorious Thomas Rice arrived in England with his racist “Jump Jim Crow” minstrel routine, Aldridge skillfully and bravely weaved one of Rice’s own skits into his show: By parodying the parody, he robbed Rice’s performance of its crass impact—while simultaneously showing himself to be an expert performer in the process.

Such was his popularity that Aldridge could easily have seen out his days in England, playing to packed theaters every night for the rest of career. But by the 1850s, word of his skill as an actor had spread far. Never one to shy away from a challenge, in 1852 he assembled a troupe of actors and headed out on a tour of the continent.

Within a matter of months, Aldridge had become perhaps the most lauded actor in all Europe. Critics raved about his performances, with one German writer even suggesting that he may well be “the greatest of all actors.” A Polish reviewer noted, "Though the majority of spectators did not speak English, they did, however, understand the feelings portrayed on the artist's face, eyes, lips, in the tones of his voice, in the entire body." Celebrity fans were quick to assemble, including the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, and the renowned French poet Théophile Gautier, who was impressed by Aldridge's portrayal of King Lear in Paris. Royalty soon followed, with Friedrich-Wilhelm IV, the King of Prussia, awarding Aldridge the Prussian Gold Medal for Art and Science. In Saxe-Meiningen (now a part of Germany), he was given the title of Chevalier Baron of Saxony in 1858.

Aldridge continued his European tours for another decade, using the money he earned to buy two properties in London (including one, suitably enough, on Hamlet Road). But by then, the Civil War was over and America beckoned. Now in his late fifties—but no less eager for a challenge—Aldridge planned one last venture: a 100-date tour of the post-emancipation United States. Contracts and venues were hammered out, and the buzz for Aldridge’s eagerly-awaited homecoming tour began to circulate.

Alas, it was not meant to be. Just weeks before his planned departure, Aldridge fell ill with a lung condition while on tour in Poland. He died in Łódź in 1867, at the age of 60, and was buried in the city’s Evangelical Cemetery.

After his death, several theaters and troupes of black actors—including Philadelphia's famed Ira Aldridge Troupe—were established in Aldridge’s name, and countless black playwrights, performers, and directors since have long considered him an influence on their work and writing.

In August 2017, on the 150th anniversary of Aldridge's death, Coventry, England unveiled a blue heritage plaque in the heart of the city, commemorating Aldridge's theater there. Even this long after his death, the extraordinary life of Ira Aldridge has yet to be forgotten.

8 Enlightening Facts About Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Rachel Murray, Getty Images for Hulu
Rachel Murray, Getty Images for Hulu

For decades, sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer has used television, radio, the written word, and the internet to speak frankly on topics relating to human sexuality, turning what were once controversial topics into healthy, everyday conversations.

At age 90, Westheimer shows no signs of slowing down. As a new documentary, Ask Dr. Ruth, gears up for release on Hulu this spring, we thought we’d take a look at Westheimer’s colorful history as an advisor, author, and resistance sniper.

1. The Nazis devastated her childhood.

Dr. Ruth was born Karola Ruth Siegel on June 4, 1928 in Wiesenfeld, Germany, the only child of Julius and Irma Siegel. When Ruth was just five years old, the advancing Nazi party terrorized her neighborhood and seized her father in 1938, presumably to shuttle him to a concentration camp. One year later, Karola—who eventually began using her middle name and took on the last name Westheimer with her second marriage in 1961—was sent to a school in Switzerland for her own protection. She later learned that her parents had both been killed during the Holocaust, possibly at Auschwitz.

2. She shocked classmates with her knowledge of taboo topics.

Westheimer has never been bashful about the workings of human sexuality. While working as a maid at an all-girls school in Switzerland, she made classmates and teachers gasp with her frank talk about menstruation and other topics that were rarely spoken of in casual terms.

3. She trained as a sniper for Jewish resistance fighters in Palestine.

Following the end of World War II, Westheimer left Switzerland for Israel, and later Palestine. She became a Zionist and joined the Haganah, an underground network of Jewish resistance fighters. Westheimer carried a weapon and trained as both a scout and sniper, learning how to throw hand grenades and shoot firearms. Though she never saw direct action, the tension and skirmishes could lapse into violence, and in 1948, Westheimer suffered a serious injury to her foot owing to a bomb blast. The injury convinced her to move into the comparatively less dangerous field of academia.

4. A lecture ignited her career.

 Dr. Ruth Westheimer participates in the annual Charity Day hosted by Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC at Cantor Fitzgerald on September 11, 2015 in New York City.
Robin Marchant, Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald

In 1950, Westheimer married an Israeli soldier and the two relocated to Paris, where she studied psychology at the Sorbonne. Though the couple divorced in 1955, Westheimer's education continued into 1959, when she graduated with a master’s degree in sociology from the New School in New York City. (She received a doctorate in education from Columbia University in 1970.) After meeting and marrying Manfred Westheimer, a Jewish refugee, in 1961, Westheimer became an American citizen.

By the late 1960s, she was working at Planned Parenthood, where she excelled at having honest conversations about uncomfortable topics. Eventually, Westheimer found herself giving a lecture to New York-area broadcasters about airing programming with information about safe sex. Radio station WYNY offered her a show, Sexually Speaking, that soon blossomed into a hit, going from 15 minutes to two hours weekly. By 1983, 250,000 people were listening to Westheimer talk about contraception and intimacy.

5. People told her to lose her accent.

Westheimer’s distinctive accent has led some to declare her “Grandma Freud.” But early on, she was given advice to take speech lessons and make an effort to lose her accent. Westheimer declined, and considers herself fortunate to have done so. “It helped me greatly, because when people turned on the radio, they knew it was me,” she told the Harvard Business Review in 2016.

6. She’s not concerned about her height, either.

In addition to her voice, Westheimer became easily recognizable due to her diminutive stature. (She’s four feet, seven inches tall.) When she was younger, Westheimer worried her height might not be appealing. Later, she realized it was an asset. “On the contrary, I was lucky to be so small, because when I was studying at the Sorbonne, there was very little space in the auditoriums and I could always find a good-looking guy to put me up on a windowsill,” she told the HBR.

7. She advises people not to take huge penises seriously.

Westheimer doesn’t frown upon pornography; in 2018, she told the Times of Israel that viewers can “learn something from it.” But she does note the importance of separating fantasy from reality. “People have to use their own judgment in knowing that in any of the sexually explicit movies, the genitalia that is shown—how should I say this? No regular person is endowed like that.”

8. She lectures on cruise ships.

Westheimer uses every available medium—radio, television, the internet, and even graphic novels—to share her thoughts and advice about human sexuality. Sometimes, that means going out to sea. The therapist books cruise ship appearances where she offers presentations to guests on how best to manage their sex lives. Westheimer often insists the crew participate and will regularly request that the captain read some of the questions.

“The last time, the captain was British, very tall, and had to say ‘orgasm’ and ‘erection,’” she told The New York Times in 2018. “Never did they think they would hear the captain talk about the things we were talking about.” Of course, that’s long been Westheimer’s objective—to make the taboo seem tame.

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