I just read Dick Roraback's article on the "Gambit" ("When Romance Had Leg to Stand On," March 6). To do an article on "the maneuver" without one mention of the undisputed Queen of the Gambit, Ruta Lee, is a faux pas of enormous proportions!
Every single morning, on every single show of the old "Wheel of Fortune" series starring Alex Trabek, complete with drum roll, crossing klieg lights and band fanfare, a voice somewhat resembling that of John Huston's playing God in "The Bible," would announce: "Ruta Lee," and out she'd fly from behind a scrim, scurry down to an enormous roulette wheel waving to one and all, blowing kisses left and right, batting her five-inch eyelashes, and while giving lucky ol' Alex a peck on the cheek . . . yup . . . automatically, up flew the right . . . no, make it left . . . sorry, right leg, until the heel of her pump kicked her derriere solidly.
It started the show hundreds of times without fail and became a cause celebre throughout Hollywood.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed your article very much. Only one question remains: Are you quite sure Claude Rains never did a Gambit? It seems to me, in "Mrs. Skeffington," when Bette Davis greets him at a cocktail party. . . .
Actually, Ruta Lee was on television's "High Rollers," not "Wheel of Fortune."
Loved your piece on the Gambit. Here are some of my own thoughts on the subject: Linda Darnell wouldn't; ditto Cyd Charisse. Esther Williams is a definite maybe, and Jane Powell would, without a doubt. Ingrid Bergman wouldn't dream of doing it; Shirley Temple would adore doing it. Natalie Wood probably wouldn't; Janet Leigh probably would. Jennifer Jones and Jane Wyman? Never! Betty Hutton? Not sure.
Your article was such fun to read--thanks, Dick!
Jane Russell did so! Maybe not in many movies but definitely in "Son of Paleface" because I remember her doing it with Roy Rogers. Later in the same movie she does it with Bob Hope and then both of his legs go up. Only one leg down between them.
Add Steve Lawrence to your list of who would do it. It was on "The Carol Burnett Show" and he and Carol were doing a send-up of "The Postman Always Rings Twice." She was Lana Turner in a white angora sweater and, yes, shorts and high heels, and he was John Garfield. When they kissed, her leg went up and after a moment or two his leg went up, and I went on the floor laughing.
When I saw "La Cage" I thought the director must have seen the same show. Or maybe funny minds just work in the same direction.
Dick Roraback's excellent article on the Gambit, while deserving high marks for what it includes, does omit a very notable variant on the raised-leg-during-kiss maneuver. It's hardly a surprise to me that Roraback left it out because it confounds just about every rule he proposed concerning who did or did not make use of this lower-extremity love semaphore.
True, the ingenues and innocents, the pert little cuties bent the knee and extended their better calf into view in a way that suggested a sensuality, which might occasionally overcome innocence, but did not quite defile it.
However, certain less innocent ladies were known to raise one knee during moments of osculatory abandon and use the instep of that uplifted foot to massage the one calf that remained standing. This maneuver is almost never innocent. It seems to imply a wealth of erotic memories suddenly recalled by the current embrace. Eva Marie Saint did it in "North by Northwest," if memory serves. (In fact, I seem to recall it from a number of Hitchcock films; it's the sort of thing the wrongfully accused female does when she camouflages herself from the police inspector by kissing a convenient total stranger. The massaged calf is proof that she's deeply in lust with the gentleman, and not just trying to make his acquaintance.)
It is the move that overcomes the femme fatale when she's kissing the one man who finally gets to her. If employed by an ingenue, it was proof that she might be inexperienced, but she had strong instincts that would surely change that state very soon. The difference between the knee lift and the calf caress is the distinction between girlish excitement and womanly passion, if not outright lust.
STEVEN H. MILLER
Mental Test for Drivers
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I've just finished reading "Defensive Driver Needs to Get a Tank" (by Marshall Berges, March 6). It is so reassuring to know that I am not the only person in Southern California who is scared to death on the freeways.