We had the good fortune of connecting with Ruth Golden and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ruth, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Some are born to take risks, others have it thrust upon them. My path started in January 1985, during my sophomore year in college, when my mother died by suicide and the world as I knew it shattered. I returned to school after the funeral but not to class, having no ability to concentrate and zero interest in anything I’d been studying. I spent my days watching tv and seeking out friends to do whatever would distract me until I convinced my father I was wasting time and money and the rational thing was to quit. He and others warned me about the difficulties of building a career without a degree, but I didn’t care at that moment. My first big risk was driven by the need to escape. Growing up in a family of doctors and social workers, going to college was a given. I went reluctantly, however, with no strong interests and no clue about what I wanted to do with my life. In the back of my mind I assumed I would follow my mother’s footsteps into social work and allowed her to guide my choices of classes. Her death suddenly gave me complete freedom over my destiny, a freedom I had not planned on and was unprepared for. I moved home and waitressed to save money and move to NYC with a friend. I didn’t go there with any specific goals, just to find a job that could lead to a career in something either important or fun. The UN did not hire me, but an advertising company did before I landed a dream job at MTV, working on documentary specials. It was back in the early 90’s when they played music, and it was as fun as you might imagine it would have been. It was a place where many stayed and built wonderful careers, and I was already moving up in the 1.5 years I was there, but I chose to leave with my boss to start his own production company, which didn’t pan out as expected, forcing me to seek employment elsewhere. My pride kept me from trying to return to MTV and while I do wonder what life would have been like had I stayed there, leaving was the act that cemented the willingness to take risks. Because things went awry with the production company, I found the opportunity to work as part of the start-up staff at FX Studio when if first came on the air with original live programming. Within the company and then outside it, I always went for any opportunity of something that piqued my interest. At times I’ve made lateral moves or taken jobs I’m over-qualified for, but I think about the content, the people on the crew or the different types TV production like live, studio, or reality. Along with documentaries, I’ve worked on pilots, series and specials. I’ve interviewed celebrities like Mick Jagger and Diane Sawyer, and produced a shows on spontaneous human combustion and “redneck” weddings. It’s been very varied and I’ve always appreciated the wide range or projects I’ve been a part of. While I was building a career I enjoyed and moving up the ladder, I still had no longterm goals professionally or personally. The life-consuming nature of TV production was a perfect distraction for me over the years from having to deal with my emotions and grief over my mom, and working on the road a lot allowed me escape from my “real” life back in my apartment. My lack of goals kept me floundering, and the need for escape and distraction continued to drive my choices. After 10 years in NY I was done with it and moved to LA for a few years before going to Florida on a lark for a three month job and staying five years. There I was promoted a few times and finally became a series producer living in a lake house they rented for me. Unfortunately I learned that I do not enjoy managing people and that supervising the show didn’t allow for the hands-on creativity I loved so much. My timing of going back on the job market coincided with the industry changing significantly, becoming more of an assembly line process with shorter and shorter deadlines and I became increasingly unhappy. Back in LA most of my work was for small production companies who had a few shows on their roster when I was hired and eventually ran out of work. Life felt like a consistent search for the next job, only this time I couldn’t was just for a paycheck, not because I felt any excitement about the project. In retrospect I can see how this was a big factor in the decade long slide into the deep depression that opened the door to me finding purpose in my work and taking the biggest risk of my life. To help recover from the depression, I began volunteering for suicide prevention in honor of my mom. My family hadn’t spoken about my mom since we buried her and connecting with other suicide loss survivors showed me a world of people who had the same life struggles I did and faced the same silence in their families, adding to their pain. In what was an actual ‘aha’ moment, I thought I should get my family to break our silence to bring awareness to the issues loss survivors face while encouraging others to share their stories. In that magical moment I found my purpose and saw how all my experiences had given me the skills I needed and the confidence to really do it. For the first time, I would be taking a risk with intent. I stopped looking for industry work to focus all my attention on the project and built a word-of-mouth pet and housesitting business. The biggest risk of all came in asking my family to participate and break our 30 years of silence. I worked with a grief counselor for a few months to build the courage but as soon as I asked, everyone said yes. Now I have almost completed the interviews for The Silent Goldens and during corona lockdown I’ve been editing with the footage I do have. My path has been challenging and unconventional and I feel my personal story is a cautionary tale about not facing emotions and loss, but professionally I have to say my risks have always paid off – not necessarily in the way I hoped, but in retrospect it’s way easier to appreciate events unfolding the way they did. I now am fully focused on my goal of finishing The Silent Goldens soon, and I see a future for myself in using it as a platform to become a voice bringing attention, resources, and hope to loss survivors everywhere.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My passion for documentary storytelling was sparked in 1990 by a dream job in the MTV News and Specials department working on Rockumentaries, a ground-breaking documentary series that first revealed many stories now considered legends. Since then, I’ve brought my story skills to live, studio, and reality formats, including being part of the launch team for the FX network’s flagship live morning show Breakfast Time with host Tom Bergeron, and show-running three seasons of CMT’s Redneck Weddings. Now I am devoted to combining my personal experience with my professional expertise to create a film that can touch many in a hopeful, helpful way by breaking 30 years of silence in my family about my mother’s suicide. Early in my career I live in NYC at a time when networks were doing in-house production and hiring creative staff positions. When I moved to LA in 1997, I found work with small production companies creating content for networks and the positions were freelance. There were tons of challenges along the way, as production can be life-consuming in the thick of a project, creating gaps in your social life, and even though I made decent money when I was working, I couldn’t enjoy it because I was worried about looking for where the next paycheck would come from when that job ended. So my main lessons (which I’m not sure I’ve learned) were in money management, with income anxiety management a close second. I was very lucky to work pretty steadily for about 20 years on some very fun jobs and meet tons of wonderful people across the country through them. Like in every career, there are jobs that are way better than others and companies to work for that are much better managed than others, and I definitely had my share of frustrations, but overall I realized that some people are just better teachers giving lessons about what not to do. The documentary I am now producing, The Silent Goldens, is based on the first-time conversations with members of my family about my mother’s suicide 30 years after it happened. They are raw, thoughtful, and authentic. Those are the qualities I want to be associated with the brand I am creating around the film. My goal is to use it to bring understanding about the impact of suicide loss to the public at large in an effort to help normalize the conversation around it, and to offering a story of healing and encouragement to the millions of people around the world who have been touched by suicide loss.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I love the variety of worlds going on in and around LA and would take advantage of that to make everyday a different adventure. I am also a tourist nerd so the list includes the big stops. We would walkall over the downtown districts – arts, garment, Little Tokyo – and eating anything that catches our eyes along the way. I’d do a nature day including a hike at Fryman Canyon (with a dog), then walk along the beach in Venice. A stroll down Hollywood Boulevard around Hollywood would end with dinner and chocolate shuffle and Off Vine tickets to a show or comedy club. One day would be at a theme park – either Disney or Universal. Ai day just wandering around Griffith Park. And then I would let my friend pick and maybe introduce me to something new in my own city!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I credit the Greater Los Angeles and Central Coast chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) for welcoming me into the community of suicide loss survivors and the Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services Survivors After Suicide program for helping me finally grieve my mother’s loss. A special shoutout to actress Mariette Hartley who was a founder of the AFSP, my peer support counselor in the Didi Hirsch support group and continues to support my vision and advocate for survivors everywhere.