Who Was Jack Ruby?

How a small-time strip joint operator ushered in America’s age of violence.
Who Was Jack Ruby?
In the limelight at last, Jack Ruby answers reporters’ questions after a pre-trial hearing in February 1964.
Photograph by Bob Jackson

All I know about the best man in my wedding is he didn’t exist.

Five days before John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, I got married for the second time. It was a Sunday, the day after I’d covered the SMU-Arkansas game at the Cotton Bowl, and Jo and I—who had known each other a good three weeks—were convinced by this romantic con man who called himself Richard Noble that we should drive to Durant, Oklahoma, and get married. Richard Noble personally drove us in his air-conditioned convertible. He paid for the blood tests and license. We used his 1949 Stanford class ring in the ceremony, and we drank a quart of his scotch and sang “Hey, Look Me Over” (“Remember when you’re down and out, the only way is up!”) on the way back to Dallas.

There was no such person as Richard Noble, and the Stanford class ring was bought in a hock shop. Whoever the man was who called himself Richard Noble had set up a bogus sales office in a North Dallas apartment complex inhabited mainly by airline stews and indomitable seekers and had managed to ingratiate himself with his personality, credit cards, liquor supply, and national WATS line. A month or so after the assassination, which I assume he had nothing to do with, Richard Noble vanished in the night. The FBI came around asking questions, and that was the last I heard.

A lot of bizarre people were doing some very strange things in Dallas in the fall of 1963, and Richard Noble was only one of them. Madame Nhu bought a dozen shower caps at Neiman-Marcus and tried to drum up support for the Diem regime in Saigon, even while her host in the U.S., the CIA, laid plans to assassinate Diem himself. Members of the American Nazi Party danced around a man in an ape suit in front of the Times Herald building. Congressman Bruce Alger, who had once carried a sign accusing Lyndon Johnson of being a traitor, went on television to denounce the Peace Corps as “welfare socialism and godless materialism, all at the expense of capitalism and basic U.S. spiritual and moral values.” Zealots from the National Indignation Committee picketed a UN Day speech by Ambassador Adlai Stevenson; they called him Addle-Eye and booed and spat on him and hit him on the head with a picket sign. When a hundred civic leaders wired strong and sincere apologies to the ambassador, General Edwin Walker, who had been cashiered by the Pentagon for force-feeding his troops right-wing propaganda, flew the American flag upside down in front of his military-gray mansion on Turtle Creek. There were pro-Castro cabals and anti-Castro cabals that overlapped and enough clandestine commerce to fill a dozen Bogart movies. Drugs, arms, muscle, propaganda: the piety of the Dallas business climate was the perfect cover. A friend of mine in banking operated a fleet of trucks in Bogotá as a sideline. Airline stewardesses brought in sugar-coated cookies of black Turkish hash without having the slightest notion of what they were carrying.

Jack Ruby was having one of his customary feuds with an employee of his Carousel Club, but this one was serious. His star attraction Jada claimed that she feared for her life and placed Ruby under peace bond. Newspaper ads for the Carousel Club during the week of November 22 featured Bill Demar, a comic ventriloquist—hardly Ruby’s style, but the best he could do.

And someone took a pot shot at General Walker in his own home. People said later it was Lee Harvey Oswald.

If there is a tear left, shed it for Jack Ruby. He didn’t make history; he only stepped in front of it. When he emerged from obscurity into that inextricable freeze-frame that joins all of our minds to Dallas, Jack Ruby, a bald-headed little man who wanted above all else to make it big, had his back to the camera.

I can tell you about Jack Ruby, and about Dallas, and if necessary remind you that human life is sweetly fragile and the holy litany of ambition and success takes as many people to hell as it does to heaven. But someone else will have to tell you about Oswald, and what he was doing in Dallas that November, when Jack Ruby took the play away from Oswald, and from all of us.

Dallas, Oswald, Ruby, Watts, Whitman, Manson, Ray, Sirhan, Bremer, Viet Nam, Nixon, Watergate, FBI, CIA, Squeaky Fromme, Sara Moore—the list goes on and on. Who the hell wrote this script, and where will it end? A dozen years of violence, shock, treachery, and paranoia, and I date it all back to that insane weekend in Dallas and Jack Ruby—the one essential link in the chain, the man who changed an isolated act into a trend.

Jack Ruby had come a long way from the ghettos of Chicago, or so he liked to think. He described the Carousel Club as a “f--ing classy joint” and patrons who challenged his opinion sometimes got thrown down the stairs. The Carousel was a dingy, cramped walkup in the 1300 block of Commerce, right next to Abe Weinstein’s Colony Club and close to the hotels, restaurants, and night spots that made downtown Dallas lively and respectably sinister in those times of official innocence. You can see more flesh in a high school biology class now than you could at any of the joints on The Strip in 1963, but that wasn’t the point. Jack Ruby ran what he considered a “decent” place, a “high-class” place, a place that Dallas could view with pride. “Punks” and “characters” who wandered in by mistake were as likely as not to leave with an impression of Jack Ruby’s fist where there nose used to be.

Cops and newspapermen, that’s who Ruby wanted in his place. Dallas cops drank there regularly, and none of them ever paid for a drink. Any girl caught hooking in his joint would

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