Participating in a recent Facebook game, I found myself posting a list of five well-known people that I have met or been near, making one of the five a lie. Facebook friends were instructed to guess which one was not someone I have actually met. My list included Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, George Michael, George W. Bush, and Jack Ruby. George W. is the person I have not met but most friends guessed Jack Ruby as “the lie.” Some requested that I tell the story of how I came to meet Jack Ruby. The one and only Jack Ruby who became famous as the man who, on live TV, shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald, the man arrested for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
As with much of my interesting history, it all started with my mother. Mom was a Country Western entertainer and, after leaving her spot as a regular on The Louisiana Hayride in the early 50s, frequently performed at local Dallas and Fort Worth music halls. One of the many such establishments she frequented was The Bob Wills Ranch (now known as the Longhorn Ballroom). In that day, Bob Wills Ranch was co-owned and managed by Jack Ruby. In the late 50s, Mr. Ruby sold his venture in the ranch to operate The Carousel Club, which was a bar by day, strip club and bar by night.
So, how did I, as a pre-adolescent child, come to meet face to face a strip-club owner, soon to be famous killer of a famous assassin? As I said, it all started with my mother and, with my mother, unusual circumstances prevailed. In the 50s and 60s, there was a dress shop located in downtown Dallas known as Lane Bryant. At the time, this was the only shop in the area that carried nice “tall girl” and “chubby” styles. (Yes, “chubby” was the word). Mom was unusually tall and I was unusually “chubby” so, every now and then, we would travel east from Fort Worth to Dallas on the hunt for an Easter dress or something for a special occasion. I loved driving under the three-way underpass heading into downtown Dallas with lanes for Elm, Main, and Commerce streets.
Jack Ruby’s club, The Carousel, was located on Commerce Street, just a short walk from the dress shop on Elm St. After shopping, mom would say “Let’s go see my friend Jack.” I remember blinking hard to adjust to the darkness inside and thinking the stage looked rather odd with tables pushed right up to the edge. “Hello, Martha!” boomed across the room as Mr. Ruby made his way through the few early afternoon patrons to greet us at the bar. His white shirt was visible long before his big nose and dark, slicked back hair. To me, he looked for all the world like the bad guys in the movies. I climbed up on the stool beside my mom, ready for my short glass of ice and coke topped off with seven or eight cherries “for the little cutie.” Mr. Ruby was nice. I don’t remember much about what he and my mother talked about. They laughed one time when, after seeing several different women drift by and give him a hug, I asked “How many wives do you have?” We never stayed long before collecting our parcels and walking to the car to head home. It was years before I pondered the wholesomeness of it all. I did come to know that a more common ending to a mother-daughter shopping trip involved a stop by a malt shop or burger bar.
On a solemn night, months after our last visit to The Carousel, my family gathered around the TV in the small den of our home in Haltom City, Texas. Through the new phenomenon of live broadcast, all eyes of a grieving nation were glued to the TV screen watching the attempted transfer of the man believed to have killed our president. Suddenly, a man wearing a smart dark suit and a banded fedora stepped forward, pressed a gun against Lee Harvey Oswald’s stomach, and fired. I’m sure that viewers across the nation gasped and said something like “Oh my, he shot him!” In our den, my mother stood up and said “Oh my God, that’s Jack Ruby.” I had a feeling there would be no more iced cokes with lots of cherries from the tall stool in the room with the weird stage.