Ruby the Nightclub Owner

Nightclub Operations

Except for a brief period in about 1953, when Ruby managed the Ervay Theater, a motion picture house, the operation of nightclubs and dance halls was his primary source of income, and his basic interest in life during the 16 years he spent in Dallas prior to shooting Lee Oswald. When Ruby first arrived in Dallas in 1947, he and Eva Grant jointly managed The Singapore Supper Club. Shortly thereafter, she returned to the west coast. Except for sporadic trips to Dallas, she remained there until 1959, leaving Ruby a power of attorney. Ruby, who had received $14,000 from the sale of his interest in Earl Products, invested a substantial amount in the club, which Mrs. Grant described as "too nice a club for that part of town." Ruby changed the Singapore's name to the Silver Spur Club. It was operated primarily as a dancehall, serving beer to its patrons. In about 1952, Ruby borrowed $3,700 from a friend, Ralph Paul, to purchase the Bob Wills Ranch House with Martin Gimpel, a former associate in the Spartan Novelty Co. The Ranch House was run as a western-type nightclub.

With two establishments to run, Ruby experienced substantial financial reversals in 1952. He abandoned his interest in the Ranch House and, on July 1, 1952, transferred The Silver Spur to Gimpel and Willie Epstein, who assumed some of its debts. Disappointed by these setbacks, Ruby stated that he had a "mental breakdown," and "hibernated" in the Cotton Bowl Hotel in Dallas for 3 or 4 months, declining to see his friends. Still depressed, he then returned to Chicago, apparently intending to remain there permanently. However, he stayed only 6 weeks. Gimpel and Epstein were anxious to be rid of the Silver Spur and Ruby once again became its owner.

In 1953, Ruby obtained an interest in the Vegas Club, which he operated with Joe Bonds until September 1953. At that time he informed Irving Alkana, who had retained a prior ownership interest, that he was unable to meet his obligations with respect to the club. Alkana then assumed management of the Vegas until June 19, 1954, when, following numerous disagreements with him, he sold Ruby his interest.

Ruby still owned the Vegas Club at the time of his arrest on November 24, 1963. However, when Eva Grant returned from San Francisco in 1959, she assumed management of the club, receiving a salary but no ownership interest. The Vegas, which occasionally featured striptease acts, employed a dance band and served beer, wine, soft drinks, and some prepared foods.

In 1954, Ruby's Vegas associate, Joe Bonds, was convicted of sodomy and sent to a Texas penitentiary to serve an 8-year sentence. In 1955, Ruby sold the Silver Spur to Roscoe "Rocky" Robinson; however, Robinson could not obtain a license to operate the club and it was subsequently closed. For a few months during this period, Ruby also operated Hernando's Hideaway, but this venture proved unsuccessful.

Sam Ruby testified that shortly after he sold his interest in Earl Products in mid-1955 and moved to Dallas, he loaned Jack $5,500 to enable him to pay Federal excise taxes on the Vegas. As security for the loan, Sam required Jack to execute a bill of sale of the Vegas. Upon Jack's default in payment, Sam instituted suit, claiming that he owned the Vegas and that Jack had breached his promise to repurchase it. The case was ultimately settled, with Jack retaining his ownership interest in the club.

In late 1959, Jack Ruby became a partner of Joe Slatin in establishing the Sovereign Club, a private club that was apparently permitted by Texas law to sell liquor to members. Since Slatin was troubled about Dallas news stories describing police raids on a private club that permitted gambling, he felt he needed more capital. Ruby invested about $6,000 which he borrowed from his brother Earl and perhaps some of his own money.

The Sovereign was described as a "plush" and exclusive club, and Ruby was apparently very anxious to attract a wealthy "carriage" trade. The venture was not successful, however. The two men could not work together, and Slatin withdrew in early 1960. Ruby turned for new capital to Ralph Paul, who had operated a Dallas club with Joe Bonds. Ruby still owed Paul $1,200 of the $3,700 loan made in connection with the Bob Wills Ranch House, but Paul advanced him another $2,200, which allowed him to pay the Sovereign's rent for 4 months. Subsequently, Ruby spontaneously gave Paul a stock certificate representing 50 percent of the equity of the corporation owning the club. Ruby told Paul that if the venture failed, the Sovereign's fixtures and other physical property would belong to Paul.

Experiencing difficulty in recruiting sufficient members, Ruby soon found himself again unable to pay the Sovereign's monthly rent of $550. Again he turned to Paul, who loaned him $1,650 on the condition that he change the club's method of operation. Paul insisted that Ruby discontinue club memberships, even though this would prevent the sale of liquor, and offer striptease shows as a substitute attraction. Ruby agreed, and the Sovereign's name was changed to the Carousel Club. It became one of three downtown Dallas burlesque clubs and served champagne, beer, "setups" and pizza, its only food. The Carousel generally employed four strippers, a master of ceremonies, an assistant manager, a band, three or four waitresses, and a porter or handyman. Net receipts averaged about $5, 000 per month most of which was allocated to the club's payroll. Late in 1963, Ruby began to distribute "permanent passes" to the Carousel; however, the cards were apparently designed solely for publicity and did not affect the club's legal status.

Employee Relationships

Ruby's employees displayed a wide range of personal reactions to him. Those associated with Ruby long enough to grow accustomed to his violent temper and constant threats of discharge generally portray him sympathetically. They reported he was genuinely interested in their welfare and happiness. In addition, many former employees stated that he was a pleasant or unobjectionable employer.

There is also considerable evidence that Ruby tended to dominate his employees, frequently resorted to violence in dealing with them, publicly embarrassed them, sometimes attempted to cheat them of their pay, and delayed paying their salaries. Other employees reported Ruby continually harassed his help, and used obscene language in their presence. However he frequently apologized, sought to atone for his many temper tantrums, and completely forgot others.

One of the many violent incidents that were reported took place in 1950, when Ruby struck an employee over the head with a blackjack. In 1951, after his guitarist, Willis Dickerson, told Ruby to "go to hell," Ruby knocked Dickerson to the ground, then pinned him to a wall and kicked him in the groin. During the scuffle, Dickerson bit Ruby's finger so badly that the top half of Ruby's left index finger was amputated. In approximately 1955, Ruby beat one of his musicians with brass knuckles; the musician's mouth required numerous stitches.

During 1960, Ruby and two entertainers, Breck Wall and Joe Peterson, entered into an agreement that the performers would produce and star in a revue at the Sovereign in exchange for a 50-percent interest in the club. After performing for 2 months, the entertainers complained that they had received neither a share of the profits nor evidence of their proprietary interest. Ruby responded by hitting Peterson in the mouth, knocking out a tooth. The two men left the Sovereign's employ, but they subsequently accepted Ruby's apology and resumed their friendship with him.

In September 1962 Frank Ferraro, the Carousel's handyman, became involved in a dispute at a nearby bar. Ruby told him not to get into a fight, and Ferraro told Ruby to mind his own business. Ruby then followed Ferraro to another club and beat him severely. Ferraro required emergency hospital treatment for his eye, but he decided not to press charges since Ruby paid for his hospital care. In March 1963, during an argument about wages, Ruby threatened to throw a cigarette girl down the stairs of the Carousel.

Ruby's relationship with his employees commanded much of his attention during the months preceding the assassination. The Carousel's comparatively high turnover rate and Ruby's intense desire to succeed required him to meet numerous prospective employees, patrons, and other persons who might help improve his business.

Ruby frequently encountered difficulties with The American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), the union which represented Carousel entertainers. For several years, starting in about 1961, he unsuccessfully sought modification of AGVA's policy permitting "amateur" strippers, inexperienced girls paid less than union-scale wages, to perform at union houses. Ruby apparently believed his two competitors, the Weinstein brothers, were scheduling amateur shows in a manner calculated to destroy his business. Ruby's discontent with AGVA grew particularly acute during the late summer and early fall of 1963 when, in addition to meeting with AGVA officials, he called upon several acquaintances, including known criminals, who, he thought, could influence AGVA on his behalf. Other problems with AGVA arose because of his policy of continuous shows, which did not give masters of ceremonies enough time off, and his alleged use of AGVA members to mingle with patrons to promote the consumption of liquor.

In June 1963, Ruby visited New Orleans, where he obtained the services of a stripper known as "Jada," who became his featured performer. Jada and Ruby had numerous contract disputes and he was concerned about her high salary, recurrent absenteeism, and diminishing drawing power. Moreover, he thought that Jada had deliberately exceeded even the Carousel's liberal standards of decency in order to cause him to lose his license or to obtain publicity for herself. On several occasions Ruby excitedly turned off the spotlights during her act, and at the end of October 1963, he fired her. However, after Jada sued out a peace bond, she apparently recovered a week's salary from Ruby.

In addition to problems with its star stripper, the Carousel was required to employ three masters of ceremonies in rapid succession following the departure in about September 1963, of Wally Weston, who worked there about 15 months. And in early November, the band that had played at the Vegas Club for about 8 years left the Vegas to accept the offer of another Dallas club.

Source: Warren Commission Report