Jacob Leon Rubenstein was a troubled child, growing up on the west side of Chicago. Marked a juvenile delinquent from his earliest adolescence, Rubenstein was arrested for truancy at age 11, eventually skipping enough school to spend time at the Institute of Juvenile Research.
Many who knew Jacob Rubenstein called him “Sparky”, a nickname shared with Peanuts creator, Charles M Shulz. Any similarity between the two ended there. Some say the sobriquet came from an uncanny resemblance to “Sparkplug”, the old nag with the patchwork blanket, from the Snuffy Smith cartoon strip. Be that as it may Rubenstein hated the nickname and was quick to fight anyone who called him that. It may have been that quick temper, that made the hated name stick.
Rubinstein spent the early 40s at racetracks in Chicago and California, until being drafted into the Army Air Forces, in 1943. Honorably discharged in 1946, he returned to Chicago, before moving to Dallas the following year.
Rubenstein managed a series of seedy Dallas nightclubs and strip joints, featuring ladies like “Candy Barr” and “Chris Colt and her ’45’s”. Somewhere along the line this towering figure from the early 1960s Dallas hospitality scene shortened his name, to “Ruby”.
Ruby dabbled in all manner of underworld activities such as gambling, narcotics and prostitution. There were even rumored associations with Mafia boss Santo Trafficante. The lower crust of the Dallas police force knew Ruby was always good for free booze, prostitutes, and other favors. This was one unsavory guy.
Today, you may know Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson as musicians touring with Bob Dylan in 1965 who later morphed into “The Band”, and performed such rock & roll standards as “The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down”, “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Weight”.
In early days, the joints these guys played were so rough they performed with blackjacks, hidden in special pockets sewn into their coats.
In 1963, they played a week in a Fort Worth nightclub. It was a huge venue but no one was there that first night save for two couples, a couple of drunk waiters and a one-armed go-go dancer. The band wasn’t through their first set before a fight broke out, and someone was tear-gassed. The band played on, coughing and choking with teargas wafting across the stage, faces wet with tears.
Part of the roof had either blown off this joint, or burned off, depending on which version you accept. Jack, the owner, tore off the rest of it and kept the insurance money calling this fine establishment , the “Skyline Lounge”.
Even without the roof Jack saw no need to pay for security. He told the musicians “Boys, this building ain’t exactly secure enough for you to leave your musical equipment unattended.” Band members were told they’d best stay overnight, with guns, lest anyone come over the wall. Problem solved.
Months later, the country was stunned at the first Presidential assassination in over a half-century. I was 5½ at the time and I remember it, to this day. An hour after the shooting, former marine and defector to the Soviet Union Lee Harvey Oswald killed Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, who had stopped him for questioning. Thirty minutes later, Oswald was arrested in a movie theater.
By Sunday, November 24, Oswald was formally charged with the murders of President John F. Kennedy and Dallas police officer J. D. Tippit. He was taken to the basement of Dallas police headquarters where an armored car awaited, to transport the prisoner to a more secure county jail. It was never meant to be.
The scene was crowded with press and police. If you were alive that day you probably remember, half the country watched it on live TV. A lone man came out of the crowd and fired a single bullet from his .38 revolver into the belly of Lee Harvey Oswald.
The camera captured the shock and surprise on Oswald’s face, similar I’m sure to that which crossed the faces of four musicians watching it all, on TV. The shooter was the same man they had worked for just a few months earlier, at that burned out dive bar, called the Skyline lounge. Jack Ruby.
Oswald was transported unconscious to Parkland Memorial Hospital, the same hospital where John F. Kennedy had died, only two days earlier. He was dead in two hours.
Jack Ruby was sentenced to death in the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, on March 14, 1964. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction in October 1966, on the grounds that the trial should have taken place in a different county from where his high profile crime had taken place.
Ruby died of lung cancer the following January, while awaiting retrial. The Warren Commission found no evidence linking Jack Ruby’s murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, to any broader conspiracy to assassinate the President.
In 1973 the Jack Ruby inspired a thoroughly forgettable band to take the same name unless that happens to be, your “thing”. Whatever became of Jacob Leon “Sparky” Rubenstein’s fine Dallas establishment will be left left to the more scandalous bits, of our imagination.