By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
There were 35 actors in the cast, led by 35-year-old company member Ken Latimer, his hairline shaved back to look like 52-year-old Ruby. Most of DTC's resident acting ensemble and many of its graduate acting students were onstage, plus one special addition: a gorgeous 28-year-old professional Dallas stripper, stage name "Chastity Fox." Baker brought her in to play the major role of "Honey Suckle," a character based on Ruby's favorite girl, called "Jada" in the show.
"Foxy," as she was nicknamed by the other actors, also contributed "special choreography." For that, she had to teach the company's modest young actresses how to strip. In the two months leading up to opening night, she took the girls, chaperoned by Baker, on "field trips" to see the real deal at The Busy Bee and The Athens Strip, two of the Dallas burly-Q clubs where, like she would be on the Kalita stage, Foxy was a star.
These days, after curtain calls at DTC productions, Kevin Moriarty, the theater's current artistic director, often sticks around for "talkbacks" with patrons. A few months ago at one of these post-show chats, the Jack Ruby play came up, and Moriarty told the crowd how great he thinks the script is.
"Since I first came to Dallas in 2007 and began investigating DTC's history, one of the productions that has loomed largest and been most intriguing to me has been Jack Ruby, All-American Boy," Moriarty says. "It's an audacious script, a big, bold mash-up of history, circus, fantasy, politics, spectacle and theater, all tossed together. I can't imagine how intense it must have been when it first premiered, at a time when Dallas was still keenly aware of the scope and depth of the tragedy of the Kennedy assassination. Even today, it leaps off the page and grabs you by the throat."
Moriarty never saw that 1974 production; he knows the story from talking about it with Paul Baker, before Baker's death in 2009 at the age of 98. Moriarty has also read the play. There are copies, plus director's notes, in the archives at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in the Dallas Arts District, home of the Dallas Theater Center since 2009.
I did see Jack Ruby, and I thought it was brilliant. Growing up in Dallas, I had been deeply impressed by many of Baker's shows at DTC in the 1960s and early '70s, including his famous Hamlet ESP, which used a trio of actors to portray the moody Dane. But no play before Jack Ruby, All-American Boy — and not many since — resonated with such powerful visual and emotional wallops.
That particular period, from the summer of 1973 to the fall of 1974, was an especially fertile time for the Dallas Theater Center and its stable of budding playwrights. Paul Baker had hoped to see a hot new play like Jack Ruby thrust DTC into the national spotlight since opening his theater, with its Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building, in 1959. Baker already had presented 50 "world premieres" of scripts written by his own company members before teaming with Logan on the Ruby idea.
But there was something about that production and the entire 20-show season that is recalled by many who were there as the busiest, most creative and most critically acclaimed streak DTC ever had during the Baker years. (By comparison, DTC this season will produce seven plays, none by a local writer.)
By the time the curtain rose on Jack Ruby that April, Baker also had already presented a new rock-musical version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, written by company members Randy Tallman and Steven Mackenroth, that would go on to an award-winning run in Chicago in 1975. (It was revived in 2006 at Shakespeare Dallas.) The same season also saw the debuts at DTC of Preston Jones' The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia and Lu Ann Hampton Laverty Oberlander, the first two plays in what would become known as A Texas Trilogy. Written by Jones during his shifts in the DTC box office, those plays would later be performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and would briefly run on Broadway. Henry Fonda starred in a live TV broadcast of the third part of the trilogy, The Oldest Living Graduate, aired from the Bob Hope Theatre at Southern Methodist University.
But Jack Ruby was unique, remembered as a groundbreaking event by those who saw it or who were involved in its production. "Everyone felt it was important," says Robyn Flatt, who designed the lights for the show. Flatt is Paul Baker's daughter and the founder and artistic director of Dallas Children's Theater. "That production captured the energy, passion and artistry that we always strived for at the Theater Center. It was the level of work that we wished we could be doing all the time."
"I think Dallas audiences had more respect for DTC after Jack Ruby," adds Latimer, now 74 and retired from his post-acting career as a social worker. "It certainly gave me a burst of star status." (Latimer also played major roles in A Texas Trilogy.)
Playwright Logan, now 72, remembers an early rush of outside interest in the script, and the excitement of all the publicity and rave reviews.
I was lucky to have seen this production along with my College English class from Mountain View. It BLEW me away, as the writer states. It was so 'over the top' in terms of production quality. It had a style that to me, was a pre cursor to parts of Ragtime, Chicago, Cabaret, and Assassins all rolled into one. I still have my printed program somewhere around the house. Great show that should be restaged.