It was as a Texan, growing up in a suburb of Dallas (Bonnie and Clyde and Lee Harvey Oswald country), that I emerged on the theater scene, having a play of mine occasionally produced. A girlfriend I had from there who had a mother who was a fashion designer for some upscale place and a father who ran a nightclub for the carriage trade shaped my image of Dallas. I literally lived across the river in a “bedroom” community; and only saw Dallas after dark and after I got off work, and what I mostly saw as I zoomed around in my Chevy convertible was a blur and was eschewed by what I could see through my rearview mirror.
Even the assassination of a president, any more than a professional football team or a popular television program, didn’t pique my interest in Dallas. It was fair to say, “I abandoned her.” Just as my girlfriend abandoned me after I squeezed her so hard that her belt popped. It’s fair to say that I had more interest in her than I did in Dallas.
It must have been Paul Baker (artist director of the Dallas Theater Center) who depicted Dallas as a “medieval town.” Was that really so? True, each bank downtown owned a skyscraper. And each skyscraper owned by a bank was like a small principality, and the banks ruled and competed with other banks or principalities. Each bank had a logo or coat of arms. Did that make the city medieval? Paul Baker must have had more reasons than these for making his statement about Dallas. I grew up around there and still didn’t know enough about the town to either agree or disagree with him.
More connected, I think, was the playwright John Logan who was a friend and a contemporary of mine. He wrote the play Jack Ruby, All-American Boy in association with Paul Baker to bring “a certain perspective on the tragedies that occurred in Dallas in November of 1963. ” A violent moment, and witnessed by millions of Americans on television, threw Jack Ruby into the spotlight. Suddenly Dallas was on trial; and I wouldn’t have had the feelings for the city that John Logan had to have had to write his play. He used his knowledge of the city and the perspective of having lived there for a long time. But he could look at it with the eye of an artist, and his ability to interpret what he saw brought relevance to his work. He saw the events and how American and Dallas changed “painfully and quickly” after the “violent street tragedies that began in 1963.” Good for him; if I had been more alert maybe I could’ve come up with something as significant.
It only goes to show how writers need to be thinkers. But first they need to have the pieces and, then with the pieces, they have to put them together; and that requires thought. This is what Paul Baker and John Logan wrote about Jack Ruby, All-American Boy in a Dallas Theater Center publication called TWENTY DYNAMIC YEARS. From it, I think you can see how the pieces came together for them.
“For a theater to have vatality and relevance to the community it serves, it must attempt to interpret the significant events that take place in the lives of the people of that community. Jack Ruby, All-American Boy represents an effort on the part of artists at the Dallas Theater Center to achieve through the dramatic form, a certain perspective on the tragedies that occurred in Dallas in November of 1963.
“The product of a Chicago ghetto where violence, persecution, and neglect were routine, Jack Ruby set out to pursue the American Dream. In his own inept and often comic way, he tried to achieve the success, the fame, the power, the wit, the compassion, and the class that President Kennedy had in full measure. Programmed as he was, however, only the luck of an Horatio Alger hero could have made the dream come true to Ruby. He attempted to escape his ghetto background and make his fortune in a new city, a new frontier. He yearned to gain the respect of those around him, but almost nothing went right. Then, suddenly, a grotesque perversion of the dream, an incredible, violent moment that was witnessed on television by millions of Americans that Sunday morning, catapulted Ruby into the spotlight. He became in his fantasy the hero of a Hollywood success story.
“America and Dallas have changed tremendously, painfully, and quickly since the violent street dramas began in 1963. A decade of war and domestic revolution has ended with peace, however uneasy; and Americans are examining the old values, the old ideals, the old dreams. The American Dream as a concept will endure, for it is universal among men. But the distortion of the dream, the corruption of its positive energy, may be waning. Perhaps we are approaching a New Frontier.”
I’m not sure when John and Mr. Baker wrote the above. However, thank you John. And with the election of Obama, maybe we’ll get there yet.
Good night, Randy Ford