Jack Ruby: The Many Faces of Oswald’s Assassin. Danny Fingeroth. Chicago Review Press. 2023. 352 pp. $30
You enter a hall of mirrors once you dig into the many facets of the assassination of President Kennedy. We are now at the 60th anniversary mark, November 22, 1963, of the murder and there is no letting up on this mystery of mysteries. The case is closed, and yet it’s not. Enter Jack Ruby to make the rabbit hole go deeper. Who was he and what did he want? Danny Fingeroth, known for his work at Marvel Comics as well as his celebrated and critically acclaimed writing (Stan Lee, A Marvelous Life) has set his focus upon Ruby, a man who has remained both in the spotlight and in the shadows.
Jack Ruby, if you have any thoughts on him to begin with, does not exactly cut an attractive figure. He’s not famous. He’s infamous. What to make of him? Despite his less than stellar, and more unsavory, appearance, like it or not, Ruby was there at the precise moment in time to murder Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused of murdering a president, and Ruby instantly made history. He’s more the sort of character you are repelled from than attracted to but he’s also a mighty train wreck baked into one of the greatest horrors and spectacles of modern times. I’m not sure if getting to know Jack Ruby helps us better understand some elements of the Kennedy murder or helps us come to terms with it. Ruby is another nut to crack and a pretty big one at that. What Fingeroth does is try to seek some clarity about this man by bringing out his humanity. Fingeroth presents the reader with a man who could be both good and grotesque. If only his life had taken a different turn perhaps he would never have been anywhere near Lee Harvey Oswald.
What emerges from Fingeroth’s narrative is a Jack Ruby who, and perhaps this is a bit of a shock, we can relate to. Much of what Fingeroth uncovers for the reader is a life full of twists and turns in a struggle to find a place in the world. Jack Ruby had some potential. But he squandered it. Sometimes it was bad luck. But, more often than not, Ruby leaned into a mean streak that would ultimately carry him to his tragic destiny. The most intriguing discovery that Fingeroth makes is Ruby’s friendship with a true American hero, Barney Ross. For someone so obsessed with being close to celebrity and being associated with it, to find that Ruby and Ross enjoyed a genuine connection going back to childhood is fascinating. In a sad and odd way it shows a lighter side to the dark figure of Ruby. The truth is that Ruby had a side to him that was full of good intentions and, more importantly, of grand idealism. What strikes me about Fingeroth’s book is that he ends up painting a portrait of someone who was indeed fully capable of having the will and motivation to make a point of being at the right place at precisely the right time. So, in a sense, Fingeroth makes a strong case for Ruby acting alone on that fateful day in Dallas, just as Oswald is being transferred from the Dallas police over to the state of Texas authority.
Ruby was not a simpleton thug. That is essentially what you learn from reading this book. This is a fascinating read that sheds new light on one of the most enigmatic and misunderstood figures in this tragic time in American history. Fingeroth masterfully relates to the reader the life of a man, the choices he made, the struggles he endured, the depths he would let himself succumb to. Yes, he was also most assuredly a jerk who mistreated people and who forced himself on anyone he could every chance he got. But he wasn’t a simpleton thug. In that respect, he shared a fair amount of the same traits as Lee Harvey Oswald, another man who, had he taken a different turn, would never have been anywhere near his own fate on Dealey Plaza.