Dateline: Dallas

By Michael Granberry

Michael Granberry

Michael Granberry

DALLAS — It happened again just a few months ago. My wife took me to a play, a world premiere about the stripper, Candy Barr, titled “Candy Barr’s Last Dance.” Candy casually knew Jack Ruby, who owned the Carousel Club on Commerce Street. I soon learned that “Candy” is a junk food.

Any student of history should know by now that, two days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, Ruby invaded the basement of the Dallas police station and gunned down the only suspect, a 24-year-old ex-Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald.

For me, a 63-year-old Dallas native who was a 6th-grade kid when the president came to town, it all cuts so much deeper. I relate to the president’s murder not only as one of the grimmest turning points in our nation’s history but also as the death of my childhood.

A memorial to President John F. Kennedy with the infamous Texas School Book Depository in the background.

A memorial to President John F. Kennedy with the infamous Texas School Book Depository in the background.

It branded my hometown, cruelly in my opinion, as the “city of hate,” a moniker we struggled with for years. Not once have I heard Los Angeles blamed for being the place where the president’s brother, Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated less than five years later.

So, November 22, 1963, is for me a sensitive subject, as is the false history that often shadows it, which is why the play about Candy Barr got me so riled up. At least Oliver Stone’s “JFK,” a cavalcade of false history, was cinematically thrilling. The play was just bad, on every level. As a journalist, I dare say I have written more about the assassination than any newspaperman still working. So, the play got me going and not in a good way.

The most outrageous moment came when three of Candy’s stripper friends, preparing to go to her funeral, cast horrified glances at a photograph, circa 1963. They tell the audience that, there in the picture with them, is Candy, Ruby, New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello, and of course, Oswald!

Now, I know the assassination of President Kennedy is a controversial subject. In 2013, a Gallup poll found that 61 percent of Americans still believe that conspirators masterminded the president’s death.

Count me in the minority who know better. And why? As a journalist, you get the delicious freedom to delve deeply into a subject or a personality. It’s the best on-the-job education ever invented.

I have done so many stories on JFK’s death, interviewed so many eyewitnesses, law enforcement officers and even people who knew Oswald and Ruby, that I long ago came to the conclusion that the Warren Commission was right: There is simply no evidence of a conspiracy, and we have had more than 50 years to figure it out.

There is certainly not one iota of evidence that Ruby and Oswald ever met one another, much less knew one another, even though a possible connection was investigated thoroughly. Yes, they both lived in Oak Cliff, a Dallas neighborhood near downtown, and not far from each other. Address proximity does not equal conspiracy.

Vincent Bugliosi's book is just one of several authoritative reports on the JFK assassination.

Vincent Bugliosi’s book is just one of several authoritative reports on the JFK assassination.

I have plenty of esteemed authorities that agree with me and from whom I have learned a lot. They include the late Vincent Bugliosi, who wrote “Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.” As a writer who used to be a California prosecutor, Buglioisi scored a conviction against Charles Manson and his infamous “family,” which led to his first foray into writing, the bestseller “Helter Skelter.”

Bugliosi was dead-on about JFK: Not only was it not a conspiracy, it was actually a remarkably simple homicide, as was the death of Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit, into whom a fleeing Oswald pumped four bullets less than an hour after killing Kennedy, with plenty of eyewitnesses seeing him do it.

Thomas Mallon, who wrote the terrific book “Mrs. Paine’s Garage,” agrees with that conclusion, as does the woman with whom Oswald’s estranged wife, Marina, was living at the time of the assassination. Unbeknownst to Ruth Paine, the subject of Mallon’s book, Oswald was storing his rifle in her garage. Paine has never believed remotely in a conspiracy.

Gerald Posner, whose “Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, was among the first authors to make an overwhelmingly convincing case that Oswald acted alone. In a front-page story I wrote in 1997 for my previous employer, the Los Angeles Times, about a ridiculous pro-conspiracy course being taught in Orange County, Calif., Posner came up with a two-word phrase that cuts to the core of why I object to conspiracy theories and to the absurd plot points in the play about Candy Barr.

He dubbed it a “false history,” one that continues to sully the true account of one of the worst crimes in American history. Even more than I hate my hometown’s reputation being besmirched for having served as the dateline for where a deranged gunman pulled the trigger, I hate the false history that Jack Ruby created for gunning down the only man who could have told us why he did it.

Photograph: The Dallas Morning News

Michael Granberry is an arts and feature writer and a Sunday arts columnist for The Dallas Morning News. 

***

Editor’s note: Mike and I met as college students when we were summer interns at The Washington Post in 1973, when the Watergate investigation was at its height. Two years later, when Lori and I married in California, Mike was my groomsman. I visited him last year in Dallas and he treated me to a manic, Starbucks-fueled tour that kept me laughing and left no doubt about the love he has for his hometown.

Tomorrow: “Dear Boomers” by Lillian Mongeau

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9 thoughts on “Dateline: Dallas

  1. Interesting piece. I think the JFK conspiracy theories, like many other conspiracy theories, are comforting to people who want to make sense out of something senseless. It is scary to think that one coward can change the course of history and murder a United States president. It’s somehow nicer to think that powerful people conspired to take down the president. But of course, that doesn’t make it true.

  2. I was interested to learn that Dallas was ever thought to be a city of hate. To be honest though, I have always felt a generalized unease with the state of Texas in general, with its gun laws and occasional talk of secession. There’s a part of me that feels that Texas takes pride in behaving as if it were its own country. And who knows, if the United States were ever to break apart wouldn’t Texas be the most likely starting point? If that were to ever happen, I would hope that Austin would at least remain a US enclave… 🙂

  3. Great post! I can imagine it hurts having all the good your city and state have done thrown to the curb over one incident. It was a very sad moment for our nation and a real turning point in our collective psyche.

  4. Mike – What a fascinating piece of writing … thank you for sharing your personal perspective that so many of us watched from afar.

  5. Mike – my memory is of having our Principal come in to my fifth grade classroom to tell us “our president” had been shot and killed while in Dallas. I have never viewed Dallas as the “city of hate” but I think many of generation will always associate the city, and this distinction may be razor thin, as being the location of our first traumatic, hateful memory. As I reflected on your piece, I realized that I do have the same negative association with Memphis.

  6. I won’t attempt to draw a comparison to Oliver Stone’s movie. So to make this post more meaningful to anyone reading this, I’d like to say that this movie is no RAGING BULL, also based on a story about a real person.

  7. You were right on describing the big perk of a career in journalism! And now I’ll feel even more justified discarding the conspiracy theory. Thanks for revisiting this.

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