Tammi True Interview
(Feature Dancer at Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club)
In the early 1960s, Nancy Meyers, stage name Tammi True, was a Feature Dancer at a Dallas, Texas nightclub called The Carousel Club. That club was owned by Jack Ruby.
On Sunday, November 24, 1963, Jack Ruby shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald, the identified assassin of President John F. Kennedy, as he was escorted through the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters.
So, what was Jack Ruby really like?
Well, one person who would really know is Tammi True. She is the subject matter of an AMS pictures film titled “True Tales”.
Travel back in time with us as Tammi True gives us that rare glimpse of Dallas, Texas and Jack Ruby.
Q - Tammi, you are part of history, whether you like it or not.
A - Yes, I am. I’m trying to figure out whether I’m famous or infamous
Q - Famous, definitely. You had no idea the way events would play out that weekend in November 1963.
A - Right.
Q - People will be talking about you 100 years from now, 200 years from now. How does that make you feel that you will live on? You’ll be talked about as long as there’s a planet Earth.
A - Well, you’re probably right. That may be a good thing. I never was very celebrity struck. So, it’s okay. I don’t mind putting my story out there because people need to know about Jack. I know there’s been a lot of stuff written that’s not true about me and about him. He was kind of stupid but he wasn’t a bad person. So, I really want to do this for him.
Q – “True Tales” premiered July 11, 2015 at the Theater in Dallas. Isn’t that the same theater where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested?
A - Right. The Texas Theater. The same theater and also Oswald is buried down the hill a little bit from my family over here in Fort Worth. I can see his grave for my family’s gravesites. So, it’s a small world. Everything kind of goes around. That little theater is still open, and that’s where we premiered the movie.
Q - Do they still show movies at that theater?
A - They basically do. They do some movies and they do shows and concerts. But, they haven’t changed anything. I went there as a kid and it’s just like it was. They preserved it really well.
Q - It almost seems when you were working at the carousel club you were part of a vaudeville show. There was a comedian, a magician, a ventriloquist and of course a 3 piece band that provided original music for each dancer. That must’ve been some show!
A - Yeah. It was like of variety show the club regardless of what’s been written about it, it was really a nice club. We had three runways and there were 3 to 4 girls, usually about four girls that performed. I worked with Harry Blackstone Junior., The magician and Dean Templeton. He was puppeteer. I worked with a bunch of comedians. So, yeah, it wasn’t just come in and watch the girls parade around nude. We had entertainment.
Q - How many shows a day were you doing?
A - We did three.
Q - The first show would start when?
A - It started around 9 PM. I think. I did a 12 to 15 minute show and of course the comedian came out first and warmed up the audience, and whoever was working to amaze them. Then the girls came out. When my picture came out in the New York Mirror Newspaper, Jack found out about it and got all excited. So, he made me his star. So, I closed the show.
Q - You were what we call today Feature Dancer, correct?
A - Yeah, a headliner.
Q - The Carousel Club started out as a supper club but didn’t succeed.
A - Right.
Q - A supper club means what? There was dinner and entertainment?
A - Yeah, dinner and entertainment. Have you ever heard of Bottoms Up?
Q - No, I haven’t.
A - Well, they did little blackouts. They were really good. They were out in Vegas for a long time. They worked for Jack. They did little skits. He tried to make it Supper Club but it wasn’t going over very well. So he had a silent partner. There was very little said about him. His name was Ralph Paul. And they were really good friends. He was telling Ralph the club wasn’t doing well. So, Ralph told him that he would give him the money if he would turn it into a strip club, burlesque because Ralph had had a place out in Oak Cliff, the Sky Club and he had burlesque out there. So, Jack switched over to burlesque and that’s when he called me to come work for him, sight unseen. He hired me over the phone and I had just started out really. He was getting girls together. He didn’t like that we had an agent in Dallas. The guys that ran that talent agency didn’t like either one of them. So, he didn’t want to book anybody through them. So, he was trying to get girls on his own. Of course I wasn’t signed up with anybody. Another girl told him about me. I had worked with her in Fort Worth. I was pretty green. I was still working my daytime job and then on weekends, club dates. I worked those. But, I didn’t give up my day job. But, when I went to work for him I gave up my day job and worked for him seven days a week, three shows a night.
Q - All these years I’ve been reading Jack Ruby wanted to get “Feature Dancer’s” in his club, but the agents didn’t consider the Carousel Club a top-notch club. That’s not true is it?
A - No. That’s not true. When I first started dancing I was advised by another girl to not sign up with (agents) Pappy Dolson and Jack Cole. They wanted you to sign a two-year contract and you have to work where they want you to work. So, I didn’t get into that either. She told me to be a free agent because that was better and you have to pay them a commission. If they had given you a contract and somebody offer you a good deal you couldn’t take it unless they said okay. So, I didn’t sign up with them. I was kind of an outlaw.
Q - Not everyone wants to sign an exclusive contract for representation.
A - Right. I had kids. I didn’t want them to send me to Cucamonga. Pappy Dolson also had a nightclub in Oak Cliff across from Ralphs club. It was called Pappy’s Showland. Oak Cliff is a little area of Dallas, south of Dallas. It voted itself dry. So, that put all those businesses out of business when they couldn’t serve booze. So, they went on to other things. So, Pappy became an agent. Ralph opened up barbecue restaurant, but, he still like to dabble in show business. He was from New York originally. So, he gave him the money to keep the place open and we did very well. We were right across the street from the Adolphus Hotel. We were upstairs. There was a big parking lot between our club and The Colony Club which was also an upstairs strip, burlesque place. Then behind us on Jackson was the theater lounge. There was a lot of action downtown in Dallas during the 60s, there were a lot of Supper Clubs, a lot of entertainers. All the clubs had big showrooms and big-name entertainers. There was a lot of activity in the nighttime down there and conventions at Adolphus and in the Bunker Hotel and the Statler. So, we did a booming business.
Q - Did Jack Ruby pay his dancers good money?
A - For the times, yeah. The scale back then was $90 a week. We had a union, you know. We had to belong to A. G. V.A. American Guild of Vanity Artists. Of course Texas is a name union state. You didn’t really have to belong, but, if you went out of town somewhere where they enforced it, then if you didn’t have a union card you couldn’t work. I travel a lot so I belonged to the union. Jack paid me $110 of week but he gave me extra money, cash because I drove back and forth from Fort Worth to Dallas every night. He gave me extra money because I went to the Turnpike back then and I had to pay a $.50 toll going and coming back and gas. Gas wasn’t that expensive, but I got $125 he had me down for $110 but, I actually got $125.
Q - That was very kind, considerate and understanding of him to do that for you.
A - He was that kind of a person. He was extremely good to all his help.
Q - You were raised Catholic. When you were first asked to do a striptease you said no.
A - I did.
Q - Taking your clothes off in public is not a normal thing to do. So, how did you get yourself into this position were you became a stripper?
A - All my life I’ve been a real good dancer. I love to dance when I was growing up. So, when the twist came out and I used to go out a lot dancing. Almost all the clubs had bands back then. There were guys stationed at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth Texas. They had put a little band together and they would play in clubs on weekends. I started dancing with them and demonstrating the twist. Then they just wanted me to dance in leotards but not naked. They got booked into a club over here on land Caster Street and the guy wanted stripper. (Laughs) the guy that led the band said, oh, you can do it. I don’t think I can. I just can’t. Oh, yeah, you can, you’d be really good at it. So, he was pumping me up. Then I had a girlfriend that was in the fine arts department at TCU and she was all excited about it. She said, oh. I’ll make you a costume. Anyway, I let him talk me into it. Don’t think I wasn’t scared and nervous and embarrassed. But, I muddle through it. Everybody was applauding. Once you start getting that applause it kind of grabs hold of you. From there, a guy there by the name of Jimmy Levens who owned the Sky Liner Ballroom out on Jacksboro Highway and he had strippers on the weekends out there. He had a girl that would come from Dallas to work and she had told him if he finds somebody local that had talent that she’d be willing to train them. So, he approached me that night and wanted me to come out and dance for her and see what she thought. In the meantime we had an agent in Fort Worth,a lady. Some girl had left some costumes with her for sale because she had quit. She was quitting the business. So, she sold me those costumes for $25 or something. Real cheap. So, I went out to the Sky Liner. The girl that was my mentor was Sherry Lynn and she’d been in the business stripping for a long time. That was a huge place with the humongous dance floor. It was built back in the 30s and 40s. It had a roof that opened up in the summertime when you could dance under the stars. It was real fancy back in the 30s and 40s. So, I kept Saying I’m not going it do this. I can’t do this. So, they kind of pushed me on the dance floor and I just started dancing. She thought I had a lot of talent. She wanted to mentor me and help me and that’s really when I got into it. Then she worked for Jack when he went over to a strip club. She went and worked for him a week or two, in Dallas and she’s the one that told him to call me. So, I went over there with my two little costumes. If you see pictures of me back then I was pretty green. I didn’t have my glam on yet. As I progressed you can see where I was getting in drag as I call it with the false eyelashes and the big hair. I was just a regular person in the daytime. I bought a house when I was like 22 I think after I went to work for him. I had two kids. I belonged to the church. I belonged to the PTA. My neighbors didn’t know what I did. They knew I worked at night. They didn’t really know what I did until Jack shot Oswald and it was in all the papers and they all found out.
Q - Before you started dancing had you ever seen a stripper before?
A - No. I didn’t even know how to do a bump or a grind. Guy Parnell the guy with the band, came over and brought the record ‘Night Train’ . He came over to my apartment to show me how to do bumps and grinds. (Laughs). It was really funny because you got to have kind of swivel hips and I was moving my whole body to do a bump or a grind. It was something I’ve never thought of doing. My grandmother was a very devote, strict Catholic. So, I went home and told her about being the striptease dancer. I was worried about her reaction but, she looked at me and said well, it’s not against the law is it? I said, no. And, she said, well, do what you got to do. I was a single mother with two kids living with her. I was involved in a divorce and my husband wouldn’t leave me alone. He was harassing me. Back then men could get away with that.
Q - I noticed that many of today’s”feature dancer’s” are also adult film stars. When did that happen?
A - Something in the 70s changed. They started opening these little neighborhood bars and built a little stage, behind the bar or somewhere and the girls started dancing to canned music. The bartender or whoever was there introduced the girls. They still wore costumes back then. I had costumes I paid $300 for. I had beautiful costumes. The girls were still wearing costumes when this first started. Then it just kept getting more and more degraded until girls came out in what I call titty bars. For the last 30 years or longer nobody from that generation ever saw a real burlesque show. They would put money in their G Strings. It was like a stage show. It just kept getting more and more degraded. But now there’s a whole network of girls, young girls that have started back doing real burlesque. I thought it was going to be a lost art because it really is art to being sexy, but, not nasty and I was a comedian too. So, in my show I talked to the customers. I was funny. I did a half split and the drummer and I had a routine. When I wasn’t doing anything he wasn’t doing anything. The band wasn’t playing I did half split and then I looked down between my leg, and look up and say. Do you think that’s stretching a good thing too far? People would laugh. I just had a lot of one-liners. I’d bend over and look back between my legs and then turn around and say did you see the whole show? So, I did a little comedy and interacted with the audience and I did it tongue-in-cheek. I didn’t come out trying to be sexy, what I call, then sexy sexy. They might’ve got turned on a little bit but then I’d make them laugh and then forget about it.
Q - Were you ever a go-go girl?
A - No, I didn’t.
Q - You stop dancing when you turned 30. Did you make enough money so you no longer had to do it?
A - I did. I got married when I was 30. We bought 40 acres up in McKinney (Texas), which was a little country community north of Dallas. He (my husband) grew up there. So, we bought 40 acres up there with the house on it.
Q - Did you work then after dancing?
A - I knew how to do electrolysis. I rented space in a gym in a wealthy neighborhood and they did facials and electrolysis and eye tinting. You put those eyelashes on one at a time in the last 2 to 3 weeks. I had some really high class good customers but, my mother got sick in 71 and she hid it from me and when I finally found out there wasn’t anything they could do. She had cancer. Two months later she passed away. But, I had to close up my shop because I was an only child and stay with my mother at the hospital and take care of her. Then I sat around the house for a couple months. I also took a business course when I was young. This place in McKinney had an ad the paper and I went up there and applied, but hell, I hadn’t done office work in 20 years, but, he hired me. So, I worked at and auto store for a year or so. Then I been over to the credit bureau and I worked there. So, I wasn’t a dumb ass blonde. I had an education. I did very well. Then I got into a bankcard processing company in Dallas and that’s where I retired from. I was there 15 years. I was the executive Secretary for the vice president in charge of all the security. I retired when I was 54.
Q - At any of the jobs you had, did you ever tell anyone about your past?
A - No. I didn’t give interviews back then. When all that happened I just dropped down under the radar as much as I could, because I had little kids. I didn’t really want to be a part of that. A lot of them jumped on the bandwagon, giving interviews and trying to make a name for themselves. I never did that. All those years nobody ever knew that I was Tammi True. My cousin passed away in 2009 and I had a young man called me, a reporter that was going to do an interview about downtown Dallas in the 60s for D Magazine. It’s a real popular magazine. It’s about Texas and people around Dallas. So, one of the girls who had started in the real burlesque had given him my name. So, he called me and wanted to know if he could come out and talk. I said, come on out. I’ve got a whole box of memorabilia, ads from back in the 60s. You’re welcome to look through that. So, he did. Then he called and said the editor was really impressed with me and he’d rather the story be about me than just downtown in the 60s. So, we kind of re-did it. Once that magazine came I had people calling me that I hadn’t seen or heard from in 35 years. That’s when I got ‘hot ‘and the girls from The Ruby Review called and wanted me to come out and make an appearance with one of their shows. Then I got a call from Vegas. They wanted to put me in the burlesque Hall of Fame. It’s just something that’s been going and going now. I’ve done a guest speaker thing for The Sixth Floor Museum. I just got real ‘hot again. Up until then very few people knew who I was back in the 60s.
Q - People have said Lee Oswald came into The Carousel Club. Other people dispute that.
A - Our club was dark. The spotlight was on the stage. It was mood lit. You could see to walk around. Someone said they saw him sitting in the back in a corner booth. Well, you had to have been looking for him, to go back and find him in the corner booth. It was too dark. The door was way away from it, the booth. There’s just been a lot of junk written.
Q - Is it true that half of the Dallas police force frequented The Carousel Club?
A - Well, whoever was on the beat would come in every now and then and have a cup of coffee and stand back there and drink their coffee. But, the police liked Jack. Jack was a very law-abiding citizen. From what I heard some guy had got the better of a police officer one night and Jack got the guy off of him, the police officer and saved him. The police had a lot of respect for Jack. That’s why they are letting him come and go at will (at police headquarters). If you watch some of the footage from TV you’ll see him in there when the reporters are doing interviews. He was sitting in the back. They just let him walk in that day. Jack was not a bad man. He was not a mean man. He was very distraught that The President of the United States had been shot in Dallas and he reacted. He made the comment later to his brother that he didn’t mean to kill him. He just wanted to hurt him. So, he didn’t plan that. And he had his dogs in the car. His dogs were his babies. If he had had that planned, he would not have gone down there and parked the car and left his dogs in the car and walked over there to shoot Oswald.
Q – Were you working at the carousel club Thursday, November 21, 1963?
A - No. The weekend before I had closed out because I was going out of town. I had booked out of town for later. It was Thanksgiving and I had wanted to spend that time that week with my kids. So, the weekend before all of this happened, Saturday night was my last night. I was at home but, I had taken a friend to Dallas and also, Lil Lynn called me and she said she needed money. Of course Jack had closed the club immediately when all of that happened out of respect and he was upset with the other club owners because they hadn’t closed up. Anyway, she called Jack and he told her that he would give her the money. So, she called me to see if I would drive her over there to get the money if she bought me some gas. She and her husband kind of lived from week to week and I said okay so, I took her over there to the club, pulled in the parking garage and there wasn’t no on the door that said,” Closed Until Further Notice. So, she went into the parking garage where the phone was and called Jack and asked him about the money. He told her that he would just wire it to her the next day. I know he was real upset and was talking to the Rabbi a lot. So, I took her back to Fort Worth and the rest is history.
Q - Do you know about Secret Service agents drinking in The Carousel Club the night of November 21?
A - That was The Cellar club, The Cellar Club in Fort Worth. The President spent the night in Fort Worth. They said the Secret Service went to The Cellar Club in Fort Worth, which was an after-hours club. They didn’t sell booze. It was supposed to be like a beatnik house, but they were open all night. So, they did a big business. The guy that owned that was Pat Kinkwood.
Q - So if you couldn’t drink at The Cellar Club, these reports of Secret Service agents drinking would be wrong.
A - Yeah. It would be wrong.
Q - Did Jack Ruby have a quick temper?
A - He did, but not for no reason. Somebody really had to provoke him. If we had somebody in the club that had too much to drink and they were harassing the dancers or were harassing the comedian he would go over. He didn’t like any ethnic jokes because he didn’t want to offend anybody. He would tell the comedians that. But, he’d go over and tell him you need to calm down. He do that a couple of times maybe. But then, if they wouldn’t stop he would get really angry and he just go over there and jerk him out of their seat and push him out the door. There’s also been rumors that he pushed people down the stairs, but I’ve never saw him do that. He just pushed them out the door on that platform going down the stairs.
Q - Was he a funny guy? Would he ever crack jokes?
A - He was pretty serious. To me he was funny because he really didn’t know whether you were joking or not. He was pretty serious. If I’d go up and say, “Hi, Jack. How are you?” He would step back and look at me and say, “what do you want?” He told me one night. “I just see those wheels turning in your head”. Then he went down to New Orleans to see if he could find somebody to dance which that got all blown out of shape. He took somebody with him, some girl and he never wined and dined any women I can tell you that. Anyway, he hired this girl down there, Jade. He came back and he was all excited. He told me, she’s got money. She’s got a lot of class. Class was important (to him). She came in a Cadillac convertible and a fur coat. She had really pretty costumes. That night she opened. She had her own dressing room by the way too. All the rest of us dressed in the same room. She came out on stage and he manned than the spotlight when we were dancing. It was on the post out there in the club. She reached down and pulled her cheese string to the side. That’s what they call ’flashing’ which apparently they got away with in New Orleans, but, that could get you closed down in Texas. I had gone out to watch her act because Jack said, she’s got class. She’s got money. And, she did that and he threw the spotlight off real quick and said she can’t do that. I started laughing and said, you’re right Jack. She’s got a lot of class. (Laughs). But, I like to tease him because he didn’t know exactly how to take me. One night he and I got into it and I told him right quick that I would leave. I went back there and started packing up my stuff and then he asked somebody to have me come to the office and he apologized. I told him you can’t talk to me like that. He said, well, I’m sorry. So, he found out pretty quick that he had to respect me, that I wasn’t putting up with any of his bull crap. I wasn’t afraid of him at all. A lot of people from his reputation were a little bit scared of him, but, I wasn’t afraid of him at all. So, I had a really, really good relationship (with him).
Q - Did you ever have him talk about the Kennedys?
A - No. We used to go eat breakfast after work and of course I lived in the apartments and his friend George lived in those apartments. George loved to cook. So, we’d go over to George’s and eat dinner. I had never heard him discuss any kind of politics. I have no idea whether he was Democrat, Republican or what. But, I know he had a lot of respect for the office of President because to him that was the ultimate class act.
Q - Jack Ruby died in January 1967. Shortly after his death syndicated columnist Earl Wilson reported rumors are swirling that Jack did not die. He was put in the witness protection program. Did you hear about that? What you think about that?
A - Well, I think maybe he and Elvis are off on an island somewhere together. (Laughs). He’s not alive. Trust me. He’s not the kind to be in witness protection. He was energetic, almost like hyper. He was always flitting around doing something.
Q - Do you remember when he went on camera and said he wanted to be taken to Washington, DC to tell the true story or the whole story? I have no idea what he was talking about.
A - I don’t know what he was talking about either. (Laughs). I never went to see him. I always regretted that and never went to see him or communicated with him ever again. I felt so bad for him. I just didn’t want to be in the spotlight. Back then anybody who visited they reported on it. So, I always regretted that. But, when I did this film we went to Chicago and we found out where he was buried and we went to the cemetery and I got to say my final goodbye which was very emotional for me. Seeing where he was buried. He’s in a good place. He’s in a Jewish cemetery with his family, mother, father, sister and brothers. So, that helped me a lot to do that. I was extremely glad that they went to do that. I always regretted not seeing him or telling him goodbye. Of course I wouldn’t have told him goodbye if I’d have gone in there because I wouldn’t have known he was going to die. But, no, he’s gone.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved