After Jack Ruby made a huge splash by killing Lee Harvey Oswald on live television, Joyce Gordon became a ripple.
Gordon, who was 20, worked as a stripper at Ruby's Carousel Club on Commerce Street in downtown Dallas. Now, at 66, she is thought to be the last living woman who danced at Ruby's club during that period in November 1963.
"I did what I did," she said last week. "No sense regretting what you've done. I had no education and I had to have a way to support my child, and that was the way I did it."
This month marks the 46th anniversary of one of the most dramatic episodes in American history. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, Oswald was arrested for his murder, and Ruby shot and killed him on Nov. 24.
Entrepreneurs and artists are still paying homage to the characters who played major and minor roles in the massive investigations of Oswald and Ruby. Gordon, a green-eyed redhead who went by the stage name Joy Dale, became one of those characters.
Gordon has appeared in a few assassination documentaries over the years but, for the most part, has kept a low profile. Like most people, she has lived in modest obscurity.
Randy Redmond, a colorful Dallas businessman, is putting a little gloss on her golden years. He is immortalizing Gordon, Ruby and two other Carousel Club strippers on a mural in back of his building at 2616 Commerce in Deep Ellum. Redmond rents the building for parties, and the mural adorns the entrance to a faux speakeasy in the alley.
Gordon, her youth restored with waterproof paint, is portrayed sitting on the hood of a police car with the Dallas skyline in the background.
"My daughters think it's kinda cool," she said.
Gordon was born in Sulphur Springs in 1943 and was raised in Oak Cliff. She dropped out of high school and got married at 15. By age 17, divorced with a baby girl, she migrated to Houston and began waitressing at a neighborhood bar. Dancers from a strip club across the street came in for drinks and encouraged her to participate in an amateur night.
"It scared the livin' hell outta me, but I did it. I had to have a shot of VO [whiskey] before I went out on stage," she recalled.
And so was born the 12-year career of stripper Joy Dale.
In the early '60s, strip joints were a far cry from the so-called gentleman's clubs of today, where the dancers usually appear topless and perform "lap dances" for tips. When you think of Joy Dale, think of a bouffant hairdo, ankle-length black gown and long black gloves a la Gypsy Rose Lee.
The music was provided by a live band. And the show often included comedians or ventriloquists or singers. All of them, including the dancers, belonged to a union of entertainment workers. The Carousel represented the threadbare last gasp of vaudeville burlesque.
Gordon made $150 a week, which was pretty good money back then. She and her fellow performers of that era - Little Lynn, Jada, Chris Colt, Bubbles Cash, Tammi True, Kathy Kay - ended their acts with bare breasts, but the law required strategic places to be covered with adhesive "pasties," often adorned with glittering sequins and tassels. Bikini-style pants usually covered their bottoms. Only a few girls were daring enough to wear G-strings, Gordon said.
"These girls today go down to nothin'," she said.
Customers did not stick dollar bills in G-strings, and the girls did not hang upside down from a pole, she said.
"There was none of that. The stage was up high or there was a ring around it where they could not reach you, and you were not allowed to accept tips from them," Gordon said.
"If someone asked you to have a drink with him, you could either do it or not."
Gordon and her 3-year-old daughter, Cynthia, were riding a city bus to a doctor's appointment at Parkland Memorial Hospital on Nov. 22, 1963. Several weeks earlier, Cynthia had almost lost an eye in a freak accident. She needed a checkup.
"We got to the corner of Houston and Commerce [near Dealey Plaza] and a motorcycle policeman stopped the bus and got on and looked around," Gordon recalled. "Word of what happened had gotten out and people were screaming and crying."
By the time the bus arrived at Parkland, Gordon said, doctors had pronounced President Kennedy dead. After the eye appointment, she and Cynthia took the bus to the Carousel Club, a second-floor walkup across from the Adolphus Hotel.
It would be the last time she ever spoke to Jack Ruby.
"We got there and he was hysterical," she said. "He was crying and hollering and saying he would shoot the son of a bitch who did it. I told the FBI that, too."
When she and Cynthia got on the bus to go home, Ruby was getting his shoes shined, tears rolling down his cheeks as he stroked his pet dachshund, Sheba. The president had been dead about three hours.
Two days later, on Sunday morning, Ruby made history when police tried to move Oswald from the police station's lockup to the county jail. He parked near the police station, locked Sheba in the car and joined the chaotic crowd of reporters chronicling the transfer. Then, he stepped forward with a Colt .38 snub-nose and killed Oswald on live television.
Gordon and her boyfriend were at home in Oak Cliff when they heard the news on the radio. She went crazy, she said.
"Tommy had to slap me to keep me from going more hysterical," she said.
Gordon, who was pregnant with her second daughter, danced for another month at the Carousel Club. Ruby was in jail for killing Oswald. His trusty bartender was left to run the club. Ruby was convicted of murder and faced life in prison. He died of cancer in 1967.
Ruby was a nice guy, Gordon recalled. Sure, once in a while he might beat up a customer who needed it, but he was considerate, too. Every night after the Carousel closed, he would send a pot of coffee out to the parking lot attendant who worked the graveyard shift, Gordon said.
Ruby was going to let her work as a hostess at the club during her pregnancy and said he would buy her some flashy maternity clothes.
"I guess I saw too much of the good side of Jack," she said.
To this day, some conspiracy theorists believe the Mafia and the CIA conspired to kill Kennedy and that they used Oswald as a patsy. Some believe Ruby was in the Mafia and that his bosses ordered him to shoot Oswald to cover up their involvement in the assassination.
Gordon doesn't buy those theories. Ruby was just an eccentric who lost his head, a busybody who wanted to be at the center of things in Dallas, she said.
"He reminded me of a little old lady in a small town who wanted to know everything going on," she said. "If there was a Mafia in Dallas, I didn't know about it."
Redmond, the building owner who commissioned the mural, met Gordon years ago and became fascinated with her story and her knowledge of Ruby.
"Nobody ever recognized him, and he's a part of Dallas history," Redmond said.
Gordon danced professionally for another seven or eight years after the assassination. She traveled the strip club circuit and saw the country.
"I wouldn't have gotten to do that if I hadn't been a dancer," she said.
After her career as an entertainer ended, she turned to bartending. She worked some joints on Harry Hines in Dallas and then went upscale, tending bar at the Top O' the Cliff Club on the penthouse level of the Bank Tower at Oak Cliff.
"I never talked about being a dancer and Jack and all of that when I worked there," she said.
Gordon won't reveal how many times she's been married. Right now, she lives in a mobile home outside Kaufman with "cats, two dogs and a husband." She's been married to Ted Gordon for 22 years. He's a retired Navy veteran and she works one day a week as bookkeeper at a Deep Ellum locksmith shop.
Gordon spends her time taking care of Ted, a cancer survivor. He walks with the help of a walker. She's had both knees replaced and uses a cane. But their infirmities don't stop them from playing shuffleboard and drinking Miller Lite every Friday night down at the VFW hall.
Gordon also is a seamstress. She makes cloth dolls and enters them in the arts and crafts competition at the State Fair of Texas.
"I enter every year and I win something every year," she said.
If you stop by the locksmith shop in Deep Ellum, you can buy one of her dolls.
This is the same woman who proudly, without hesitation, shows a visitor an old publicity photo of herself wearing an alluring smile and little else.
But she doesn't have as many mementos as one might expect. One of those "jealous husbands" tore up a bunch of that stuff years ago, she said.
"He's the one I don't count because I got it annulled. He was still married to somebody else when he married me," Gordon said.
"Once I was through with 'em, I was through."