Can You Spell "Sellout"?
By Tom Fitzpatrick
Jerry Rubin died last week. He was 56. Once a famous Vietnam War protester, Rubin was struck by a car near his affluent Los Angeles home and never regained consciousness. They said he was jaywalking.
I remember him as a young man. With his beard and outrageous fright wig of hair, Rubin looked like a child's version of a Barbary Coast pirate. He was much too short, however, to look like the real thing.
I saw him do lots of zany and memorable things, but what I remember most was driving his first wife, Nancy, to visit him in the Cook County Jail.
Something Nancy told me made me realize there was possibly more to Rubin than the overly theatrical defendant who often seemed starved for attention. She told me how they had first met while fellow students at the University of California at Berkeley.
"Jerry was really into the antiwar effort," she said. "This was before the Yippies and Haight-Ashbury. He had a small mustache and twinkly eyes then, and he looked like a classic anarchist bomber. He was always laughing, and I fell in love with him immediately.
"I wouldn't want him any other way. To me he's always been very brave and beautiful. They talk about how Jerry's going to become rich because he's writing a book about the movement, but I know he's going to do things with his money to help people. I really do."
Eventually, Jerry Rubin did become quite wealthy. Several years before his death, he told a reporter from Forbes magazine that he was making $60,000 a month distributing a health drink named Wow.
He had tried EST, meditation, modern dance, massage, acupuncture and hypnotism. He had worked for a Wall Street firm and worn suits to work.
But by this time, Nancy was long gone from Rubin's side. He had set his revolutionary plans aside long enough to marry a former New York debutante, and they lived in what was described as a "posh" apartment on New York's upper east side.
Rubin insisted that despite his affluent lifestyle, he hadn't forsaken his radical values. Few believed him.
But fellow Chicago Seven defendant Tom Hayden did. Hayden understood. He had married the millionaire actress Jane Fonda, and her money had supplied the campaign funds that elected him to a seat in the California Senate.
Rubin and Abbie Hoffman gained fame by disrupting the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968, as well as their subsequent federal trial.
Now both leaders of the Yippie movement are gone. Hoffman got caught up in drugs and went underground to avoid a prison term. He committed suicide a few years ago.
My feelings about them are mixed. It's not that I wasn't around them long enough to make a judgment. For five months, I covered their trial, as well as the events they took part in outside the courtroom.
They made me laugh. Sometimes, the predicaments they got themselves into almost brought me to the edge of tears. They were inspired performers and masterful manipulators. In those days, Rubin and Hoffman were new to the scene, so their performances were fresh.
They did their comedic best to disrupt the courtroom and turn the trial into something that resembled a series of early Saturday Night Live skits. Most of the time, they succeeded.
One day they appeared in court wearing black judges' robes. Later, during the lunchtime recess, they burned the robes in the street in front of the courthouse.
They refused to be cowed by federal marshals when told to sit down or to be quiet. They were not only funny but courageous.
Rubin and Hoffman were so entertaining that the editor of our newspaper ruled that their names were not to appear again until further notice. He believed the trial coverage was turning into a Jerry and Abbie show. Looking back on it, he was probably right. But, of course, the ban couldn't remain in force for long.
They succeeded almost every day in aggravating the trial judge, Julius J. Hoffman, who was then 74 years old and renowned for his short fuse and his propensity to lash out at defendants in his courtroom.
When the trial testimony concluded, Judge Hoffman took obvious delight in sentencing Rubin and Hoffman and all of the defendants to long jail terms for their acts of contempt.
All the verdicts were later overturned on appeal, and a higher court ruled that Judge Hoffman's behavior was a contributing cause to the courtroom disruption.
I remember Rubin defiantly challenging the judge after being sentenced for contempt, risking still-longer incarceration.
"I want to explain the references I have made on a number of occasions to the Gestapo, fascism and Hitler," he said. "Everything that happened in Nazi Germany was legal. It happened in courtrooms, just like this.
"It was done by judges who wore robes and who quoted the law and said, 'This is the law. Respect it.' The moment you walked into the courtroom, we got the message that we were going to jail. I think it's interesting that even while the jury is out, before it reaches a verdict, you are sending us to jail. So who has respect for the law?"
Judge Hoffman pointed out, icily, that Rubin's contemptuous conduct had started at the beginning of the trial and lasted until his sentencing.
Rubin interrupted by shouting: "And tomorrow and the next day until I am dead."
As Rubin was being led out a side door to jail, he turned to Judge Hoffman and shouted in a loud voice that echoed around the courtroom: "Sadist!"
I never gave a thought to how Jerry Rubin's life might evolve as he grew older. I was naive. I never expected him to change.
He would spend his life striding through the rear doors of a federal courtroom with Abbie Hoffman and both would be dressed in judges' robes to show their contempt and their valor.
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They would be caught in a freeze frame--still alive with their guns blazing--like Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Like the Bob Dylan song, they would stay forever young, always battling on the side of the underdog.
But life's not like that. Everything changes. And not always for the better.