B.B. Ruffin, La Jolla's most connected leftist, departs

Goodbye radical chic

My aunt was a friend of D.H. Lawrence and his wife, Frieda. They talked my father into going there instead of Paris. We got in an ol’ Chevy and drove to La Jolla first. We lived on the corner of Hillside and Soledad for $25 a month.
  • My aunt was a friend of D.H. Lawrence and his wife, Frieda. They talked my father into going there instead of Paris. We got in an ol’ Chevy and drove to La Jolla first. We lived on the corner of Hillside and Soledad for $25 a month.

The first time I saw B.B. (BeBe) was 1967; she was in a white corduroy jockey suit and cap. She reminded me of a 90-pound white rat on speed. Later at an after-the-play party for Theatre Five in Pacific Beach, Bob Glaudini; the director, threw her over his shoulder and carried her from the theatre screaming.

“You’re all fascists, you live off the rich.” I looked to check the response of her husband, San Diego Superior Court Judge Roger S. Ruffin...there was none. A few years ago, Warhol put her in his film he shot on the beach at La Jolla. She appeared in a black Rudy Gernreich bathing suit with top, but she was the first American woman I had ever seen who didn’t shave. The film was not released but B.B. was.

Recently I interviewed her as she sat among the Bekins boxes as she prepared to evacuate her family from San Diego.

Winifred: B.B., whenever I talk about B.B. everyone wants to know who you are?

B.B.: I’m no one. That’s what is so important. I’m no one. (B.B. grew up in Taos surrounded by shepherds, artists, writers, her neighbor-painter Georgia O’Keefe and with occasional visits from Tennessee Williams.)

W: What was Taos like?

B.B.: Eating organic food, being the only anglo among Mexicans or Spanish Americans. No one wanted to sit next to me on the bus. They called me a white-assed gringa bitch.

W: You went there because your father was a writer.

B.B.: It was cheap. My aunt was a friend of D.H. Lawrence and his wife, Frieda. They talked my father into going there instead of Paris. We got in an ol’ Chevy and drove to La Jolla first. We lived on the corner of Hillside and Soledad for $25 a month, four bedrooms. There were a lot of artists and writers in La Jolla and then we went to Taos to live on D.H. Lawrence’s ranch.

W: How did you become a stunt girl in the movies?

B.B.: Everything in Taos was done on horses. They were doing a Jimmy Stewart movie in Santa Fe so I did that movie and then went to L.A. and worked for Paramount for two years.

W: We heard you were the first woman to drive a 20 mule team.

B.B.: Yes, but that was two or three husbands later. They don’t allow women in the Packer’s Association. I just started doing it; only ten mules.

I’d just pack them up and take them into the mountains.

W: What about this rumor that you had five husbands?

B.B.: Very true, very true. I didn’t marry Michael’s father (Michael was B.B.’s first son, now an actor in New York) because Anglos weren’t allowed to marry Mexicans. We ran away and lived in a railroad car in Nebraska. I thought he should go back to his people so he did. Then I thought that I should marry for money, it lasted 3 days, then Jerry six months, then Edday a teacher, then Winsett, an artist, then Roger Ruffin, the judge.

W: You almost were Jean Seberg, right?

B.B.: I was a stunt girl and script girl. You made about $150 a day of which you got about $30. So if you were smart, you whored on the side; but I wasn’t very smart. My agent got me a screen test and they said. “We’ll have a big-boned, horsey Joan of Arc. ”It was for $15,000 but I ran away. In another movie with Pier Angeli, I fell of my horse into the camera and knocked out all my front teeth. (B.B. has great front teeth.) So I sold my horse and went to San Francisco and hung around Ferlinghetti and those guys, I was 24. I had a perfectly sane life until I was dropped off in front of the Rexall in La Jolla with a box and $60. Perfectly sane and perfectly anonymous, until I married Roger.

W: I thought it was the other way around. How did he get to be known as Ruffin in the Red?

B.B.: When I met him he was isolated, surrounded by real estate men and elevated salesman. You see, you don’t have to do much in San Diego to get known. All he did was free a few Black Panthers, who wouldn’t steal an apple pie from their mothers. As soon as the movement ended they started taking drugs, not heroin but pills they get from their family doctors. He O.R.’d some students: just a few gestures that any sane person would make. That is why I am leaving here. Things to get magnified. All you have to do is nothing and you open San Diego Magazine ... Winsett, B.B., Bright, B.B., Dog or whatever. All they had was Bronowski, Theatre Five and me. First you go social and they invite you to the Jewell Ball, then you go in the theatre and you get rave reviews, then you go into Radical Chic and you are known as Ruffin the Red and B.B. the Commie Marxist.

W: That’s because you defended Herbert Marcuse in the Union.

B.B.: That’s an example. All over the world Marcuse is known for his intelligence. Only here is he known as a radical. He said don’t organize; if you organize, they can get you.

W: The American Legion at the time offered to pay his salary if he wouldn’t teach.

B.B.: They got him fired. Typical San Diego, the only thing that was happening in the Philosophy Department ...even his friends didn’t come to his rescue. If U.C.S.D. had been anything but a country club campus, they would have resigned in fury.

W: What do you think of La Jolla?

B.B.: This is a youth oriented town. Everything is youthful, beautiful and blond. It’s Fascist. Fascism is very romantic and elegant. The uniforms, the young heutenant, tah tah. Mick Jagger, the costume. Communism is dull blue suit. Mao Tse Tung. The Wall Street Journal said that in San Diego you have the ocean on one side, the mountains on the other and lethargy in the middle. ...One thing they do have here is good heroin. People from N.Y. used to the weak stuff come here and overdose.

W: You went from radicalism to working for Jack Walsh, explain yourself.

B.B.: Radicalism meant you didn’t want to go to war, so when they got the voluntary army you went back to the pantry raids. That’s what radicalism means to me. I put a whole good damn bunch of money and ten years of my life into this left wing and where is it? Bastards. They’re buying $80,000 houses.

W: So what did you do in Walsh’s office?

B.B.: Jack Walsh called and I had a job.

W: Like getting a part in a play.

B.B.: Exactly, I got in there and it was a circus. Jack Walsh works harder than any politician in San Diego, a 15 hour day. Bernstein (his aide) had this terrific energy. They were like two children playing with ideas: but they were very serious. Right off I did something wrong. I hit this girl over the head with a purse. She was bragging about how many guys she made it with at Wounded Knee. I figured that I could remain anonymous then I could get something done. The first week I kept hearing. “She’s a commie, she’s married to a pinko.”But that stopped when they got more socialists in the government.

W: They did?

B.B.: Jack’s not a socialist. He is a real apple pie man. Wife and seven children. The socialists working downtown don’t hide it: they just don’t talk about it.

W: What about this Criminal Justice thing?

B.B.: That has gone nowhere. You work your ass off for a year and nothing. They wanted to build a large juvenile jail, 160 beds. So we thought, let’s not. Sheriffs scream the jails are overcrowded. There is not a sheriff in the U.S. that doesn’t scream that Jail to a sheriff is like a woman’s house. He likes it to be big enough to fit everyone with extra guest rooms. That is his home, his empire, and they complain and we keep building them and they keep filling them. You are being ripped off more in this town by the law and order people than by the burglars. More taxes to support law enforcement.

W: What about S.W.A.T (Special Weapons Attack Team)?

B.B.: I don’t know anything about S.W.A.T. I didn’t go after S.W.A.T. because I felt it was dangerous to my health. Larry Remer (former editor of the Door, now working for Tom Hayden) went after S.W.A.T. and got fired, no actually got neutralized. S.W.A.T. is America’s answer to no war. They can’t fight overseas so now they are going to fight in the street. They are going to fight their own people. They look like soldiers, they have their little army boots and khakis, they use M-14 rifles and they go bang, bang in the community. They are trained by Green Berets.

W: In Watts now ten years after, a guy said that the next time they think about going out trashing, S.W.A.T, will be there to rub them out. No more guys running down the streets with t.v.’s on their shoulders singing “The revolution will be televised. ”You swat insects not people.

B.B.: The next revolution: there will be none. This country is not prepared to die for its cause. It is prepared to kill but not to die. Kent State is an example. The minute they killed four students, the whites gave up. The minute they stopped drafting them, they gave up. All the anti-war people were pacifists. I don’t want to be a pacifist. I was against the war: but I might not be against the next one. I may be the leader, if one doesn’t hurry up and come along. I’ll take it into my own hands. Revolution doesn’t have to be with guns. They had the Industrial Revolution.

W: And the Sexual Revolution. What about politics with guys like Hayden and Harris running?

B.B.: I like Tom Hayden and support him because he is against Tunney. I like David Harris because he is polite. Tom Hayden has to go out and raise five hundred thousand dollars. It is embarrassing, humiliating and theatrical. I would rather join a circus. I want socialism; instead of my taxes going for these large freeways...I want free medical care so that when I get a toothache I don’t panic. Everyone should have free medicine and free lawyers. This isn’t a democracy. This is capitalism. I don’t want power to the people. The people gave me Nixon Power to the people I believe in ...all 20 of them.

W: Any comments on the women’s movement?

B.B.: I grew up surrounded by strong women, Frieda Lawrence, Georgia O’Keefe and Spanish women. There are strong black women in the movement. They work their asses off because there is no man in the family. In Taos, the men went out and herded sheep and worked the land. They only came home a couple times a year. The women worked in their gardens growing food; they built their houses ...there was no such thing as alimony and child support.

That is luxury of the middle class. It is not luxury of the women who worked as secretaries at Walsh’s office. They have two and three kids and no child support. Maybe men have it better, they don’t have to have babies and suckle children but I don’t know how you stop having your period or get rid of your boobs. Like a peacock having feathers I’m not going to pull anything out or go against what little nature there is left. I had a child because I felt like it. It is much harder taking care o a child, married to a lawyer with a maid and gardener than it was when I raised Michael and was making 90 cents an hour. Women should have their children and move in with other women and have their own thing. The husbands are just to give the children. Look at cats, if the male comes near her she’ll fight him to the death.

W: But these women have no way to support themselves.

B.B.: In a peasant society a woman can go out and work an acre garden. If you think that’s hard; it’s not.

W: What about the women’s jail here in San Diego?

B.B.: All the N.O.W. women were for the new jail because they want their women in a nice place. What they don’t realize is that they don’t need to be there at all. They want beautiful jails with pink and yellow rooms with big keys that lock them in. I don’t understand that.

W: What about the F.B.I report on San Diego Regional Bookings?

B.B.: It shows that there were more than 15,000 bookings for driving under the influence, over 6,000 for possession, 3,000 burglary and criminal contempt.

It shows that a lot of people are put away for really unimportant things. There’s lot of crime in La Jolla but it is not recorded. It’s done by rich kids. Everyone wants to bring up their kids in La Jolla right in the middle of all these rich rip-off artists. (She names several) Try and tell your kid not to steal in a town where C. Arnholt Smith is a hero. I sure wish I could rip off what he ripped off and get a $100 fine a month for life. What a payback. I have to pay more than that on my loan. No interest and he ripped off $27 million.

W: He should at least get an honorary Ph.D. in Capitalism.

B.B.: If they hadn’t caught him, he would have gone down as a rich, clever successful, San Diego businessman.

W: Do you think that gossip is the news of the future?

B.B.: I think we’have proved that. A year before Newsweek’s story you knew there was something mysterious going on with, what’s his name? Leggett up there at the Gagosian mansion. (Charles Leggett surrendered on Halloween to charges of grand theft.) And the people at the San Diego Street Journal were investigating the Smith-Nixon daisy chain years before Watergate happened. And for that they were destroyed, run out of town with a price on their heads. How come you stay here?

W: No where to run to. But the Street Journal people all went up north and continued investigating ...organized crime, assassination conspiracies and even the sorcery conspiracy. See, the gossip here has always been that the mafia was here. This goes back to the 50’s...then everyone said they were at La Costa. So Lowell Bergman (ex-Street Journal writer) writes that article for Penthouse and now La Costa is suing him for something like a billion dollars. Those ex-graduate students really know how to do research. What do you intend to do in San Francisco?

B.B.: Write...I figure it takes ten years to get published. And in the meantime I intend to make San Francisco an interesting place for myself.

A lot of people will miss B.B. and Roger Ruffin (now an attorney in San Francisco) because they really tried to practice what they preached. B.B. was criticized for living in a big house in La Jolla but she was quick to point out that it wasn’t her fault that a house that had cost $30,000 tripled its value in eight years. They gave their time, money and energy freely to causes they believed in. Their home was used over and over for fundraisers including anti-war, minorities, the non-violent, not so non-violent, artist’s shows, political campaigns and various other groups B.B. had barely heard of. Sometimes I would come to her house and wade through all kinds of people, finding her in the back of the house, “Who are all those people out there?” She would respond, “I don’t know, they needed a place. ”At one large fundraiser B.B. was at the door and the admission was $5. I handed her the five and she gave me a ten. Through her I met Herbert Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsburg, David Harris, Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, Andy Warhol, Viva, Eldridge Cleaver, Angela Davis, and all the scientists and politicians you could stand but best of all her family. B.B. made San Diego interesting for herself and a lot of others.

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