by: Dan Ruby
In 1912, Walter Rabinowitz completed his education at DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City. He knew that his future lay in sales, not in the garment trade like his older brothers.
Walter had been raised in the traditional ways of his Russian Orthodox family in Jewish Harlem and later the Bronx. But he felt an urge to assimilate into the mainstream of American culture.
He was shaping a identity as a second-generation Jewish American.
Walter began his career working in the novelty shops on Broadway below 14th Street. It was near to the entertainment district where the best vaudeville acts played.
Uptown in the Bronx, where the Rabinowitz family had relocated on xx Street, the entertainment was less elaborate — a nickelodeon with live singers performing between the films.
That year, there was a fresh new act—called Ruby and Edwards—playing in the Bronx Nickelodeons.
Ruby and Edwards was a duet piano player and male vocalist performing hit songs while the lyrics projected on the screen. They were actually just two guys named Harry, including the piano player Harry Rubenstein.
Since Walter was a young man in the Bronx with a few nickels in his pocket from his sales job, it is not difficult to imagine him going out to the flicks. One can picture Walter taking notice of the intermission performer, the deboinairre piano player about his own age.
The Ruby half of Ruby and Edwards.
Harry Ruby's local celebrity grew, and by 1917 was on the cusp of a successful career in Tin Pan Alley. In March of that year, Joseph Rabinowitz, the patriarch of Walter's large family, passed away.
It was a sorrowful time for his widow Lena and the nine Rabinowitz children, but in some ways it was also a blessing. Joseph had been a force that bound the family to its Russian roots and traditions.
His death might allow the next generation to strike their own life course, including in their ways of fitting into the culture.
Before Joseph's death, it was not possible for Walter to contemplate the idea of shortening the Rabinowitz name. It would have seemed like his was renouncing his whole family history and values.
But after Joseph's death in March 1917, Walter began thinking about changing his name. In October, the U.S. is preparing to enter World War I and all men of age are required to register for the draft.
Walter registered in Boston, on his route as a traveling salesman. On the form, he gives his name, and signs the form, in a new way:
Walter Ruby Rabinowitz
I don't have a court record of Walter Rabinowitz officially changing his name to Ruby. What I do have are military records of his service in the War, which are all under the name of Walter Ruby.
Everything after that—census records, business documents, news clippings—are all about Walter Ruby.
The conclusion must be that he legally changed his name at the time of entering military service in 1918.
But why Ruby? I can't say with certainty that Harry Ruby was the the reason he chose the name, but it is clear that he knew all about him.
Ruby makes sense if you are shortening Rubenstein, like Harry was, or another name with those first three letters.
The famous choreographer Jerome Robbins changed his name from Rabinowitz, and I have found other cases of Rabinowitz name changes to Robbins.
Besides Harry Ruby, here are some other things Walter might have considered when he weighed his decision:
Ruby is not necessarily just a Jewish name, but it is of a piece with Jewish names for precious stones and metals: Diamond, Safire, Gold, Silver and others.
Walter admired luxury accoutrements and though he was no expert in jewels, he must have felt the association with this rich red, valuable mineral to be a positive.
Harry Ruby in Long Beach
Sandy recalls that Walter and Selma entertained a lot at the house on West Walnut Street, including many prominent people of the era, especially in show business. Among the famous songwriters who performed on the baby grand piano at the end of the living room were Harry Ruby and Harry Warren.
Harry Ruby career
Harry Ruby (1895-1974), our family namesake, wrote music for Hollywood films of the 1930’s and 40’s, including such Marx Brothers classics as Animal Crackers, Duck Soup and Horse Feathers, and is co-writer with his partner Bert Kalmar of such classic songs as Three Little Words and Who’s Sorry Now. Harry Ruby also made a cameo appearance as himself in the 1951 film Angels In the Outfield about angelshelping the woeful Pittsburgh Pirates to go from last place to win the pennant.
When and why did Walter Rabinowitz take on our abbreviated last name? It was 1917. Diamond and Sapphire were already taken.
to be continued...
Gemstones are not the main point, though we'll come back to that. Walter Rabinowitz was a young man, shaping his identity as a second-generation Jewish American,
He was raised in the traditional ways of his people in Jewish Harlem and later the Bronx. But he felt an urge to assimilate into the mainstream of American culture.
All about Harry Ruby, the songwriter whose career was just beginning in the Bronx when Walter Rabinowitz was a youth.
Harry Ruby was really Harry Rubinstein, and was not related in any way.
Walter got to know Harry Ruby during the 1920s, and there is a story of Harry entertaining at Walter Ruby's homie
Harry Ruby went on to great success as a hit songwriter and Hollywood composer. He is known for his association with the Marx Brothers.
And also about Uncle Jack (just kidding), who killed Lee Harvey Oswald. Truthfully, I have had to answer the question for all of my life.
Are you related to Jack Ruby?
No, as my father maintained from the moment our namesake killed Oswald. He was a Rubenstein and we were Rabinowitz.
Next generation of Rubys