Thursday, July 14, 2022

The Assassination and Mrs. Paine-Are Some of Ruth's Critics Prejudiced?

In his film The Assassination and Mrs. Paine, filmmaker Max Good touches on an issue related to the criticism of Ruth Paine:

There are those who feel that they can just tell that Ruth Paine is lying, it is written all over her face. Some say that she's too articulate, that she must be a CIA agent repeating rehearsed lines.

Good, Eric Hunley and Mark Groubert expanded on this theme in a conversation on the America's Untold Stories webcast (6:48):

Groubert: "Max, it's amazing how they all have the same tonality and manipulation of words, and that includes Max Holland, her [Priscilla Johnson McMillan] and Ruth Paine; they all take your question and slightly twist it around, which comes out in the film, that I notice how similar they are."

Good: "Yeah, they're all very intelligent people and sometimes almost lawyerly in the way they speak; you might notice some interesting phrasing some of these people use."

Groubert: "Well, I loved how you showed her over the years at every anniversary, Ruth Paine -- I mean, this chick should have won the Academy Award for acting, I think; everybody says she's a bad actor, or bad liar; I tend to disagree ..."

Hunley: "No!"

Groubert: "... she stuck to her notes for 50 years in every single show, under bright lights, and that part where you showed her saying the same thing over and over again was so powerful, Max, to see that, how this woman stuck to the script; she wasn't chosen by accident; I mean, this woman was skillful."

Good: "Yeah, well, there are two ways to look at that, just like everything in the film; you can say that she's given so many interviews and she has to tell this story over and over again so it becomes kind of a standard retelling that she gives - or you can say she's sticking to a script that somebody told her to stick to."

So, while Groubert says Ruth is "skillful," she is still a "bad liar" and a "chick" who is reciting from a script prepared by her presumably paternal masters. And Good, for his part, offers little resistance to this concept. Groubert's analysis is typical of what has been advanced by Ruth's critics over the years.

Few would doubt that Ruth is an intelligent, articulate and confident woman. She holds a Master's Degree and was a school psychologist and administrator. But those who promulgate the notion that an articulate woman must have been trained and controlled by the CIA may be revealing their own sexist prejudices. But such potential sexism is unfortunately just one of the objectionable preconceptions exhibited by Ruth's critics. Note that in addition to being prejudicial, the assertions are frequently incorrect.

According to a Facebook post, David Talbot, who interviewed the Paines for his book, The Devil's Chessboard, found Michael Paine to be "wooly-headed and passive" and an "eccentric." Compare that relatively benign assessment to the one afforded Ruth who Talbot thought was "more calculated -- arrogant in her own ignorance" and "devious" according to a second Facebook post.

In his book, Talbot calls Ruth a "busybody" who "felt she could set the world straight" and had the "obligation to do so." Talbot also alleges that Ruth somehow "helped lay waste to the Oswalds’ lives." Evidently, in Talbot's world Lee Oswald himself had nothing to do with the matter.

Another comment by Talbot brings up a second category of criticism often used against Ruth. That concerns her Quaker faith and its alleged relevance to the assassination controversy. "Good's unsettling line of questions, posed to Ruth near the end of his film," Talbot asserts, "shed a harsh light on this self-righteous Quaker woman."

While Good's questions were sometimes indeed unsettling, Talbot's "self-righteous Quaker woman" handled them with "impressive equanimity" according to one review of the film.

Similarly, Carol Hewett, a long-time Paine critic, speaking at a "November in Dallas" conference maintained that Ruth “professes to be a Quaker though her only known act of charity seems to have been taking in Marina. This woman did not donate clothes to the Goodwill, did not take in stray animals.”

But Hewett's comments reveal either extraordinary ignorance of Ruth Paine's charity work or willful deceit. Ruth made nine separate trips to Nicaragua as a part of the ProNica charity group whose humanitarian work included providing water, raising poultry and establishing medical clinics for women.

Perhaps the most frequent prejudicial statements made about Ruth concern unfounded accusations regarding her sexual orientation. The gold standard among these comes from AJ Weberman, author of Coup d'etat in America:

"Ruth Paine was nine years older than Marina Oswald and had never conducted a similar living arrangement with a woman before. Evidence presented in later information nodules indicated that Marina Oswald was a sexually active individual. She could have engaged in homosexual activities with Ruth Paine. Ruth Paine looked very "butch" around this time and had separated from her husband, perhaps for sexual reasons. She never remarried."

Talbot appears in this category too, noting in his book that "To some, [not Talbot himself of course] it seemed that Ruth was also romantically infatuated with her exotic houseguest, who exuded a kind of seductive distress."

More relevant to the discussion of Max Good's film are comments made by one of Good's "featured" experts James DiEugenio. At John Simkin's Education Forum DiEugenio made the point that Ruth had asked Marina Oswald to move in with her only three weeks after meeting her. DiEugenio went on to say that although he had met filmmaker/playwright David Mamet and had been very taken with him, he never would have thought of asking him to move in with him.

But DiEugenio is making an absurd comparison. This was the early sixties before the advent of the Internet and support groups and both Ruth and Marina were separated from their husbands with young children to care for. The arrangement between the women was mutually beneficial. Marina got free room and board while Ruth received Marina's help with the Russian language. Additionally, Marina gained the security of being sheltered from Lee Harvey Oswald's verifiable abusive behavior.

Both Ruth and Marina have denied a lesbian relationship. Thomas Mallon, author of Mrs. Paine's Garage, wrote "To the suggestion that she and Marina had a lesbian attachment, Ruth today replies, with a laugh, 'No, that hadn't occurred to me!'" Similarly, Marina told People magazine “They called me lesbian, because I had a friendship with Ruth Paine, who isn't that way at all. People are quick to apply names."

In a 2014 article for the Philadelphia Gay News, Tim Cwiek undoubtedly expressed the prevailing view among the LGBT community when he wrote "... speculation about an LGBT connection to his assassination should be put to rest once and for all."

The same could be said for the sexism and religious bigotry exhibited by some of Ruth's critics.


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