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photoRoger Ruffin

May 18, 1927 – Feb 7, 2010

I first met Roger Ruffin at LAX, where he’d flown in to do a part in my 1976 Angel City.  I’d taken the suggestion of Bob Glaudini, who knew him from San Diego theater work, though Roger had moved to San Francisco.  I just took it on faith that Bob knew what he was talking about.  On the drive down to San Onofre, near Nixon’s hang-out in San Clemente. Roger read the text he was to do – a five minute PR spiel for a fictional Rexxon corporation.   After an hour we got to the beach, got the camera and recorder out, and doing a short dry-run of it, we shot.  Owing to a recent car rear-end incident I wasn’t doing camera, but rather Robert Schoenhut did that.  I handled the mike and Nagra.  I think we only did one take, with Roger fumbling a tiny bit with the text, but covering and making it all seem natural.  In the film he comes out perfectly as a friendly corporate con-man selling snake oil.  He was perfect.  He did it for free, and covered his airfare down from San Francisco.  Later on in the same shoot, on a Sunday morning in Culver City, dressed in his lawyer’s suit he managed to send 4 cop cars – who’d stopped owing to the huge crane I’d rented for the closing shot of the film – and send them on their way.  A 5th gave me a ticket for shooting without a permit, though the next day I called the office and told them I was just doing a home-movie and they tore it up.

Roger in Angel City

In 1982 I was in San Francisco, thwarted from making a film I’d planned, and in a week thought up Slow Moves, which was 95% shot in 3 and a half days.  I recruited Roger again, along with his wife Bebe, and his law-firm partner.  Visiting him a few days before the shoot I explained to him vaguely what I wanted to do.   It was early evening after he’d gotten home and he seemed already a bit juiced up on whiskey, a somewhat common state for him.  I recall on leaving wondering if he’d really heard what I’d told him, but when Saturday morning came he showed up at the shooting site and delivered a wonderfully droll comic scene, all in a rush, one take for each shot.  I never doubted him after that.

Slow Moves

A few years later, again in San Francisco, I asked Roger to play in another film, as an architect.  He of course said yes, and pretty much the same story, telling what I could (not much as usual in my case) about his character, him sauced, and then going to shoot and Roger doing an improvisation on the money.  It was as if I could do now wrong through him.

Rembrandt Laughing, Roger and Barbara Hammes

And a few years later I asked him to play in All the Vermeers in New York, for actual pay though I don’t recall if he actually took it.  He flew out to NYC, stayed in the Chelsea hotel, and had a great time.  And once again, this time playing a wealthy father dealing with his spoiled daughter, he delivered in spades.

Roger in All the Vermeers in New York

After Vermeers I saw Roger a few more times at his home in San Francisco, and then I moved for ten years to Europe.  Once he retired he moved with Bebe to Taos and then Costa Rica, and I lost touch.   I consider myself lucky and graced to have known him and to have worked with him.  A wonderful man and a magical actor.

Roger Ruffin; liberal judge also appeared in films

By Blanca Gonzalez, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

Roger Ruffin may have been the only San Diego Superior Court judge to have acted in movies, socialized with Andy Warhol and defended Marxist scholar Herbert Marcuse against local critics.

As a liberal judge in a conservative town during a tumultuous era, he was also a fierce defender of civil rights and spoke out against excessive bail. He was one of the youngest judges appointed to the Municipal Court bench when then-Gov. Edmund G. Brown named him in 1961.

Mr. Ruffin, a native San Diegan, was 34 when he became a judge. He was appointed to the Superior Court bench four years later but returned to private practice in 1971.

Not only a supporter of the arts, he later appeared in a few art-house films including Jon Jost’s “Angel City” and “All the Vermeers in New York.”

Mr. Ruffin died of Alzheimer’s disease Feb. 7 in San Diego. He was 82.

Friends and colleagues said Mr. Ruffin was brilliant, fair and progressive.

Mr. Ruffin was on the bench when Lowell Bergman was involved with the underground San Diego Street Journal in 1969 and had frequent run-ins with police, who regularly arrested the paper’s street vendors and staff members. Bergman, who went on to become an award-winning investigative journalist, said Mr. Ruffin became a defender and a friend.

“He was my get-out-of-jail-free card. He arranged for us to get ROR (release on own recognizance),” Bergman said. “He would go out of his way to mitigate harassment of people like us.”

Although risky for his career, Mr. Ruffin would often speak out for dissidents and minorities and appeared publicly with Marcuse, a leftist philosophy professor at the University of California San Diego who was the target of conservative critics calling for his dismissal. “Roger stood up and was willing to take a risk for his beliefs,” Bergman said.

Mr. Ruffin was recognized by his peers as a brilliant legal scholar, and in 1968 he was named to the faculty of the California College of Trial Judges. He also lectured on history and law at UCSD.

“He was part of the intelligentsia of San Diego,” longtime friend Richard Farson said. “A lot of people knew him as a teacher. He was smart, he had a good sense of humor and he was crazy about books.”

Friends said Mr. Ruffin’s second wife, BeBe, introduced him to an artsy, bohemian culture.

“Roger was the quieter personality and BeBe was the social one,” said Bob Glaudini, playwright and founder of Theater Five on Turquoise Street. “He was a delightful personality … very thoughtful; he loved to debate issues. He was open-minded and interested in the arts.”

Glaudini cast Mr. Ruffin in a Harold Pinter play at the theater. “He took to it like a duck to water,” the playwright said.

Parties at the Ruffins’ La Jolla home often attracted a diverse and lively group. According to friends, guests may have included Marcuse, Allen Ginsberg, Warhol, Jane Fonda and philanthropist Ernest Mandeville.

Roger S. Ruffin was born May 18, 1927, to Eula May and Roger Ruffin. He graduated from San Diego High School and served in the Army. He graduated with honors from what was then San Diego State College and earned his law degree from Stanford Law School in 1953.

He married Carol Haines in 1954. They had two daughters and divorced after 11 years of marriage. He married the former Beatrice “BeBe” Bright, and the couple lived in San Diego for several years before moving in 1975 to San Francisco, where Mr. Ruffin practiced law. When he retired in the 1990s, the family moved to Taos, N.M., and later to Costa Rica. After the death of his second wife, Mr. Ruffin returned to San Diego in 1996.

Mr. Ruffin is survived by four daughters, Lucia Bacon of San Diego, Margaret Harrison of San Diego, and Sara and Selene of San Francisco; one son, Tony of San Diego; and four grandchildren.

A private memorial service has been held.

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5 Comments

  1. I’m sorry to hear of Roger Ruffin’s passing. I worked in his San Francisco law office for a few years in the early 1980’s. I will always remember that he was a kind, fair and was devoted to representing those in need. I also remember that he and Bebe had such a special bond. He spoke often of his family.

  2. bebe and I attended boarding school together..hessian hills school. her brother robin too. we both loved horses. she went back to rancho de taos and I to nyc. alas she is gone, as I have just learned in my research.but her life sounded wonderfull.

    • Suzie Botterill
    • Posted September 27, 2010 at 2:36 am
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    I am sorry to hear that Roger Ruffin past away, he was a kind and nice man, I met him in Costa Rica, he was the father of my best friend in CR: Selene. I found out about this lost trying to find Selene, I lost contact with her more than 15 years ago when she moved from CR. My condolences to her and Sara.

  3. I was so sorry to learn of Roger’s death. Along with another San Diego legal giant, Ted Bumer, also unfortunately no longer with us, he defended a group of us in a relatively straightforward case to which he added an interestingly political slant. He had a wickedly mischievous, sly sense of humor. Subtle mind. Not showy in any way. Completely conventional on the outside — blue blazer and loafers — but definitely not on the inside. BeBe was the wild one, with a motormouth pouring forth with all kinds of outrageous, often foul comments while Roger smiled benignly on. Two of the most memorable people I have known in my 62 years on the planet.

  4. Thank you for all your kind words about my father. He was a great man, may his spirit live on


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. […] the lead actor/musician, and composer for many of my films, who died 14 years ago.  And Roger Ruffin, in this film and 3 others of mine, who died this past year.  And as well thinking of the […]

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