Freedom Is Still Rubin’s Motto
It isn’t easy carrying the words “yippie turned yuppie” as a kind of Homeric epithet through the narrative of your life. Whose heart is so hard that it cannot bleed a bit for Jerry Rubin?
Here is a 53-year-old whose motto was once, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Here is a businessman who screamed, “Capitalism killed my father.” Here is a guy whose press bio says he’s prescient because he “perceived the ‘70s to be a decade of self-introspection.”
Talk about the ravages of time. Rubin interrupts our interview to take a phone call. “It’s one of our prospects,” he explains, adding managerially: “You know the rule--only handle a piece of paper once.”
So much is written about businesses leaving California, but exciting new enterprises are moving here all the time. Jerry Rubin Network Marketing Inc., for example, relocated to Brentwood from New York City several months ago to take advantage of Californians’ manifest love of good health and “multilevel marketing.”
“It’s not a pyramid scheme,” he says. “It’s a direct sales company with a multilevel reward system.”
Before you see the actual Jerry Rubin at his new headquarters on Sepulveda Boulevard, you might get to watch the Jerry Rubin video. If you were weeping for the tragedy of the guy, your catharsis is over.
The tape mixes images of Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and Mao Tse-Tung with up-to-date special effects as a kind of preamble to its main purpose, which is to get you to help sell a collection of powders and potions for an outfit called Omnitrition International Inc. of Carrollton, Tex.
“People’s entrepreneurism,” Rubin calls it. To him, it’s just the sort of idea that will catch hold in California. And that’s what some people are afraid of.
“It’s hype,” says Dr. John Renner, president of the nonprofit Consumer Health Information Research Institute in Kansas City, Mo., adding: “The stuff they’re offering is horsefeathers.”
Rubin and Omnitrition are selling such products as “Focus--Nutrients for the Brain.” Many--but not all--are “Designer Foods” derived from the work of Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw, who wrote a best-selling book called “Life Extension--a Practical Scientific Approach.”
“These people take a little bit of evidence and jump to conclusions,” says Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “The implied claims of Pearson and Shaw have not been substantiated.”
Pearson and Shaw say their writings are a synthesis based on an exhaustive review of medical research, and that the products bearing their name are useful nutrients that they take themselves. Rubin says he liked them so much that he got Omnitrition to market them.
“The products have changed my life,” Rubin says.
They also earn him a healthy living, thanks to his network of 10,000 “individual entrepreneurs” (perhaps half of them “active”), who he says generate $15 million a year in sales--and a 4% fee for himself, which translates into $600,000, less expenses.
“Intuitively, I was drawn to California,” he says, noting that he lived in the Bay Area for a while during the 1960s and again in the 1970s. “The nutritional and entrepreneurial transformation is starting in California.”
By contrast, he says, “New York was important in the ‘80s, because Wall Street was important. In the ‘90s, the action is in new ways to create value.”
Rubin says he’s been involved with Omnitrition since December, 1989. Omnitrition was founded by three former distributors for Inglewood-based Herbalife International Inc.
One of the Omnitrition products Rubin sells is “Go for It!,” a powder containing the naturally occurring amino acid L-phenylalanine, which appalls Dr. Richard Wurtman, professor of neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“This is a complete and total fraud,” he says, adding that too much of it can be harmful. “There is never, ever any reason for anyone ever to take phenylalanine.”
“Focus,” another Omnitrition product, contains choline dihydrogen citrate. Wurtman, an authority on nutrients and the brain, says the body uses choline to develop a chemical neurotransmitter called acetylcholine--one that is lacking in Alzheimer’s patients.
But, says Wurtman, “there is no evidence that a normal person taking the ‘smart foods’ you take in such large quantities in California has any demonstrable effect.”
He adds that this doesn’t mean further studies aren’t worthwhile, but that even if these substances are shown to work, they should be regulated as drugs.
Says Renner: “You’d think a guy as bright as Jerry Rubin could find a better way to make a living.”
Maybe. To Rubin, what he did in the 1960s and what he’s doing today are perfectly consistent.
His whole career, in fact, is of a piece. Some years ago, he was famous for “networking” parties, at which ambitious New Yorkers traded business cards. He still runs networking parties, now in his offices near the San Diego Freeway.
“In the ‘60s, people wanted freedom,” he says. “What do they want in the ‘90s? Freedom.”
Cynics might say Rubin and his ilk are consistent mainly in being responsible for a kind of revolutionary self-indulgence, but that seems a little simple. Certainly he’s always had an unembarrassed flair for promotion, whether in dramatizing opposition to the Vietnam War, assailing The System as part of the Chicago Seven, or lately, getting people to sell products such as Omnitrition’s “Wow” using classified ads festooned with dollar signs.
Regrets? Rubin says he has none, although his marriage has collapsed and he was wrong about capitalism, which seems destined to outlast him.
“I could say I wish (that) in the ‘60s I wasn’t so negative about amassing money,” he says thoughtfully. “You always like to edit your life. But basically, no. I think we changed the world.”