At a fundraiser for TCU Library's Special Collections, Dave Lieber, the playwright behind the hit play AMON! The Ultimate Texan addressed a high-powered audience, hoping to honor the hard-working librarians who helped him write the play and the companion book.
These librarians maintain the vast Amon Carter collection, and Lieber had spent months poring over its 444 boxes of materials to research his work.
The play has been performed 52 times in six Texas cities, and Lieber attributed its success to what he called the “buried treasures” he found in those boxes, thanks to the librarians' expertise and help.
To illustrate his point, Lieber shared his experience of visiting the Special Collections department and asking for specific boxes, then discovering the treasure inside each one.
He recalled finding a pair of worn cowboy boots that he believed belonged to Amon Carter's best friend, Will Rogers.
But the most significant discovery he made was while flipping through the official program for the 1936 Fort Worth fair, which was wheeled in with the other boxes.
In the back pages, Lieber found fully naked women airbrushed in all the right places.
This was no underground smut, but rather part of the official program. It was a discovery that allowed Lieber to feel the story of the competing fairs in his bones and to recreate it on stage and in his companion book.
Lieber also highlighted Amon Carter's legacy and his rivalry with Dallas, where he felt businesses were being stolen from Fort Worth. Carter was the owner of the town's newspaper, radio station, and TV station, which gave him an iron grip on the city.
Despite having no money, plan, or building, Carter announced that Fort Worth would have its own competing fair against the official one in Dallas. Both fairs opened and were successful, and Amon Carter beefed up his already legendary status.
Lieber reminded the audience that Carter liked to say “Fort Worth is where the West began, which means Dallas is where the East peters out.”
The playwright's witty and engaging remarks (which you can read in full below) were a fitting tribute to the great cause that brought everyone together that evening.
Before dinner, Dave Lieber delivered these remarks at the library event:
Honored conversationalists, library patrons, library staff and last but hardly least one of our true heroes, Ms. Opal Lee. What a treat to see you, to be in the same room with all of you for this great cause.
Picture this: You’re standing in the Special Collections department upstairs, and you learn that there are 444 boxes of materials about the guy you intend to write a book about and also a script for a companion theater production.
His name is Amon G. Carter Sr., and by owning the town newspaper, radio station and TV station he also owned this town. And as you know, as much as he loved Fort Worth, he hated Dallas.
So this becomes a big game. You come to the library, and you say to the librarian, “OK, show me box # 261.” A few minutes go by, and the librarian wheels out your box. You have no idea what’s inside.
I did this hundreds of times.
The box I remember most is the one that had a pair of terrifically worn cowboy boots. I’m not sure but to my mind those were not Mr. Carter’s. They were too worn. So I surmised they belonged to his best friend Will Rogers.
That was fun. Now let’s go get another box and another and then another.
You pick a number and see the prize inside. Each box is a treasure. Each holds the answers to mysteries.
After many months of this, months of standing over documents and taking quick pictures to study later, you write a play called AMON! The Ultimate Texan. A book of the same name comes out, too.
Along with the UTA Libraries, we had a partnership, which is what this library does. It helps you find treasures, unlock mysteries, see the prize inside.
The play, I’m proud to say, won best new play by a local playwright and last week, we just staged our 52nd performance. With those magic boxes, these librarians helped me every step of the way to create a play that has now been seen by thousands in six Texas cities.
Thousands who learned for the first time why this historic football stadium nearby is named after him. Why a museum, an airport, a peak at Big Bend, a high school, a lake, a non-profit foundation are all named after Amon Carter. It’s a list that goes on and on, if I only had the time.
There are all kinds of different fundraisers for great causes. Tonight is a fundraiser for buried treasure. You don’t know what you’re going to find in that box. But you know it’s gonna be something good.
My favorite boxes housed the 1936 Fort Worth Centennial fair memorabilia. Now, the official fair celebrating the state’s 100th birthday and sponsored by the state was over there in Fair Park, Dallas. Mr. Carter lost it when that happened. He had a terrifically bad, what they termed, a mad spell.
Dallas, or Little D as he called it, was his public enemy #1. Anytime he could take a swipe at Dallas, by carrying a sack lunch to Little D so he wouldn’t have to spend any money over there, he did it. His hobby was stealing businesses away. Why do you think American Airlines is here, not over there?
One Dallas newspaper warned business owners, if you have a Dallas business, tie it down because Amon Carter is going to steal it. And when that happened one time, I saw a Dallas newspaper headline that said – quote – we’ve been Amon Cartered again. They turned his name into a verb.
Amon liked to say that Fort Worth is where the West begins which means Dallas is where the East peters out. He had a sign outside his restroom that said “Flush twice. Dallas needs the water.”
So no one was surprised when Amon announced that Fort Worth was going to have its own competing fair, even though there was no money, no plan, no building. Amon handled all that. No one had a choice. His iron grip was on the city.
Both fairs opened and both were successful, the official one and the renegade one. And I always knew the story of the competing fairs. I had read about it many times, but I didn’t feel it in my bones. Certainly not enough to recreate it for the stage and the page so that others could feel it, too.
So the library boxes on the fair were wheeled in and that’s where I made my most significant discovery in this building. I found the official program for the 1936 Fort Worth fair, and I was flipping through it for the first time, doing what LBJ biographer Robert Caro says to do, “Turn every page.” And then I found it. In the back pages of the official program were fully naked women, air-brushed in all the right places, but fully naked nonetheless. Now this is not some underground smut magazine. This is the official program. 1936! Courtesy of Amon G. Carter. Preserved in this library, for all eternity.
And I brought a copy tonight, but I guess only my table – hey my table! — will get to see it.
The significance for me is that for the first time I could feel the iron grip he had on his city. I didn’t expect to find that, but this nudity, out in the open, demonstrated his hold on the city’s morality or sudden lack thereof.
These boxes are why we’re here tonight. They offer answers. They hold secrets. They contain magic.
With these boxes, you can do what I did – bring their contents back to life. When you think about it, it really is a miracle. Those boxes bring stories back to life.
Thank you for letting me share what this library and the people who work there, and the people like you who support it, mean to me. Thank you and good night.
Get your autographed copy of the hardcover book AMON! The Ultimate Texan here.