Something has haunted Dave Lieber ever since he came to North Texas. And now, he’s written a book about it.
“I’d been to four or five newspapers, and I never really experienced a ghost like that,” he says of Amon Carter Sr.’s lasting impression while working for two decades at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Carter became founding publisher of the newspaper in 1909 when The Fort Worth Star merged with the Fort Worth Telegram.
Lieber, now The Dallas Morning News' consumer-advocate columnist, shared what led him to create Amon!, a lighthearted, one-man play with 100 historical photos that he plans to publish this spring. The play provides a look into the showmanship-type life of Carter, whose wealth did not exempt him from the harsh realities of World War ll.
In the early 1990s, Lieber was fresh from the Philadelphia Inquirer and new to the Star-Telegram, where he says his first assignment was to work on a picnic committee because Carter, who died in 1955, had always hosted annual picnics for his employees.
“I was, like, [WTF] is a picnic committee?” he says. But “they taught me, you know, this is what we do. We are part of the community. And I never experienced anything like this before. And I felt like his ghost was hovering over that paper 38 years later. And I could feel it.”
At the time, there were those at the publication who had worked with Carter as well as Carter’s son, Amon Carter Jr. Still, Lieber says nobody really knew who Carter was other than the name of a boulevard or a stadium.
“As I began to learn about him,” he says, ”I realized he was, in my opinion, the ultimate Texan.
“William Randolph Hearst offered him a job running his top paper in New York and told him he could have a free hand and do anything he wanted with it,” Lieber says, adding that through research he also learned that Carter turned down Hearst’s offer because he wanted to stay in Texas.
Lieber, who’s worked sporadically on Amon! for the last 15 years, says his inspiration for the 38-page script came from Jerry Flemmons’ book about Carter. He’s now working with former Arlington Star-Telegram publisher O.K. Carter to help produce the play.
“My first reaction to Dave’s play was annoyance,” O.K. Carter says, “because I hadn’t thought about doing that first.”
O.K. Carter got a rare glimpse of Amon! when Lieber donned a Stetson to perform a few scenes of the play during a Christmas party in Fort Worth recently. It was only the second time any of the performance has been seen by an audience, Lieber says, who doesn’t plan to portray Amon on a regular basis.
“My goal is to have a real actor,” he says. “I’d rather just be the playwright.”
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While much of the script is hilarious, as Carter vies to outdo Dallas using avant-garde methods, some parts, like those involving shotguns, are more controversial.
“I do not know if it’ll ever be performed,” Lieber says of the play, “but it is a love letter to Fort Worth and to Tarrant County.”
O.K. Carter, who never met Amon, says the publisher was all about promoting Fort Worth. He hopes the play will debut there.
“It is difficult to find any person, in any city, anywhere, that has had an impact on a community as much as Amon Carter did,” he says before pausing to add, “even though he’s not there, he was there.”