Margo Jones & Jim Beck: Both Legends in Their Fields, Both Victims of Carbon Tetrachloride

by Paula Bosse

margo_tennessee_dmnMargo Jones with Tennessee Williams

by Paula Bosse

In reading about Dallas theater legend Margo Jones, I saw that she died from inhaling the lingering fumes of a cleaning agent that had been used to clean a rug in her apartment at the Stoneleigh Hotel: carbon tetrachloride. The only thing I knew about carbon tetrachloride was that it had also caused the early death of legendary recording engineer and producer Jim Beck (the man who discovered and produced the first records of Lefty Frizzell, Ray Price, et al.); Beck had been cleaning his recording equipment and had been overcome by the fumes. Both were rushed to the hospital when they were discovered unconscious, and both died about ten days later.

Margo Jones died on July 24, 1955, and Beck died less than a year later, on May 3, 1956. Jones was in her early 40s — Beck was only 39. Margo Jones was a creative powerhouse who was already revolutionizing regional theater, and Jim Beck’s enormous talent was the sole reason that Columbia Records was on the brink of moving their operations from Nashville to Dallas (a move that might very well have set the wheels in motion for Dallas to overtake Nashville as the nation’s recording center for country music). It is such a loss that both died so young,victims of something as mundane as cleaning fluid. With so much remarkable potential ahead of them, it’s sobering to imagine how different Dallas theater and the Dallas recording industry would be today had their careers lasted another two or three or four decades.

margo-jones-photo

margo-jones_death_dmn_-72555Dallas Morning News, July 25, 1955

margo-jones_wreath_legacies_fall-2004Margo Jones’ Theatre ’55 with wreath on door (click for larger image)

jim-beck_detJim Beck in his studio

jim-beck_hank-thompson_liberty-jamboree_c1951-detJim Beck (right) with Hank Thompson

jim-beck_billboard_051256bBillboard, May 12, 1956

jim-beck-studio-logo

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Top photo of Margo Jones with Tennessee Williams from a Dallas Morning News blog, here.

Newspaper report on Jones’ death is an excerpt from The Dallas Morning News (July 25, 1955); the full article can be read in a PDF here.

Photo of Theatre ’55 (formerly the Magnolia Lounge in Fair Park) with wreath is from the story “‘I’m Doing It, Darling!’ — Dallas, Margo Jones, and Inherit the Wind” by Kay Cattarulla (Legacies, Fall, 2004 issue), which can be read here.

First photo of Jim Beck (which has been cropped) is from the Bear Family CD box set “Lefty Frizzell: Life’s Like Poetry.”

Photo of Jim Beck and country recording star Hank Thompson is a (cropped) Liberty Jamboree promotional photo, circa 1951.

Jim Beck Studio logo from the Handbook of Texas entry for the recording industry in Texas, here.

Margo Jones is very important. Read why here.

Jim Beck is very important. Read why here.

A bit morbid, perhaps, but Margo Jones’ death certificate can be viewed here; Jim Beck’s death certificate, here.

And, finally … kids, stay away from that carbon tetrachloride. It’s bad stuff.

For my previous post “Lefty Frizzell: It All Began on Ross Avenue,” click here.

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Copyright © 2014 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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