By EVAN HICKS
On Feb. 23, the Great Lives Lecture series hosted John A. Farrell, author of “Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned.”
All of the Great Lives Lectures are entertaining and educational, some are quite funny as well. But Farrell’s lecture on Darrow, one of the most famous defense attorneys of all time, was much more than funny- it was a riot.
Over the course of an hour, Farrell described the interesting character traits that made Darrow the attorney and the man that he was.
Darrow’s early legal career was spent defending labor causes from the legal guns of big business. He openly spoke on the dangers of allowing more and more of America’s wealth, property, and power to fall into the hands of massive corporations, a theme that seems eerily true today.
Darrow predicted massive destruction if the growing disparity was not remedied, saying, “Remember the long years when the storm was rising and do not blame the thunderbolt.”
Darrow’s career was not without blemish, however. In a turn of events that seems lifted from a Hollywood screenplay, Darrow was caught and charged with bribing juries in two cases. Although he escaped the charges, Darrow was publically humiliated by the ordeal.
Afterwards, he emerged, “a better man and a better lawyer” according to Farrell. Darrow went on to defend those who could not defend themselves: blacks, communists, the poor and even the unimaginably evil.
His most famous cases were his defense of infamous thrill-killers Leopold and Loeb, and the Scopes “Monkey” Trial regarding teaching evolution in schools.
In the Scopes “Monkey” Trial, Darrow famously humiliated the opposing attorney William Jennings Brian, a three-time presidential candidate.
Beyond his extraordinary legal career, the audience learned that Darrow was a womanizer, an agnostic who bordered on atheism, and something of a Byronic hero not unlike Tony Starks in the recent “Iron Man” films.
Farrell described Darrow’s lifestyle as quite hedonistic, “He spent much of his money on wine, booze and women – and the rest he wasted.” Farrell provided several humorous anecdotes about Darrow’s life, including a story that had the audience in tears, but which would only be fit to print in The Bullet’s “Sexclamations” column, if at all.
The audience left the lecture with the feeling that they really understood Darrow both as a spectacular defense attorney and as a flawed, but good man.
The next Great Lives Lecture will be on Louisa May Alcott, author of “Little Women,” on March 13th after Spring Break.
Image courtesy of Amber Fua/Bullet